Review: Beats, Rhymes & Life (The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest)

Written by J.Monkey. Posted in Gumbo, Reviews, Spotlight


Published on September 15, 2011 with No Comments

After hearing about it for years (Michael Rappaport started filming in 2008 during their reunion) and seeing the online promo campaign catch on when the movie started going to theaters, the friction between Rappaport and Q-Tip and Mick Boogie’s awesome tape, the hype for this documentary on one of the greatest hip-hop groups OF ALL TIME (© Yeezy) reached a fever pitch. But was it the worth the hullabaloo? With the DVD and Blu-ray release coming soon and well in time as a stocking-stuffer, TRU takes a look.

The movie starts by telling the story of how ATCQ came together, their impact on hip-hop culture, how Native Tongues came to be, where their philosophy, name and aesthetic came from and more. Much of these stories will be familiar to fans, but even hardcore rap nerds will probably find some anecdotes they haven’t heard before and if not, it’s all deftly told by peope with first hand involvement in those stories. The editing is done at a perfect pace, it keeps the story going smoothly and doesn’t get mired down in minor details. An entertaining and informing look behind the scenes of some classic albums and songs, what’s not to like?

Q-Tip’s beef with the project becomes clear when the film hits it’s third act and gets to the point of the actual reunions show in 2008. Years of bottled-up frustrations come to a head mere minutes before the guys have to go on stage. Phife refuses to speak with Q-Tip, Tip is enraged by Phife’s refusal to talk and Ali Shaheed Muhammad stands by looking completely lost, with such a sad expression on his face you’ll immediately want to buy the guy a stiff drink. All the while, a crowd is going into a frenzy waiting for the headliner of the night, the legendary Tribe, reunited after a decade-long hiatus. It’s hard to watch for any bystander, and for those that treasure their memories of Tribe it’s a serious downer that shatters any remaining illusion of camaraderie you’d convinced yourself of after they split up when ‘The Love Movement‘ dropped. It’s downright painful to see.

Thankfully, that’s not how the film ends. Rappaport uses the damaged relation between Phife and Tip to further explore the group dynamics of the core members of Tribe and that is where the documentary truly shines and becomes requisite viewing for anyone with an appreciation of their music. A Tribe Called Quest has grown into something bigger than the sum of it’s members combined and for better or worse, they’ll always be members of a group that can not be unbound. They’re family. Jarobi and Phife are brothers from another mother, Ali is the glue holding the group together and lifelong friends and rivals Q-Tip and Phife are storms of creativity bouncing off each other as much as they compliment each other. It speaks volumes to the quality of the film that despite the limitations of it’s running time it clearly conveys both sides of the major conflict between the two without choosing sides and making both points of view relatable.

When Phife needs a donor-kidney to save his life (donated by his wife, who turned out to be a match in a poetic turn of events) Rappaport is there to document his response when he is waiting on his surgery and receives a text message on his phone from Q-Tip, wishing him well. The few simple words mean so much to the 5 foot assassin, and it’s a moment that couldn’t have been timed better if it were scripted. When push comes to shove, they support each other, and it’s a great thing to behold. In the end you realize that like any family, they have their problems, but the ties that bind them are stronger than there feuds ever were. The story of the file doesn’t tell the entire tale of Tribe, the runtime of a film would be far to short for that. Besides, you probably already know most of their music, that’s why you’d be interested in watching it in the first place. What you might not know however, is the story behind their music and that’s what this movie tells expertly.

The verdict:



1982 was when Jaap van der Doelen aka J.Monkey shot his way out his mom dukes. A mere two years later he was already battling Big Brother and The Illuminati. Whenever he has time to spare from those efforts he writes (about music, mostly), hosts a radio show and designs graphics for a living. He lives in The Netherlands where he continues to be winning.

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