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

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

Directed by: Michael Rapaport
Cast: Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White, Common, Pharrell Williams
Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins
Rating: R
Release Date: July 15, 2011 (Chicago)

PLOT: A documentary about the legendary hip-hop quartet A Tribe Called Quest.

WHO'S IT FOR? For those who do like the group, this can be a great experience. It takes fans into the personal lives of A Tribe Called Quest, and makes new fans out of those who are open to listening to the classic sounds of the hip hop group. Those who don't care for the entire genre will likely be lost.


While the genre of hip hop can easily be a form of music that celebrates ego and materialism, this documentary about A Tribe Called Quest focuses on something much more valuable than money or record sale numbers - respect. Rapaport has made a documentary that avoids "the dirt" about the group's shenanigans partook in when they were on top of the hip hop world. Instead, it's more about how much of a mark the group has left on the rap world, and the journey that brought them to legendary respect.

We understand the importance of A Tribe Called Quest through the enthusiastic praises shared about them by reputable performers like the the Beastie Boys, Pharrell Williams, Questlove of the Roots, and more. One hurdle that this documentary isn't able to overcome is proving to extreme nonbelievers as to why A Tribe Called Quest is so important. Meaning, if you don't think that what Pharrell Williams has made with his influences is so great, especially if the ATCQ music by itself doesn't impress you, this entire movie might be underwhelming. It requires a certain appreciation at the most minimal to really understand the documentary's idea of ATCQ's "success."

With Rapaport's lack of interest in the materialistic craziness that comes with fame, he presents a near affectionate take on the band. From the very beginning, the first-time director establishes himself not just as a filmmaker, but a fan excited to dive deep into the brains that make the music that truly grooves him. When Rapaport presents the backgrounds of the members that would make A Tribe Called Quest it is with a sense of wonder. The entire movie has an air of undeniable enthusiasm, something audiences can easily catch onto. He presents the members of ATCQ not as documentary subjects but artists in their own right. Especially with the newness of the rap being covered in a major documentary, one might expect a director to pull back, and observe the music like a science experiment. Rapaport simply doesn't do this, and the documentary benefits greatly from his enthusiasm.

Beats Rhymes & Life provides a full perspective of A Tribe Called Quest, leading audiences through the group's discography, which has its hits and misses. It takes audience members into beat making Q-Tip's process, something that is exciting to witness, and in such a personal environment. While it does focus certainly on "Where Are They Now?"-like aspects of this group, one that has certainly grown from its beginnings of 1985, the past is equally alive as the present.


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