BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST (Dir. Michael Rappaport, 2011)
Actor turned documentary director Rappaport doesn’t re-invent the band bio-doc format here, but he’s crafted a solid engrossing piece of prime infotainment that pulls no punches in telling the story of hip hop legends A Tribe Called Quest nonetheless.
Rappaport opens the film backstage at a 2008 reunion gig at which band members Q-Tip and Phife Dawg clashed, having never resolved differences since their last album: 1998’s “The Love Movement.”
From there we are taken through the history of the group from Queens with photos, performance footage, clips from music videos, and interviews with Q-Tip, Phife, Jarobi White, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of Tribe as well as testimonials from many of their peers like Mos Def, Ludacris, Common, De La Soul and the Beastie Boys.
It may feel at times like a big Behind The Music episode as it tells the story hundreds of music documentaries have told before that a band’s future is often jeapordized by a couple of guys who can’t seem to get along, but this tale is so compellingly told with tons of infectiously head bopping music pumping throughout that it transcends the overly familiar framework.
Rappaport’s voice can be heard from behind the camera in a few scenes, but he wisely doesn’t incorporate himself into the film. As he’s a huge fan of the band, he obviously wants to pay tribute, but he also wants to get to the bottom of how this band imploded. By the time the film winds back to that 2008 reunion run-in we fully get via the blunt statements from Q-Tip and Phife Dawg more than an inkling of what went down.
Tribe has one more record left on their contract with Jive Records, but the vibe on display here tells us we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for it.
I only knew a few tracks going in, but this background schooling has made me seek out more Tribe – picked up a copy of “The Low End Theory” (1991) on CD today as a matter of fact. “Beats Rhymes & Life” is an excellent example of a documentary that will satisfy hardcore fans yet at the same time it serves as a great gateway drug for the uninitiated.