Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

Directed by Michael Rapaport, Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is a film about the seminal hip-hop group from the 1990s who reunited for a 2008 tour after a long-decade break-up. The film explores the band’s history as well as the on-going turmoil between its members during the reunion tour as Rapaport joins them on the tour while interviewing other artists, fans, and family members who loved the group. The result is a truly fascinating and very engaging documentary from Michael Rapaport.

Most music bio-pics or specials about an artist or a group often derive into a certain formula about how they rose, got famous, made a great album, discover drugs and all sorts of crazy shit, implode, and then get back together or something. For a group like A Tribe Called Quest, they did follow that same path but not in the most conventional way as actor/filmmaker Michael Rapaport goes inside the group’s tumultuous yet loving relationship as they go on a reunion tour in 2008 that brought more trouble.

The film does follow a formula about the band’s rise and demise but Rapaport was smart enough to find ways to stray from that formula. Notably as he allows the group along with associates like De La Soul, Prince Paul, and the Jungle Brothers to discuss what it was like back then when hip-hop was emerging in the 1980s. The heart of the film is the relationship between its members Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White where they express their love for each other but also their frustrations towards one another. Notably as it begins with Q-Tip and Phife Dawg who knew each other since they were kids.

Since a Tribe Called Quest were also very influential in providing an alternative to the late 80s/early 90s gangsta-rap and the more commercial pop-rap music of the times. The film also revealed the Native Tongues scene that was the center of this alternative hip-hop scene that celebrated a more upbeat and eclectic side of the genre that was led by acts like Tribe, De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, and Queen Latifah. Fans like producer Pharrell Williams and Common express their love for that scene as they feel it’s something really missed in hip-hop. The film also explored the albums the group made, notably the first three including the widely-lauded 1991 sophomore album The Low End Theory as the album's engineer claims that it’s the Sgt. Pepper’s of hip-hop.

While the film is about their history, Rapaport delves into the differing personalities of the group as they each dealt with their own issues with fame and stardom that eventually did tear the group apart. Notably as Jarobi left the group during the making of The Low End Theory due to other pursuits while Q-Tip grew to become a perfectionist leading to creative issues with him and Phife Dawg. Phife Dawg’s battle with diabetes was another issue that led to the band’s implosion in 1998 as the three-year gap between 1993’s Midnight Marauders and 1996’s Beats, Rhymes, & Life were sort of explained though the group admitted that’s where things really started to end as they made one more album in 1998’s The Love Movement as creative tension, personality issues, and frustrations with the music industry led to Q-Tip’s decision to end the group.

The most interesting part of the film is the 2008 reunion which they admitted doing for the money partly because of Phife’s health issues at the time. What Rapaport manages to do is go inside the fighting between Q-Tip and Phife where things do intensify not just onstage but also backstage where the film opens with the band’s last show of their 2008 tour where Q-Tip expresses his frustration with the whole thing. There’s no sides to take in these arguments but through Rapaport’s direction, it does allow some sympathy towards the whole group including Ali and Jarobi who both seem uncomfortable by these events.

Another great thing about Rapaport’s direction is the fact that he doesn’t try to impose himself or be the center of attention in the documentary as he knows this is their story. Through the use of archival TV footage including music videos and TV performance clips, Rapaport shows the group’s evolution from the first album to the last album. With the help of cinematographer Robert Benavides for the look and editor Lenny Mesina to maintain a leisured pace. The film does play into a style as it includes some animated sequences including the film’s stylish opening credits.

Aside from the interviews with artists and fans that include the Beastie Boys, De La Soul, Pharrell Williams, Prince Paul, the Jungle Brothers, and many others. The highlight of the film is the music as it features a lot of the music by a Tribe Called Quest along with music of the times like the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul along with some of the music they sampled like Minnie Ripperton. Including some hip-hop based score music by Madlib, the music of the film is just truly intoxicating to hear.

Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is an extraordinary and fun documentary film from Michael Rapaport. Fans of the group will no doubt see this film as the ultimate story that does more than what is expected in most music biography stories. Notably as it plays with the usual formula of those artist/group stories. For people new to the group including those who aren’t fans of hip-hop. It is a documentary that allows that audience to be engaged into the story while seeing that these four men can love each other but also hate each other at the same time. In the end, Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is a marvelous film from Michael Rapaport.

A Tribe Called Quest Albums: (People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm) - (The Low End Theory) - (Midnight Marauders) - (Beats, Rhymes, & Life) - (The Love Movement)

© thevoid99 2012

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