Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

 dir: Michael Rapaport, 2011

Aside from Illmatic, DMX’s first three albums, The Ecleftic, and an array of salsa albums, few records impacted me the way A Tribe Called Quest’s Anthology did. I’m not a heavy fan like some, but I love the music.

Michael Rapaport’s documentation of Tribe in Beats, Rhymes, & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is itself an anthology in a way. Weaving together the voices of the members and their peers, traveling backward and forward in time, we get a broad and complicated view of how Tribe became and who they are today.

It’s important to note that this also feels like a labor of love. Fandom and family are kind of the driving forces of the narrative Rapaport weaves because he himself is a fan of the group. In turn, nearly every person interviewed is a part of the village that raised and celebrated these cats as they changed the landscape of Hip-hop at large. 

Aside from the history of the group though, the meat of the film is the tenuous “love/hate relationship” between frontmen Phife Dawg and Q-Tip. First off, it’s great that we get to hear them both airing out their grievances about the other. Their words (in addition to Ali’s and Jarobi’s), resulting vulnerability, lends a real view into the human beings behind the aggressive persona and bravados that Hip-hop often cultivates (even for self-proclaimed “weirdos” like Tribe).

That being said it feels as if, through editing, Rapaport favors Q-Tip’s side of events. I personally think this has to do with his investment (as suggested by a title card at the film’s end) in seeing the group reconcile and do one last album.

While this is his prerogative, I think it gives Phife the rough end of the stick. This is only complicated further when we get to see how deeply diabetes affected his life. Of all the Tribe members, Phife often shows the least amount of emotional vulnerability. It’s exhausting sometimes because you can tell that he loves the group, Q-Tip especially. But for whatever reason he puts on the tough guy act more often than he probably should.

On the flipside though, when he does truly let you in, Phife reveals himself to be an incredibly embattled but resilient man whose truly touched by real acts of love and camaraderie. The biggest of which are his wife’s donation of her own kidney and Q-Tip’s text before Phife’s surgery. I feel like I can’t stress love enough, because that’s where a lot of the film’s heart is. This is especially true when you see how broken up Jarobi gets over Phife’s then impending surgery, and Ali’s cool but concerned exasperation over the crew’s clashing personalities.

Seeing that despite their issues, these men really care about each other, is magical. Not just because it’s men genuinely crying over each other, but because they’re black men. So few of us show these emotions (publicly), either to ourselves or the ones we love, that it’s simultaneously jarring and cathartic to see it on screen.

While I could go on and on about that one point, much of the film is also just a beautifully woven history lesson in music and culture. Throughout there is a solid pride and clear lens on the revolution in Hip-hop that Tribe led. In addition, it’s refreshing to have a clear and authentic history of the culture be presented by both those who created it and those who appreciate it.

So whatever your inclination, Beats is definitely a great watch.


dapisdope_profilepic_bootsThe original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™,  dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things.  He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things.  Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope

Leave a Reply