Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Check The Rhimes And Conflicts Of A Tribe Called Quest

In the early to mid 90's, A Tribe Called Quest were one of the top hip hop acts around. Appearances on The Arsenio Hall Show, a spot on Lollapalooza 1994 and three solid, critically acclaimed albums brought the group into the mainstream consciousness while issues with leadership and record labels would cause the group to disband before the end of the decade. Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is a documentary on the influential group and explores these subjects as well as shows why even today, the idea of a reunion blurs the line between being the best and worst thing that could happen to their legacy.

The film uses the group's Rock the Bells 2008 reunion as the backbone to the entire film which showcases all of highs and lows of ATCQ. The highs, of course, are the music, the impact and the friendship of the four members. If you are a fan, the music speaks for itself. At a time when hip hop was either about partying or being young and militant, ATCQ and the rest of Native Tongues found a way to offer a positive, afrocentric take on party rhymes while being set to jazz samples and loops. This paved the way for a multitude of artists from The Roots to Common, who appear in the film to discuss the group's sound and impact on hip hop.

While showcasing the music and its creators, the film veers away from the art and begins to focus more on the artists behind it. For Q-Tip and DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad, music is their lives. Throughout the film, this is stated by showing them working on tracks, record shopping and, in one particular humorously insightful scene,  Q-Tip is sitting at his place discussing how he came up with the drum beat for "Can I Kick It" and describes how he found the album that led to the beat. Equally, Phife Dawg and Jarobi's stories follow their passions involving sports and culinary arts but their story is more about their tight-knit friendship, a friendship that leads to a scene of Jarobi tearing up when mentioning Phife's health issues.

With friends involved in a business, there, naturally, is a little bloodshed. This is where a documentary essentially takes its real form as is explains why a full time reunion is very unlikely. It all comes down to poor communication and, to a lesser degree, jealousy. Q-Tip is upset with Phife because he is not talking before going on stage and Phife is still harboring resentment toward Q-Tip for ending the group a decade earlier and moving on with solo projects among other miscommunications. Then there is the debate of roles in the group and where do the members fit. All the time, the other members get stuck in the middle. Luckily, Jarobi, aside from occasional appearances, left prior to their sophomore album and avoided so much of the problems that surrounded their fourth and fifth albums.

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is a documentary filmed by a fan and made for fans. First time director/actor Michael Rapaport lets his camera roll and captures many different facets of its members and their connection to one another. Often, he gets them to let their guard down and show that despite the arguments, fame and records, they are still best friends and continue to look out for each other such as agreeing to reunite to help Phife with any medical costs for his pending Phife's kidney replacement as well as being there and checking in with him on the day of the surgery.

It is with this unguarded view that rappers Q-Tip and Phife Dawg have openly discussed their feelings toward the film and having their candid feelings and moments capture on video. With such vulnerability and emotion captured on camera, one has to agree with the suggestion of Phife's wife that he and Q-Tip should see a therapist. Then again, a viewing of this film should also help them patch up their differences.

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