Today in history, July 8, 2011, the Michael Rapaport-directed “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,” opened in USA theaters, en route to a $1,200,326 box office total gross, distributed by Sony Classics.
Re-watching the documentary again recently (I haven’t seen it since 2011) in anticipation of today, frankly, I’m not certain what Q-Tip’s beef was all about back when it was originally released, because there’s really nothing in this that I’d say is damning, or paints him or his crew in a negative light. You might recall that he and director Michael Rapaport got into a very public feud over the film and its contents, with Tip concerned about how much behind-the-scenes *ugliness* the film revealed about the rap trio, threatening not to support it upon its release. They (A Tribe Called Quest – Q-tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi) were, for all intents and purposes, a family. And families are in conflict from time to time. It’s the natural order of things. Peaks and valleys, I-Ching, ying and yang; there’ll be good times and there’ll be not-so good times. And with maturity comes some sense of solace. You face, head-on, whatever differences divide you, squash them and move on. I don’t think anyone watched the film and suddenly looked at the group any differently.
C’est la vie.
Unless, as some suggested at the time, that it was all a publicity stunt by Tip to help market the film, leading up to its release, about the supposed rift with director (and #1 fan of ATCQ) Michael Rapaport, over the film’s content, when it debuted 5 years ago.
As for the documentary itself, it’s not-so different from your run-of-the-mill VH1 behind the music piece, but with more expletives, none of which are edited out. Although, to his credit, director Rapaport did say, in a press statement, that his goal was to create “a classic rock and roll style documentary.”
So, it’s a meat and potatoes kind of effort. No gimmicks, nothing flashy, no risks taken – except for maybe the animated interstitials, which I thought were a nice touch.
There are certainly many ATCQ fans out there (yours truly included) that will appreciate the time warp – especially those of us who frequently reminisce about the “good old days” of hip-hop, when groups like ATCQ, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Leaders of the New School, and the rest of the self-labeled Native Tongues reigned boom boxes, car speakers, house parties, and the like.
I found myself bobbing my head during those scattered moments when Rapaport inserted clips of tracks from past albums, like their debut, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm,” to “The Love Movement.”
I’d admit that after watching the documentary, I felt the urge to crank up iTunes on my laptop and blast “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo.” It’s all about the music.
I didn’t care for much of the drama, which comprised mostly of infighting between Phife and Q-Tip – one felt that the other was pulling a Diana Ross/Beyonce on the rest of the group; the other felt that he was being singled out for no apparent reason. Guess who was who?
I actually felt more for Ali Shadeed and Jarobi, who were caught in the middle of most of this ongoing quarrel; Ali Shaheed mostly, as Jarobi left the group early in its run.
Although, a segue into Phife’s health problems due to childhood onset diabetes, and his wife choosing to give him one of her kidneys so he can live, was certainly affecting.
Rapaport’s footage begins in 2008, when he went out on tour with the group – a reuniting almost 10 years after the release of their last album, “The Love Movement.” Other than the music, highlights from the film include interviews with some of hip-hop’s luminaries, past and present, discussing their influence on the group, or the group’s influence on them, from New York’s legendary DJ Red Alert (old school), to Pharrell (new school), all of whom share some combination of love and respect for the group.
We get a quick primer on the so-called golden age of hip-hop, followed by back-story segments on each member of the band, how they met, how they chose their name, putting together their debut album, and we’re off to the races, with archival photo stills, music breaks, talking heads and live concert footage.
Too bad we don’t really get underneath the surface of these guys. There’s still a lot of posturing and bravado, with few moments that actually expose what I’d call real depth of character. What makes these guys tick? We know they love music, that’s a given; but peel back the layers a little more.
And how about introducing a music scholar or critic to put the group into some better context, and maybe give us an objective critique of their music, to balance all the adulation heaped upon them by their predecessors, contemporaries and fans.
If it’s not already clear by now, I think it’s a serviceable documentary. Fans of the group will probably already be familiar with much of their story, but may appreciate seeing it all unfold onscreen, and be encouraged to reach for that “Low End Theory” CD, LP, or their mobile devices with the entire album purchased and downloaded from iTunes or Amazon.
Those who don’t know about A Tribe Called Quest will learn enough to get up-to-speed on who they are, and may even be inspired to buy a track or two.
Clearly Rapaport is a big supporter of the group and it shows. And so am I!
Microphone check, one two, what is this? A Tribe Called Quest Documentary that gives you SOME of the business…