Friday, October 28, 2011


Beats, Rhymes, and Strife : Michael Rapaport's Magnum Opus to A Tribe Called Quest, and Hip-Hop's Crucible Years

3. Cru-ci-ble (kroo se bel) - A place, time, or situation characterized by the confluence of powerful intellectual, social, economic, or political forces.

There's a moment in Michael Rapaport's documentary, Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, in which famed member of The Roots, ?uestlove, heralds the release of Tribe's seminal work, Midnight Marauders, as 'the last great day in classic hip-hop.'

It was November 1993. Out West, Gin and Juice, the second single from the most anticipated solo LP in the history of rap music--Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle--was ascending the charts and cementing that album's largess, and the entire landscape of rap (and music as a whole)was about to change. 

Yet back in New York, on the very same day Tribe dropped Marauders (November 9th), Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), from Staten Island collective Wu-Tang Clan, trumpeted the absolute apex of what's become known as 'classic 90's hip-hop,' and simultaneously signaled the end of that very same era.

Documenting the
'Crucible Years'
Consider for a moment what had already been released in that year ;  Black Moon's Enta da Stage, routinely mentioned as one of the standard bearers for the resurgence of 90's New York hip-hop, featuring Buck Em Down , with its Donald Byrd-inspired sample ; 93 til' infinity , by Oakland, CA's Souls of Mischief, a top-100 LP as named by The Source magazine ; Digable Planets' Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space), which took home a Grammy for Best Rap Performance, and features a sampling list that reads like a who's-who of jazz/R&B greatness (Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Parliament, Earth Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang, Curtis Mayfield) ;  Buhloone Mind State from Tribe's Native Tongue and New York brethren De la Soul, who in a single track in collaboration with Prince Paul, Breakadawn , incorporate elements from Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, The Bar-Keys, and The Pointer Sisters(!) ; and Brand Nubian's In God We Trust, who's first single, Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down , charted in the Billboard Hot-100. All of this in addition to fantastic releases form Lords of the Underground (Here Come the Lords), Tha Alkaholiks (21 and Over), Cypress Hill (Black Sunday), and Ice Cube (Lethal Injection).

Yes, 1993 was The Best of Times for makers and listeners of rap music. Rapaport explores this phenomena as part of his cinematic love letter, but also effectively fleshes out Tribe's undeniable contribution to production, sampling, rhyming, and hip-hop culture in general. View the trailer here:

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