The Score: Beats, Rhyme & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest

Friday, Jul 8, 2011 4:15PM

Written by J. Bachelor

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  • Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest
  • Michael Rapaport
  • July 8, 2011
Soul Culture 4/5
Entertainment Weekly 85/100
Film Threat 5/5
Slant Magazine 2.5/4
Box Office Magazine 3.5/5

Actor/rap enthusiast Michael Rapaport spends his directorial debut shadowing a trio of midnight marauders in the hip-hop documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, opening in select theaters today.

Q-Tip, Phife and Ali Shaheed all appear in the film, a no-holds barred look at the group's music and inner conflict that began filming in 2008.

An exploration of the history of a New York hip-hop collective, the documentary "Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest" captures a sense of the shared bonds and joys of music-making and the difficulties of holding onto those feelings as the accumulated peeves and disagreements of years roll by. The directing debut of actor Michael Rapaport, the film has both a fan's enthusiasm and a slyly observant way of letting the subjects talk themselves into unexpected revelations. It is at its most vibrant when re-creating the energy of Tribe's original moment in the late '80s and early '90s, when the musicians brought a spirited, playful artfulness to the sometimes drearily self-serious world of hip-hop. (LA Times)

Artists such as Pharrell Williams, Black Thought and Common are featured in the film, discussing the impact ATCQ had on their own musical style.

Rapaport's film is as much a "Where are they now?" as a "Why did they matter in the first place?"--though he doesn't shortchange the latter question, bringing on a veritable who's-who of hip-hop stars (the Roots, the Beastie Boys, De La Soul) to answer the inquiry. It will come as no surprise to the group's legions of fans to learn that their appeal rested in the yin-yang rapping of the "abstract" rhymer Q-Tip and the earthy Phife, the Afrocentric positivity as a response to the increasingly nihilistic gangsterism of the day, and the wide range of samples (jazz, funk) the outfit employed. (Slant Magazine)

Earlier this year, Rapaport addressed Q-Tip's dissatisfaction with the film's direction during the preproduction phase.

"I think the reason he did his little Twitter thing was because he realized that the movie was coming to completion and going to get seen by people," Rapaport explained in an interview. "I can't really speak for him but I think he got a little nervous. He's very protective of the legacy of A Tribe Called Quest and the movie is a very honest depiction of my time with them and the information that I was given in interviews and content...He was speaking on behalf of himself and his biggest request was to be protective of the legacy of Tribe. So when the film was coming to completion, he got a little bit nervous because he wants to be seen in a certain way." (Rap Fix)

Tribe's unofficial fourth member, Jarobi, has recently came forward to explain his mysterious yet pivotal role during the group's prominence.

"You come in [to the studio]. You might have had a bad [day]. Some lady might have pushed you on the train," Jarobi explains. "I walk in the studio and I'm bringing all my rambunctious silly stupid jokes and now we're all laughing. What the music is, I guess that's what my personality is," he said. "I'm free-spirited, witty, biting sometimes."(Slate)

Although Beats, Rhymes & Life has been viewed as favorably, critics wished the documentary would have focused more on the music and less on the recurring beef between Phife and Q-Tip.

This is a solid documentary that gives insight into the highs and lows of one of the most influential hip hop groups of the '90s. It's filled with diamond moments and animations that will make you giggle and give you an understanding of how different each of the four original members are. On top of that you get the opinions of Black Thought, Monie Love, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes & Angie Martinez, amongst others who really add some context onto the social and muscial relevance of ATCQ within the hip hop scene. More than anything, you get to hear the story from each of their perspectives and while there's a feeling that not everything is being revealed, it's enough to keep you wondering what's next for A Tribe Called Quest. This is a definite must see, it's the perfect combination of golden age nostalgia, real life struggles and the music that we can't live without. Don't let this documentary pass you by. (Soul Culture)

The final act dwells on Tribe's breakup-reunite-breakup cycle, from 1998 to 2010, which is actually quite simple: Tribe Called Quest broke up in 1998 because they didn't like each other and Q-Tip wanted to go solo. They got back together to cash in. Simple. There's nothing wrong with that -- but it's Rapaport's mistake to spend so much time and energy unpacking something so much more obvious, and so much less interesting, than Tribe's music.(NY Mag)

Peep the trailer for the documentary below:

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