For the last time: Yes, you can kick it.
A Tribe Called Quest were a hip-hop/jazz-fusion group in the late-80’s/early-90’s who didn’t necessarily tear it up on the charts, but were respected enough that they’re legacy long lasted anyone or anything that may have been #1 at the time. Over the course of eight years, they released five albums – almost of all of which are near-masterpieces and considered to have changed the game of rap – went on tour, made plenty of money, and began to build bigger and bigger names for themselves. After all, Q-Tip, Phife, Jarobi, and Ali were just a bunch of kids from New York, looking to do something with their lives and music was the clear way. However, after plenty of inner-group tension and fighting, the band eventually went their separate ways, with plenty of bad blood felt between certain members. Obviously, every member would go on to do their own thing and poo-poo an idea of a reunion ever occurring, until, well, they do actually reunite, get back on-tour, start performing, and, believe it or not, teasing a soon-to-be-released sixth album. It seemed like everything was going great for A Tribe Called Quest again, but sometimes, old wounds stay open.
A Tribe Called Quest is probably the most important hip-hop group in all of the game of rap. While a lot of people will probably fight me to the ends of the Earth about that – to which I say, “bring it on” – the fact remains that A Tribe Called Quest created this innovative sound that was, in a way, their own. They were this nice hybrid of jazz, rock, rap, alternative, funk, and blues that wasn’t heard before, or hasn’t really been heard of since and it’s a shame, too, because so much rap nowadays could benefit from that. Don’t get me wrong, the rap game is still alive and well in today’s day and age, but still, there’s that slight feeling that it’s missing the same tenacity and style that A Tribe Called Quest had.
Even if you don’t like rap, they’re still a band that you have to at least respect; for doing what they did in the rap-world, at a time when it seemed like people were still belting out “Hammer time!“. They were slowly, but surely changing the way most of us listened to hip-hop and while you may not say that they’re absolute “originators”, they still did so much with the term “hip-hop”, went above and beyond it, and well, made a respectable name for themselves. You can’t despise hip-hop as much as you’d like, that’s up to you, but you’ve got to hand it to A Tribe Called Quest.
Hence why they’re documentary is still pretty great, even if it doesn’t quite reach the genius of the band themselves.
Michael Michael Rapaport, aside from being a pretty solid actor, seems very much at-home with his directorial debut here and it’s an interesting one. Clearly he has a love and affinity for the band and in that case, probably wouldn’t want to go too far and push these guy’s buttons, especially when there’s plenty of buttons to in fact push, but nope, he goes to the extra limits to see just what is on these guys’ minds and how they feel about certain other members of the band. Sure, he gets down to the nitty and the gritty of how the band started and all sorts of other lovely insights into how some of their most iconic sounds and raps were created/originated from, but he also goes the extra mile in seeing just what makes them all tick, whether it’s ticking in a good way, or bad way.
For a lot of people, they still don’t have the slightest idea why the band did originally break-up and exactly why there’s bad blood between anyone in the first place. What Rapaport shows is that, between Q-Tip and Phife, there was plenty of anger and resentment, however, it’s not always like that. After all, they’re not just band-mates, but buddies that love the same thing in music and work perfectly off of one another. Say what you will about musicians having a sort of God-complex – which Q-Tip definitely has – they have the ammunition to change a lot of people’s minds and worlds, which is why when Q-Tip and Phife were together, and on, they could have changed the world around them.
Of course, they did seem to fight an awful lot, too, so maybe changing the world’s a bit of a pipe dream.
But still, the movie shows that there’s not just a beautiful creative-process to the guys, but a real heart and soul to what makes them live and want to create music. Rapaport gets some of the deepest, darkest secrets from these guys, but it never seems exploitative; as a fan, you can sense that he’s so interested in just what the hell happened with these guys and how they’re still touring, even if, you know, there’s still some anger between them. He isn’t asking as a journalist, or gossip columnist, per se, but more as an admirer of fan boy, which sort of makes me wish the movie featured him just a tad more than it actually did. Then again, it’s not his story, so it makes sense why we don’t get a lot of him in the first place.
After all, it’s A Tribe Called Quest’s story and it’s a story worth listening and seeing, regardless of if you’re already a fan in the first place or not. It definitely helps if you’re a fan to begin with, as some of their more pointed moments are talked about at great lengths and it’s quite salivating, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Like the band’s music, the documentary is made for anyone to listen to watch, enjoy and take a little something out of. If you come away liking the band a whole lot more than you did, or taking on a newfound love of them, then good.
Just know that they were one of the greatest hip-hop acts to ever take the mic, which makes Phife Dawg’s passing all the more tragic.
RIP Phife. You’re always on point.
Consensus: Regardless of if you’re already a fan of A Tribe Called Quest or not, Beats Rhymes & Life will do a lot inform you about the band, as well as give you an inside scoop on some of the band’s inner-turmoils and dramas, without ever overdoing it, but instead, always appearing as a tribute to the one-of-a-kind act.
8.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Cut the Crap Movie Reviews