I’ll save the climax and just tell you now, Michael Rapaport’s Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is a must see documentary for any fan of the groundbreaking and influential group, enthusiast of music as a whole, or simply any humanist that appreciates seeing real, personal relationships being portrayed in such an honest manner. It paints an amazingly accurate portrait of New York City, the hype behind the growing nature of early 90’s hip-hop, musically and socially.
The film, much like the group’s complicated dynamic, (and, as Rapaport commented in his Q&A session, much like the social bonds in life that we ourselves create) was more about the relationships of Tip and Phife than anything else. And it displayed most clearly that when it came down to it, these guys are just… guys; people, like you and I. It was humbling and beautiful to see that guys who, as Mike put it, appeared to so many as super heroes, to the tune of Q-Tip The Abstract Poetic, Phife Dawg The 5 Foot Assassin (can’t you just see a comic of the two, battling wack MC’s throughout Queens, donned in funky outfits, bright and vibrant, foreign yet fittingly familiar) were the same as us. They shared their own interpersonal struggles, were tortured by the underlying animosity that grows with lifelong friendships, but most importantly, they loved each other for who they were, the history they had and the times they spent traveling the world.
“Do I have the formula to save the World?” asks Q-Tip in the classic hit Buggin’ Out. For many, he and Tribe did. The film portrays the early 90’s New York hip-hop scene as the Belle Époque of new New York hip-hop, and a Tribe Called Quest was at its forefront. They were the new guys in the game, breaking ground and pushing boundaries, and as we came to find out, were major influences in generations to come. The film features interviews with Pharrell, who stated that once he heard Bonita Applebum, that “that was it, nothing was fuckin’ with that”. Chicago rapper Common was influenced by Tribe’s use of old jazz and bebop samples.
Although what Rapaport does best is portray the guys for who they are. It delved into the grind of continuously appeasing millions of fans and the struggle to maintain a working group dynamic (which hardly ever works). Mike’s original goal and idea in the making of this film was to ask and hopefully answer the question “Will ATCQ make new music, will they ever get back together?” And what is taken away from the film is that unfortunately, the likely answer is no. One could have easily made a film that ended on a sour note, one that exposed only the negative aspects of the travels of ATCQ. But what makes the film so relevant and important in the world of hip-hop, music, and documentary film-making is that it, integrally and honestly, told the true story of A Tribe Called Quest, which despite all the turmoil behind the groups ’98 breakup and its internal relationships, was a beautiful one, one that should be told again, and shared with many.
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