Family, Art, Ego, Emotion.
As I watched Beats, Rhymes, And Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest by Michael Rapaport, these concepts became the underlying within a group that nothing short of brilliant and all things revolutionary. The movie was the autobiography of A Tribe Called Quest, which in many ways was a story more than twenty years in the making. Rapaport makes a brave effort at encapsulating their story within a 90-minute time frame. His play on music and the interwoven stories of Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), Jarobi White and Q-Tip (Kamal Fareed) acted in many ways as the story of Hip Hop’s enigmatic growth, fall, and rebirth within mainstream consciousness.
The movie opens with an introduction to a montage of images and sounds — familiar tracks and pictures accompanied by music from past Tribe albums make the opening easily palatable. Rapaport then advances film through testimonials from noted MC’s and DJ’s that have been long-time admirers of ATCQ. The most important testimonials came from Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Barry Weiss (CEO of Jive Records), and Jarobi White — they spoke about times when the industry did not know what to make of ATCQ. Barry Weiss even goes so far to say that industry experts wrote ATCQ off before they gave them their proper dues.
Rapaport is able to go back in time and paint a picture of how it was for the group during the early nineties — the true beginnings of a pioneering hip hop family in Queens, New York. Their baptism into an emerging culture within the boroughs was also intertwined with all other musical influences. Pharrell Williams noted that ATCQ were true pioneers in the sampling game — that without them, today’s hip hop stars would be nothing. Beats, Rhymes, And Life from the onset took me to a place that I haven’t been to in a very long time — a time when music wasn’t threatened by commercialism, by the status quo, and in all honesty by everyone else.
The movie was a visceral trip. For those that aren’t fans of ATCQ, one is still able to relate to the characters, their plight and the atmosphere that Hip Hop resided within at the time. For fans, the movie brought an immediate sense of nostalgia and excitement with the images that Rapaport has managed to convey. It is with these images that Rapaport succeeds in painting a picture that depicts not only the journey that ATCQ took, but also that of the Hip Hop movement itself. The film also tells the story of a group full musical mavericks — whether it was Q-Tip’s ability to find the perfect sample, Phife’s lyrical prowess, or Ali Shaheed’s cerebral cuts on the tables. To those within the industry, ATCQ represented the best of what Hip Hop had to offer.
The movie became a sounding board for those in the industry that understood ATCQ’s inherent message. Individuals like Black Thought from The Roots credit Tribe’s intuitive approach to their music. Pharell Williams of N.E.R.D went as far as saying that Tribe was “untouchable” in terms of their albums (specifically Midnight Marauders). Prince Paul, DJ Red Alert, De La Soul, and The Beastie Boys echoed the very emotions that I myself were feeling as I went down memory lane recalling how tracks like “Check The Rhime”, “Bonita Applebum”, and “Electric Relaxation” reverberated in my chest. To people who had a distinct connection to Hip Hop’s Golden Age, this music was nothing short of bliss.
ATCQ’s subsequent breakup was a defining moment for all of Hip Hop. Rapaport provided a rare look into the various reasons why the group parted ways. And yet, he reminds us that Hip Hop was built on stronger stuff — ATCQ was first and foremost about good music that the original members were best known for, hence their subsequent reunion tours.
Beats, Rhymes, And Life encapsulated the best and worst parts of ATCQ. Rapaport successfully told the story of a group that defined what it meant to speak the truth. Q-Tip noted Tribe remains relevant because audiences, both old and new, identified with their message. Fareed even goes as far as saying that, “Hip Hop is the last great American art form” — if that is the case, then Rapaport crafted the perfect homage to that ideal.