Movie Review: “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest”Published by Clay Cane on Friday, July 8, 2011 at 8:30 am.
Summary: A documentary on legendary hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest, which consisted of Q-Tip (Kamaal Ibn John Fareed), Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White (White left the group after their first album in 1990 but rejoined them on tour in 2006). Quest is best known for songs like “Bonita Applebum,” “Can I Kick It?” and their biggest hit on the pop charts, 1993’s “Award Tour.”
Review: Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest could’ve easily been tawdry and sensationalized. Unfortunately, Q-Tip and first-time director Michael Rapaport have been feuding over the film and even beefing on Twitter—Q-Tip said he was not supporting the movie. Back in March, Tip stressed the importance of telling our own stories—the connotation being that a white director like Michael Rapaport should not have so much control over how the story of this legendary hip hop group is told.
Tip has a point; there is an epic history of whites telling the story of African-Americans on the big screen. As a result, our stories are often watered down and missing authenticity. However, while I understand Tip’s sentiment, I believe this is not the case with Rapaport’s Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest—he did as good of a job as Spike Lee could’ve done. Michael Rapaport should be praised for not exploiting one of hip hop’s most cherished icons. He gracefully told a story of friendship and love and made you remember why you first fell in love with hip hop.
Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest begins by telling the story of hip hop with the origins of A Tribe Called Quest as a backdrop. Packed with colorful imagery that was reminiscent of ATCQ’s album covers, the audience is transported to ’80s New York City. Right before the history lesson of hip hop started to feel redundant, the meat of the story kicked in, which is the formation, demise and reincarnation of ATCQ. Rapaport takes us into the world of boys turning to men, struggling with fame and eventually battling with each other.
The main conflict: Q-Tip versus Phife. Tip and Phife have consistent strife, with Phife describing Tip as the Diana Ross of the group. Tip’s diva antics entertain on screen, which is no fault of Rapaport’s. In truth, Tip is an artist, who is passionate and at times over-the-top, maybe sometimes believing his own hype. He even calls Phife a “faggot,” which is sure to offend some. That said, Phife comes across as the eternal victim, sometimes jealous, but he still has love for Tip. Ali is avoiding the drama—all about the music. No one knows how true any of these character assessments are. A landmark group’s history cannot be summed up in one hour and 35 minutes. Nonetheless, Rapaport handled each conflict with class and dignity. In truth, they are artists who are sensitive about their s—.
Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is a hip hop version of The Rolling Stones‘ Gimme Shelter and one of the best music docs to come out in recent years. Whether you love hip hop or not, this is a documentary not to be missed and one that will not be forgotten.
Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is in theaters today.