A Tribe Called Quest Documentary Masterfully Crafted, Disastrously Tragic Tale

Last week, the documentary Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest released to select theaters in ATL, so - like clockwork - here's a look at how the film unfolded.

You get more than just a bland VH1's Behind The Music, Google-able content-having look at the hiphop group A Tribe Called Quest. This wasn't a "Where Are They Now?!" flick either. Nor is it a fluffy "I love this group, please, please come back" news-lacking joint either. The documentary is for everyone - from ATCQ lovers to those who are looking at the aforementioned acronym confused - that tells the tragic tale of what the hell happened to the legendary Low End Theory creators.

Finally, a music doc with complementary visuals! Normally, most music documentary makers will give you an interview, old photo montages and concert scenes and a scene from what the artist is doing now with no additional visuals and an aspiration that the audience will be glad to see their artist is relevant again. Beats Rhymes & Life adds so many other visuals that seamlessly travel us through each scene. The way they breathe life into the already animated album covers makes each point visual, and it gives the albums more than just an aural-pleasing factor.

Along with the visuals of the album covers and the seamless transition from interviews to concerts to in-studio action, the score was equally expressive. It didn't just come with the hits from Tribe, and then other traditional hiphop music, but an atypical bebop-sounding score. It was very Ovation Network-like, innovative music that guides the scenes along the rollercoaster of the group's life.

You don't only get to see small peeps of Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi, and this doesn't become the story of the ever-present emergence of Q-Tip. Beat Rhymes & Life shines a light on each member and their exact need in ATCQ. The emergence of Phife Dawg was the biggest part of the movie. I was a bigger fan of Phife over Q-Tip because of his liveliness and honesty. While Tip was smooth and educational, Phife brought a realness and grittiness to the group. The documentary shows how powerful his punchlines were, how he gave the group their edge and how his and Q-Tip's differences ultimately kicks the group's ass. Through Phife's lines, as well as each interview throughout the doc's timeline, you see his perspective on how he felt his work went unappreciated as a member of ATCQ. Then there was how he perceived Q-Tip as being bigger than the group.

When speaking on the part of the breakup, the most eye-opening part of the film was Phife's reference to The Supremes. "I guess Ali is Mary Wilson and I'm Florence Ballard? Yo, get the fuck outta here!" Phife says. Although, as the documentary shows (and I won't go into with much detail), those feelings weren't as present between group members, but throughout their entire heyday there was bad communication between the group. Exhibit A: Phife not being upfront with his diabetes seemed to be the snowball that formed just before it rolled downhill. B: Q-Tip's lack of understanding of the other members' needs seemed like dude was cold. Again, not going into too much detail!

Inadvertently, this documentary shows a high and painful price to make as perfect music as A Tribe Called Quest set out to do. Everyone who claims to know a thing or two about hiphop owns at least two albums by these guys. Anybody who aren't big fans of hiphop respect Tribe for not being misogynistic and violent, and for being themselves yet relative to the average man. Anyone who is originally part of the hiphop generation saw the era that is in the ATCQ documentary, the era (and documentary) they helped build.

I hope this provides a charge to the currently stagnant hiphop culture and capital-controlled rap industry. Yes, the documentary shows there was trouble within the group, but it also showed just how much love, peace and unity there was among everyone who loved ATCQ. Seeing the whole Native Tongues collective form and their journey throughout hiphop's golden era in this documentary brought me to near-tears. You know how when you go to the best restaurant and eat the best dish in the world, just to go back home to your freezer full of Stoffer's? That's how I felt after the movie. Had a great fine-dining experience for brunch with Beats Rhymes & Life, then headed home to my Stouffer's frozen dinner.

Star's Grade: A+

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