REVIEW: "Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest"

Michael Rapaport's doc does a solid job of contextualizing ATCQ, the moment they came on the scene, and their impact on hip hop

 

(l to r: Jarobi, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Q-Tip)

This is less a full fledged “review” than a sampling of my notes while watching the film, which I must say, I enjoyed.  Definitely worth seeing, since it does a good job of contextualizing ATCQ, the moment they came on the scene, and their impact on hip hop.

Let’s face it: We all loved “Bonita Applebum” and “Check The Rhyme”.  But what was powerful was to hear folks like ?uestlove from The Roots and Pharrell Williams talk about the group’s impact.  In fact, Pharrell says it was Tribe that made him get serious about music and made him listen to it in a way that he hadn’t done before.

In fact, it was great to be reminded of the extent to which Q-Tip was a huge crate-digger.  ?uestlove states emphatically that it was because of Q-Tip that a whole generation paid serious attention to their parents’ vinyl collections.

Tribe stood in opposition to the gangsta rap that was flourishing at the time.  And there was a great diversity within the Native Tongues clique, which started with Tribe, De La Soul and The Jungle Brothers, and grew to include Monie Love, Black Sheep, Leaders of the New School, Brand Nubian, Queen Latifah, and the Beatnuts, to name a few.   I’m paraphrasing, but it was cool to hear him say that they were examples that guys could come out of the hood and have lofty ideas.  Pow.

By far the most moving core of the film is the peek that it offers inside the relationship between Jarobi and Phife.  It’s rare to see examples on the screen of two black men who have such unconditional love for each other.  And you feel Jarobi’s fear and pain when he breaks down on camera talking about Phife’s liver transplant, brought on by his diabetes and his self-proclaimed inability to kick his addiction to sugar.

And, yes, Phife and Q-Tip have their issues with each other, but it looks like they’re working things out.  At the end of the day, it’s a life- and friendship-affirming film.  It didn’t make me “long for the golden age of hip hop” so much as it reminded me, again, that there were a lot of good things that the the artform has produced.  And, in a time when it’s easy to forget that, reminders such as this are welcome, indeed.

Beats, Rhymes & Life is in limited release, so check your local listing.  Diehard fans may disagree, but I don’t think there’s any way you can leave the theater without a smile on your face.

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