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Before there was even a glimpse on this documentary running on YouTube or before any posted trailer clip started circulating, there was something really exciting just in anticipation about any type of documentary film focused on a milestone group such as A Tribe Called Quest – pioneers in hip-hop and credited to selling 5 Gold and Platinum albums before their 1998 break-up. It’s similar to the rush a sports fan would get upon hearing about the making of a Muhammad Ali film; or a jazz fan’s delighted eyes upon hearing of a Miles Davis flick in the works; or a reggae fan literally seeing red, gold n’ green when finding out that a script was approved by a major film studio on the life story about the iconic Bob Marley.

For hip-hop fans – you know who you are when it comes to a documentary film about ATCQ – nothing could be more disheartening than how the buzz of this film developed more on the shoulders of two of the group’s members, rappers Phife Dawg and Q-Tip, who by now you’d know have had some significant conflict between each other. This played-up conflict introduces the film’s opening and surely reoccurs into a full explosion near the end during the group’s 2008 Rock The Bells Tour. In the group’s 8th year of recording – an eternity in a hip-hop artist’s lifespan – rather than Michael Rapaport have the forefront of the film focused on fast, drastic climate changes that made hip-hop suddenly a big part of mainstream pop music, which obviously ALSO contributed to the group’s 1998 demise, there’s this conscious effort within the fabric of the film, to zero-in more on the riff between Phife and Q-Tip. Now, it should be said that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with highlighting this very evident beef. But what about how groundbreaking their music is and how they steered us, redirecting an entire generation into unification and broadening our minds as part of the hip-hop movement? We’re talking about A Tribe Called Quest – not 50 Cent, or NWA, or 2 Pac – all artists that built their careers (and record sales) surrounded by conflict, violence and real live bullets! If there’s any group that deserves less of any negativity to surround them because of their much greater positive role and contribution they’ve influenced the world with through their music (including the film’s director who’s a huge fan), it’s ATCQ. Do we live in a world where we can only gain the attention of each other, by being negative or absorbed into conflict? I remember the days of KRS-One LP covers that purposefully brandished images of an Uzi and weaponry to lure ignorant youths into his trap of elevated, knowledgeable messages. Rapaport’s been an avid hip-hop fan from its inception, so did he have this technique from ‘the teacher’ in mind? For ATCQ? Doubt it! Regardless, there are far richer concepts to build on and that can be marketed in such glorious ways with a group such as ATCQ, in order to grab fans’ attention and rope music enthusiasts into gaining an interest to watch this film.

With the full support of the film by all ATCQ members encouraging everyone to go see it, including Q-Tip, surely this conflict isn’t what initially drew Rapaport into loving and admiring ATCQ back in the day, and surely it couldn’t be what sparked him to want to capture the group’s greatness through a documentary film. Although this doesn’t take up the majority of the film’s content, it’s surely and darkly overshadowing. It could’ve been minimized.

Already having hit prestigious film festivals in 2011 with ‘Official Selection’ tags from the Sundance Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival – to much ecstatic praise and jubilation – it’s soon hitting the LA Film Festival on June 23rd. Watch for standout pieces within the film on Phife’s emotional battle with diabetes, including a life-threatening kidney transplant; Jarobi White’s spiritual role as that on-and-off member of the group who creates such a natural mystic around him; Q-Tip’s master-wizardry on shaping the group’s soulful, jazzy and magical sound, as well as his wide admiration from amongst the industry’s elite such as Pete Rock, Pharrell Williams, DJ Red Alert, The Roots, Beastie Boys, Prince Paul, Busta Rhymes and many others; heartfelt testimonials from all the members of the entire Native Tongues crew; and pay attention to Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s humble yet steady discourse throughout the entire film (in all scenarios – both good and bad) contributing towards something that possibly kept ATCQ together as a group for as long as they’ve been.

Outside of this ongoing theme of conflict between Phife and Q-Tip, there’s a happy ending – a reality that makes you breathe a sigh of relief. And for music fans that were especially captivated by a strong, diverse and rich hip-hop movement – especially out of the New York/Tri-State area in the 1990’s – this documentary film will go down as one of the most welcomed amongst hip-hop purists who swear by the likes of Wild Style, Beat Street, Style Wars, Krush Groove, Breakin’, Juice, Boyz N Tha Hood and 8 Mile. So let’s be fair and recognize that in the film’s entirety, most of its features about the group’s rise to fame until their disbanding in 1998 are presented and edited with the ultimate ATCQ soundtrack to keep you glued to the screen, all the while bobbing your head to the beat.

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (Sony Pictures Classics) officially hits cinemas in New York and Los Angeles ONLY on July 8, and in other cities with dates TBA.

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0 Responses to ""Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest" (Film Review)"
  • TomL says:

    Finally we have a release date for this… its been on my radar for quite some time now

  • Skins says:

    I just watched this on Monday night, and I couldn’t agree more that the last third of the movie focuses waaay too much on the conflict between Tip and Phife. The first hour, however, was enough to send me back into the crates and I’ve been rocking nothing but Tribe for the past two days. A must see for any Tribe fan, although it definitely could have been done far better.

  • yeah ive had an advanced copy of this movie for the last couple of weeks…im still gonna go out and support the movie when it does come out…good review…

  • jack in the box says:

    I have to disagree with the conflict being overly emphasized. The documentary is about Tribe NOW, and how we got to this point. It’s not a retrospect made for TV; a bunch of old heads reminiscing about the glory days.

    If you disagree with Rapaport’s implicit belief that Tribe could still be making great music if it wasn’t for x/y/z, that’s fine. But unless you realize that he’s approaching the documentary from that angle, you’re missing the point.

  • Skins says:

    ^ Noted, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that the first hour doesn’t play like the retrospect you claim it not to be, whether that’s the intention or not. So, based on that ultimately I would suggest that Rapaport’s vision ends up being convoluted at best. Maybe (fine, probably) my lamentations are based on what I wish the movie was and not what it was intended to be, but the fact is there is more of a retrospective angle to it than an angle of conflict/current state of their union.

    I’m definitely going to watch it again, and if upon second viewing I disagree with anything I’ve said above, I’ll come back and refute my own arguments.

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