Saturday, September 10, 2011
Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest
As we get older, a good number of us become nostalgic at least once a day. I know I do. While hip hop culture is essentially youth culture, we tend to lament about how things were in our day. So when a documentary like "Beats, Rhymes, and Life" comes along, we do everything in our power to round up the old school crew together and go see it. If Michael Rappaport did anything, he put us all on a time machine. Literally, it felt as if we all put on the same pair of headphones and pressed play.
The film is glossy and fresh. You can feel the Native Tongues vibe oozing from the screen. It's as if the album covers from the first three Tribe albums were enlarged and wrapped around the audience. I don't know if that is the nostalgia bug chewing at my brain but that's exactly how I felt. The editing was wonderful and quite honestly, it's one of the better editing docs I have seen in a long time.
Rappaport starts the movie off with the 2008 break up at the Rock the Bells tour and then returns to Farmer's Boulevard and Linden to when Q Tip and Phife were preschoolers who met in church. Rappaport and his subjects do a awonderful job of removing any ideas of the break up from that point on. We see the love and the good vibes that made the group many of us aficionados grew to enjoy.
So when things fall apart, the audience is still surprised.
The movie then takes us to the meeting with the Jungle Brothers and Tip's first production credit ("Black is Black...") and verse on "the Promo." The audience is taken through the production and atmosphere surrounding the first three Tribe albums. We found ourselves rhyming along with the score. It felt like church. For many of us, it was. Then it's all downhill from there.
There are several little things that Rappaport does that really stand out. Like the discussion over Phife's verse on "Bugging Out." You just couldn't leave that one out. You could feel the audience nod in agreement. Or when Pharrell Williams waxes nostalgic over the sample of "Bonita Applebum." You couldn't help but get goosebumps when Mos Def and Tip recited the verse from "Excursions." Or when Tip explains who he found the drums for "Can I Kick It?" It's those little details to just made the movie much more wonderful.
There were a few elements that were missing such as Afrika Bambaata (although Zulu Nation was mentioned several times) and Phife's dis records about Q tip after the initial break up but Rappaport knocks it out the park. I could not find a reason why Q tip urged his fans not to watch the movie. Sure, the audience meets Q tips ego throughout the film but isn't that why we love him?
Hands down, this is probably one of the top ten hip hop documentaries that folks must see. I took one of my students to watch this film. He was five years old when "Midnight Marauders" was released so he missed this entire era. Yet when Pharrel Williams explained that there would be no J Dilla, Kanye, or Pharrel if it wasn't for Tribe, he got it.
I highly recommend watching this movie with a crew and then having a discussion afterward. Rappaport packs so much into this film. It could have been longer and I am sure many writers and directors will pull many ideas from this film. And like a Marvel Comics movie adaptation, stay for the credits.