Those who worship at the altar of turntables and microphones often argue over the bookends of hip-hop’s “Golden Era.” This is generally seen as some date in the late ’80s to some date in the early ‘90s — but whichever years you highlight, they have to include 1993.
Rock the Bells thundered into Shoreline Amphitheatre this past weekend, and featured, in full, three of 1993’s greatest records: Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders.
Those classics alone made it a dope year for hip-hop, said Tribe Called Quest emcee Phife Dawg. “We put out [Midnight Marauders] the same day as Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers,” Phife said. “And also on that same day, Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet came out. And in that same month, maybe two weeks later, Snoop dropped Doggystyle. So that’s when the game was crazy. Whoever came out around then, they had something to bring to the table. And there was no biting, no none of that. Everyone worked hard and you can hear it in the music.”
Rock the Bells took things further back than 1993, however. Slick Rick performed his Adventures of Slick Rick (1988). And KRS-One laid down another Golden Era tome, the Boogie Down Productions debut, Criminal Minded (1987). Although, before digging into that album, he performed the essential “Sound of da Police” (1993).
Not every performance was perfect. Lauryn Hill, in comeback stance, rolled out a band that was more rock than soul, more wailing guitars and thundering drums than scratches and cuts. The unwieldy combo muddied up performances of slick, vocal-driven songs like “Doo Wop (That Thing).” And DJ Premier, who helped carve out the early ’90s New York sound, demonstrated that he needs an emcee like estranged and recently-deceased partner Guru on the mic in front of him. While his gems played, he roared into the mic, “Say, ‘Hell yea!’ Say, ‘Fuck, yea!’ Make some motherfucking noise!” The f-bomb fizzled out with all the explosive effects of a sparkler, and the repetitive instructions did nothing to improve his tremendous beats.
The slack was yanked rigid by the headliners. A Tribe Called Quest didn’t just deliver the core of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, and Ali Shaheed, they also featured erstwhile emcee Jarobi, who joined with “Can I Kick It?”; and the inimitably animated Busta Rhymes, who performed a searing rendition of “Scenario,” the Tribe song that put him on the map. The extended Tribe closed the show with their biggest hit, one of the Marauder joints, “Award Tour.”
The Wu-Tang Clan delivered the full original line-up, with one notable substitution: Boy Jones, son of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, not only performed his father’s words, but seemed to be, by appearances, the Ol’ Dirty Bastard incarnate. The Wu mobbed the stage and the crowd loved it. Out of all the classics on show, Enter the Wu, might have played best to the crowd, with riotous songs like “Clan in da Front,” “Bring da Ruckus,” and “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta Fuck Wit.”
Snoop Dogg, so at home on the stage that he might be performing in front of a mirror, dosed the crowd with his smooth, confident delivery — and some humor. The stage was set with a picnic table littered in 40 oz. bottles and a tricked-out beach cruiser. Before Snoop made his entrance, a guy the size of a linebacker came out in a dog suit, crip walking and wearing a blue bandanna before mime-pissing on a fire hydrant. Dr. Dre showed up via video, greeting the crowd, and suggesting, “Snoop, give ‘em some of that old-school shit,” which ushered in one of their best-known collaborations, “The Next Episode.”
Those are three very different evocations of 1993. Here’s one more: Fans wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “’93 til.” It’s a reference to the Bay’s own Souls of Mischief, whose debut record title indicates exactly how long this music will be around: 93 ‘til Infinity.