Beats, Rhymes, and Life: Proceed with Caution

Hip Hop Pet Peeve: When someone tells me I’m not a real Hip Hop fan because I don’t like their favorite artist.


If someone were to mouth the words, “I don’t like A Tribe Called Quest,” I would not only take it personally, I would likely shout out expletives, and categorize them as an idiot. A Tribe Called Quest is, hands down, the best Hip Hop group coming out of the 90s. I would even argue, they’re the best Hip Hop group ever. Of course the groups before them are to be revered and honored for setting up the Hip Hop scene, but Tribe took it to a whole new level with their jazzy sound & quirky style. In fact, it is because of A Tribe Called Quest that I transitioned from passively shakin’ my thang to rap on the radio, to listening, studying, and exploring Hip Hop music as a genre and culture. So, when I heard that there was a documentary on the group, I was excited. And when I heard that Q-Tip took issue to the final product, I was still excited about seeing the documentary, though, I did proceed with caution.

If you love Tribe, you’ll enjoy the movie—not because the director, actor, Michael Rapaport, did something new and amazing—but because you love Tribe, and they’re in it telling a part of their story. In Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, you get a peak into the making of this Hip Hop mega-group—you see Q-Tip show us how he samples some old school tracks to make some of Tribes biggest hits (wish there was more of this!), and you get to reminisce with the Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammed, and, sometimes, Jarobi, on how the group went from being a couple of kids rappin’ around Queens, into an international, Hip Hop super-group.

A Tribe Called Quest w/ Jarobi

However… if you love Tribe, there will be moments of flinching, because (surprise! aurprise!) there’s fighting, and no one likes to see the people they love fight. It’s even more awkward to watch grown men fight. But isn’t that the age-old story of the demise of the super group (plug in The Supremes, The Beatles, The Fugees, Destiney’s Child here)?

In the first few melancholy minutes of the film, there are shots of the group performing at the Rock the Bells tour in ’08, and when Q-Tip is asked if the group will perform together again, he says no. Phife aggressively says the same thing, and DJ Ali, well, he just looks disappointed. In fact, throughout the entire movie you barely hear from the man who “speaks with his fingers,” as Phife says. You just see him in the background of Phife’s and Q’s arguments, looking disappointment, and probably thinking, “When will these grown-ass men stop arguing?”

(the preview is true to the film: starts out hyped, and then just gets sad)

Now, are we really surprised by the arguing between group members? This is what happens when teenage friends become incredibly successful together, and, then, work together for 10 years. I didn’t necessarily need a documentary to harp on it. Nor did I need the very sad scene when Phife and Q get in each others’ faces before stepping on stage at Rock the Bells in San Francisco. Scenes like this made me wonder about the intention of Rapaport. What was he trying to reveal when including this particular scene, and when harping on the classic music-group-fall-out between the star of the group (Q), and his talented, but overshadowed partner (Phife)? Of course, there needed to be something said about why the group separated, but we, or at least I, didn’t need that to be the premise of the last half of the story. A Tribe Called Quest is so talented, and interesting that the film didn’t need to rest on drama to be successful, but maybe, being an actor, Raparport is too Hollywood to realize that.

So… would I recommend it? Sure– but only because I recommend anything with the Tribe stamp. Like I said, if you love Tribe, you’ll enjoy parts of it. But, precede with caution– there is some ugliness. In fact, wait for it to get on Netflix so you can fast forward through those scenes.

One of my favorites!


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