Two decades after a year that saw rap birth legendary albums such as A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, the Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage, NPR’s Hip Hop channel “Microphone Check” brought influential Hip Hop contributors to the basement of the Ace Hotel in New York City Wednesday (September 25) for a panel discussion hosted by the program’s hosts, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley.
The goal of the event, titled “Microphone Check Presents: ‘Eight Million Stories: Hip-Hop In 1993’,” was to discuss that year in Hip Hop and talk about the moments that led the genre's oft-debated peak.
The panel consisted of Reservoir SVP and major record label A&R expert Faith Newman; Video Music Box creator and Hot 97 personality Ralph McDaniels; DJ/producer Prince Paul; producer Mike Dean; and co-host of The Stretch and Bobbito Show on Hot 97, Stretch Armstrong. Producer/emcee Large Professor and Combat Jack, host of “The Combat Jack Show,” were also in attendance.
As the panel discussed the evolution of the genre over the past 20 years, the panelists did not agree on the time frame of Hip Hop’s Golden Age.
“The Golden Age was ’86-‘88,” said Stretch, who served as a tastemaker in New York City from ’90-‘98, providing exposure to dozens of emerging artists on his radio show.
Others said that ’93 was the genre’s best year. “It just felt more grown up,” said Newman, leading to a collective agreement that tough times removed the dancing nature of Hip Hop so popular just years before and caused artists to create a darker sound. “The rhymes got even more intricate and more thoughtful, and we were entering a recession,” she said.
“And we had crack,” added Paul, before adding that he was already old school by 1993, prompting a laugh from the crowd. McDaniels, who was already well-established by the early ‘90s, echoed his sentiment.
“It’s almost Nas sitting out on his window looking out on the world and telling stories,” said Newman, who helped vault Nas into the spotlight as the A&R for Columbia Records by signing him to a production deal. "Nobody was dancing."
The group also discussed the fight to get Rap on the radio, the East Coast’s longtime lack of respect for the West Coast’s flavor and the way people acted at shows.
“It wasn’t any different than a 2 Chainz performance,” Paul said. "Y’all have never seen a 2 Chainz performance? You’re lying."
Nas shows, however, seemed different. “People were getting robbed in the crowd,” said McDaniels.
“There was a use for army fatigue back then,” said Paul, referencing his time spent touring with the Wu-Tang Clan.
Each member of the group was asked to pick their favorite track from ’93; the only stipulation was that a panelist could not select a song they worked on. Newman chose the Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.”; McDaniels went with Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day”; Dean selected the entire Midnight Marauders album; and Stretch opted for “One In A Million” by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth.
Although the panel focused on the genre’s past, current artists were also included in the discussion. When asked whether any of the panelists listened to commercial radio, Paul said, “Even to this day I don’t listen to commercial radio. If I did, I’d probably be making a new Drake record.”