Within the context of a filmmaker, a documentary depicts the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is epitomized in the documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest directed by Michael Rapaport. For the old school Hip-Hop fan, the Rap enthusiast, and the up and coming artist, this film is a must see.
The Good. Regardless of one’s preferred genre, Beats, Rhymes & Life keeps its audience engaged. In this documentary, Rapaport highlights the artistic talents of 4 young black men that come together as a unit and create a following and a movement that will forever be etched in the minds of Hip-Hop aficionados. Upon seeing this documentary, one can no longer have a discussion about Hip-Hop’s movement without mentioning A Tribe Called Quest.
What I enjoyed most about this film was Rapaport’s ability to capture the group’s respect for Hip-Hop, their love/hate relationship for one another, and their knowledge and respect for the music that cascaded them across the bridge to stardom. For example, on numerous occasions you will hear the men give credence to R & B and Jazz legends of the past. Rapaport also does an excellent job helping you to understand the true art behind the sampling of music. For those who believe that the Rap game is simply about piggybacking off of a well-known artist with a popular song, this documentary dismisses this belief and confirms once and for all that sampling, if done correctly, is an art form in its own right. From the cover art of the album to the artist’s original message, Rapaport captures the groups’ appreciation, knowledge, and respect for the music. Unlike most of the Hip-Hop artists of today and the last 18 years, A Tribe Called Quest did more than just sample music. They sampled the soul that stirs into the root of the music.
The Bad. In this documentary Rapaport lobs questions in the air, backs off, and waits for Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi to either make contact with the viewers or strike out. This type of questioning gives each member the opportunity to present his point of view while forcing the viewer to pick sides. This is where the film loses some of its flavor and starts feeling more like a reality tv show. For example, after the 2008 concert there is an exchange between Q-Tip and Rapaport. Rapaport asks Q-Tip if he thinks that this will be Tribe’s last concert together as a group. The question is perfect in that it evokes some involuntary actions on the part of Q-Tip. His eyes widen with interest about how the others feel and he is unable to stand in one place. Moreover, Q-Tip asks Rapaport 4 times to confirm what his group members have to say about it being their last and final performance. He is indignant, frustrated and honest about the 20 years that he has put into the group. Unfortunately, this type of raw authentic documentary footage does not show up again anywhere in the film. Instead, Rapaport hands the mic over to a host of celebrity artists who are fans of the Tribe, and avoids asking any real hard questions of Ali and Jarobi who are stuck in the middle of Q-Tip and Phife’s cantankerous relationship.
The Ugly. Fans will have a hard time understanding how these four talented men failed to realize that A Tribe Called Quest is much bigger than the internal squabbles that they displayed on screen. With one album left on their contract with Jive, we can only hope that the group members, mainly Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, will settle their differences and give their fans some more of what is clearly missing today – authentic Hip-Hop music!
Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest receives a PARL
David Asbery is a doctorial student at St John Fisher College. For more information visit him at www.davidleeshow.net. Also look for David’s new book, My Wife, My Kids, My God in the fall of 2011.