Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest Keeps the Beat

We all have a particular musical band or artists that encompasses the formative years of our youth. Depending on your age these musicians can range anywhere from the Beatles to Lady Gaga. Many who spent a good portion of their teen years in the 90’s cite bands like Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam as important bands in their lives. However, for me A Tribe Called Quest is that band. To this day I still have the edition of Source magazine that focused on the group’s demise and the legacy they left behind. About five years ago I was fortunate enough to see the band perform live as their brief reunion tour made a pit stop in Toronto.

Besides being mesmerized by the fact that the group could still put on an exceptional show, the one thing that stood out when seeing the band live was how much I missed them when they were gone. I had a similar feeling when watching Michael Rapaport’s documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. A big fan of the band himself, Rapaport’s film starts off with the group in turmoil during their reunion tour and traces back to the early days to show how four friends (Kamaal “Q-Tip” Fareed, Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White) changed the way the world looked at rap music. While there had been several successful artists in the rap genre in the late 80’s and early 90’s, A Tribe Called Quest was one of the first groups to achieve mainstream success through “conscious rap”. Instead of simply making party records or rapping about life on the streets, A Tribe Called Quest was sharing experiences about the ups and down of life and love over smooth jazz influenced beats.

In many ways Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest feels like a proper bookend to the group’s wonderful career. Rapaport does a good job of exploring why the band was so influential in the world of hip hop. Featuring interviews with the likes of De La Soul, DJ Red Alert, Monie Love, The Beastie Boys, Common, ?uestlove and Black Thought from The Roots just to name a few, Rapaport is able to offer up a well-rounded look at all the important moments of the group’s career. However, the best insight comes from the group members themselves. The inner turmoil of the band has been well documented over the years, but it was nice to hear it directly from Q-Tip’s and Phife Dawg’s mouth. Although they grew up like brothers the years of being in a group have formed a mixture of pride and anger in both men. Even Phife’s illness does not seem to bring them together the way you would expect it to.

Although they may not see each other in the same way they did back in the 90’s, these men will always be linked by the great music they created together. At the end of the day the music is all that matters. The documentary will not convert newcomers into becoming fans, but there is still enough that will engage even those who have never heard of the group before. If you do happen to be a fan of A Tribe Called Quest, then this film is essential viewing. After viewing the film I could not help but pull out all my A Tribe Called Quest albums and continue the trip down memory lane.


  1. Nice one for pointing this out! I've got a mate who LOVES ATCQ. I'll have to share this with him!

  2. I'm not much of a hip-hop fan (especially with today's hip-hop which I find to be absolutely dreadful) but I've always enjoyed the music of ATCQ. Notably The Low End Theory which is my favorite album of theirs so far.

    The documentary was a major surprise for me as it did more than just go into the band's history and explore each member's personality. The stuff about the break-up and that scene where Q-Tip and Phife were really just pissed at each other shocked me. I had never seen that in film but I was glad at least to see that Rapaport had the camera to capture this turmoil. I felt sorry for Ali and Jarobi for having to see this boil over.

    What was even more startling for me was that Rapaport wisely chose not to take either side and let Q-Tip and Phife express their own frustrations and I felt for both of them. You don't see that a lot in most music docs and that's why I think it's a film more people should see. Even if it's for someone who isn't into hip-hop.

  3. I'm a huge fan of A Tribe Called Quest and have really been looking forward to watching this doc. Glad to hear it's a good film.

  4. @Pete - I think he would probably love it. Even non-fans should enjoy it.

    @thevoid - Ali and Jarobi get the rough end of the deal for sure. I agree that Rapaport made a wise decision in not taking any sides in the dispute. The way I see it, both men were at fault. It is just a shame they let their personal pride get in the way of things.

    @Dave - I highly recommend the film to anyone who is a fan. Heck, I would even recommend it highly to those who are not. I think there is enough in here to satisfy both groups.


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