Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is a distinctive music doc; its mix of elements makes it a notable statement on the band and their creative process. Inimitable in form and content, it has something for everyone: a robust mix of experimental artistry, unbridled passion and intense conflict. In his directorial debut, actor Michael Rapaport (Special, Small Time Crooks) has expertly recreated the rocky history of this band, and established their unique musical significance along the way. A Tribe Called Quest was on the cutting edge of the hip hop scene in the 1990s. They grabbed inspiration from even the furthest reaches of musical history to forge an innovative sound still relevant today. The word multifarious only begins to describe the music and the interpersonal relationships within the group. This is a film for music lovers of all stripes and promises to draw crowds.
At its core, the doc is a classic story of origin and demise: the members battled and created together, and finally struggled through a painful break-up. This is concentrated human drama pushed to extreme decibels. They say that one can never deeply hate a person that they do not genuinely love. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali and Jarobi were childhood friends, brothers in the best sense whose intricate dynamics sent sparks flying whenever they assembled. Whether collaborating, performing or battling wits, these men gave their all, and it showed in their music. For the most part, they managed to slow the incursion of their personal battles into their work, but behind the scenes their dramas practically exploded. Obvious kindred spirits united in a cause, their egos inevitably collided irreparably.
Director Rapaport captures these intimate dynamics with startling depth, and the band members provide candid interviews that are amazing in their honesty and emotional insight. The love that brought them together faded into unbearable hurt and not a single member of this group hides from that truth. They blame themselves as much as they blame each other. Not only touching, it's actually heartbreaking at times to watch.
Rapaport also deftly evokes the raw qualities of the emotions behind, within and beyond the music. The concert footage is expertly handled, complete with exhilaratingly rough camera movements and seemingly sloppy edits. Like the songs that materialize from just one sample into elaborate musical declarations, we are privy to a vibrant creative process that transpires within each frame and then spirals outward.
Even the requisite interviews with fellow travellers De La Soul and the Beastie Boys accentuate the importance of this band and the tragedy of their demise, a downfall made all the more heart-rending as we watch a noble attempt at reunion devolve into chaos. While certain to be a thrill for fans, this film will be a pleasant surprise for others. Ironically, it could easily spark new interest in a band that might never agree to share a stage again.
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Michael Rapaport
Producers: A Tribe Called Quest, Edward Parks, Frank Mele, Eric Matthies, Robert Benavides, Debra Koffler, Eric Teitel
Running Time: 98 min.
Release Date: July 8 NY