Alright let me first state that no artist or music group has been more influential in my life than A Tribe Called Quest. When my adolescent self stumbled on a hip-hop group that flowed over jazz tunes with style and grace, my exclusive world of rap collided with my parents’ collection of soulful records, and A Tribe Called Quest became my favorite music to listen to all day, everyday. The group’s deep catalog of sampled records expanded my mind to appreciate all sorts of quality music and ignited my interest in the dopeness. So viewing Michael Rapaport’s newly released documentary Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest was an especially personal experience that had me buzzing for days. Continue reading for a complete Sour Grape breakdown of the must-see film.
Watching old clips of the group’s formation in Queens, New York during the 1980s while the members were in high school was similar to viewing footage of the first moon landing; A historic moment for mankind unfolding before my eyes. From the early beginnings, Q-Tip was a masterful producer with a keen ear for the perfect sample yet also a total control freak that would not let the group fail. Watching him sit in a room full of vinyl with a record player and show the camera exactly how he created “Can I Kick It?” had me breathless and wide-eyed like I was watching Van Gogh paint “A Starry Night.” Ok that may be a little much. But Q-Tip was most definitely the visionary chief of A Tribe Called Quest, and longtime friend and high pitched lyrical assassin Phife Dawg was the ideal laidback ying to the zany yang of Q. With DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad and un-sung hero Jarobi White, the group created a fresh and original flavor of music that blazed a new path for generations to come.
Current music titans such as Questlove and Pharrell weigh in on the importance and significance of A Tribe Called Quest, explaining how half of modern hip-hop wouldn’t be around today without the Native Tongues, the Zulu collective of De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, and ATCQ. Everyone from Common to Kanye has been influenced by the socially conscious party jams of the dashiki clad crew from Queens. Music and urban culture will forever remember the jazz rap fusion produced by A Tribe Called Quest.
However the documentary shows how those same maniacal tendencies of Q-Tip that propelled A Tribe Called Quest to greatness also led to the group’s destruction. As ATCQ claimed worldwide fame riding the success of their first three albums, especially The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, Phife struggled with diabetes and Q-Tip continued to increase the pressure for perfection in the studio and on stage. The two friends became bitter enemies and the group ultimately broke up in 1998 over personal issues as well as mounting conflict with their label, Jive Records.
In his directoral debut, Michael Rapaport follows A Tribe Called Quest as the members re-unite for the 2008 Rock the Bells Tour in effort to financially support Phife’s fight with diabetes, which necessitated a kidney transplant. Cameras catch Q-Tip and Phife bicker back stage and capture friends and collaborators De La Soul wish the group would just call it quits for the fans sake. Watching one of the greatest acts in hip-hop history crumble on screen is sad to watch, but the audience gains some understanding and clarity of the situation. Although Q-Tip does not approve of the documentary and refused to attend the premier, Rapaport shows both sides of the story and portrays the drama in a fair and balanced manner. Q-Tip is just a lunatic. And I mean that in the best possible way. He is a classic example of a man that is half genius half crazy. But the world is forever a better place because of the music he made with his high school friends from Queens. A Tribe Called Quest will one day join the pantheon of legends. Until then, go see Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest so you can pass along the folklore.
– Kirk Reed