Having just returned from the screening of Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, I am left in a state — part awe, part understanding and part introspection. Directed by Michael Rapaport, this documentary is, without a doubt, the finest film about a hip-hop group ever made. It gives unparalleled access into one of hip-hop’s most important groups as well as valuable insight into the talent and turmoil of most successful bands. It is a true document of both the creative and the destructive power that humans bestow upon themselves and one another.
Ultimately, the film is an odyssey of friendship, creativity, experimentation, and family. It begins where it should — at the beginning — and traces the paths of four uniquely gifted kids as they absorb the burgeoning New York hip-hop experience, join together and transform it into an entirely new look and sound. All the key players weigh in, from the four members of the group to DJ Red Alert, De La Soul and the Beastie Boys, to former manager Chris Lightly and label boss Barry Weiss. It shows how they translated the music of their parents into something new and fresh, joined together with other like minded groups, and continued to innovate for over a decade. Continued, that is, until the group came to their famous screeching halt in 1998.
Perhaps the most revealing piece of human nature this film divulges is the delicate nuances of love and hate that often co-exist in creative and otherwise close relationships. From the opening scene to the moment the credits roll, one thing is obvious: Phife Dawg and Q-Tip know each other better than anybody else, and yet they have a fundamental disconnect in their understanding of one another. After hearing both sides, I was left with complete lack of comprehension as to what the real problem is, and, at the same time, the realization that perhaps neither do they. Sometimes these things happen to the closest of people, and no amount of speculation or interviews will ever truly explain why we may never get another Tribe album.
Also central to plot is Phife’s prolonged struggle with Diabetes. In moments of heartbreaking confession, Phife discusses his addiction to sugar and the challenge of accepting his disease in his daily life. To add to this, Jarobi contribues a particularly moving insight into his dedication to his friend during the most difficult of times. Here we take a break from the outwardly creative expressions of these artists, and focus in on who they are as people and the love their share with one another. In doing that it becomes obvious that where they came from and what motivated them was not a pursuit to “change the game” or become famous, but rather to create the music they loved and to be a part of the movement and culture that fascinated them to no end.
After 90 minutes, we are left with not only a detailed picture of ATCQ and hip-hop’s progression but also a unique look at (they said it best) people’s instinctive travels and the paths pf rhythm. Just as hip-hop samples the greatness of the word’s past and present music, artists and creatives alike should take a hard look at this film and the group itself to understand how they too can progress and contribute to the art forms they invest themselves in.
My hat is off to Michael Rapaport and everyone involved in this stellar documentary.
The following is an excerpt from Michael Rapaport’s Director’s Statement:
For me A Tribe Called Quest meant the same thing as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin or the Rolling Stones, so my goal was to treat them the same way those groups have been documented over the years. Their unique talent, creativity and energy made them a force to be reckoned with in the hip-hop world when the broke out in the late 1980′s. Their successes not only impacted the way people listened to hip-hop music but also how they subsequently created hip-hop music.
As far as I was concerned, there hadn’t been a proper documentary about any rap group, so I was determined to create a film that didn’t feel contrived or supplementary. I wanted to achieve the same raw and rare truth ATCQ captured in their music.
During the process of making this film, I experienced some of the most creative highs and lows of my life, coupled with personal anxiety and excitement…The edit process was where this film was made, shaped and came to form. I was scared to death at times looking at over 100 hours of footage and knowing that there was great material, but at the same time not knowing how the hell I’d pull the best stuff together. My editor Lenny Mesina, who also worked as my personal therapist at times, really helped bring my original ideas to completion.
I know that I made it for one reason and that’s because A Tribe Called Quest is my favorite group and I love their spirit and music. Always have and always will.
Nick Huff and April Bombai interview Havoc at the Rock The Bells launch party, where he talks about the new album, Wiz, Odd Future, and more.
New visuals from the upcoming AZ emcee. For a lyrical dose of current events check out
RoQ’y @ the Podium | Link: http://roqytyraid.bandcamp.com/album/roqy-tyraid-the-podium