Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (Rated R, 98 min) is a compelling documentary about the influential hip-hop group. Directed by actor Michael Rapaport (Higher Learning, Zebrahead), the film chronicles the band’s highs and lows: growing up in Queens, their collaborations and lyrical masterpieces as well as the personal conflicts that ultimately lead to their break-up.
Rapaport captures the brotherly love (and sibling rivalry) between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg who have known each other since they were two years old. We get an up close and personal view of the backstage drama during the group’s Rock the Bells shows in 2008. Other unexpected moments involve Phife’s struggles with diabetes, Jarobi White’s life after ATCQ and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s producing (and piano) skills.
The film is flavored with great commentary from hip-hop elites including Common, The Jungle Brothers, Pharrell, De La Soul and The Roots (Black Thought’s comments on Quest’s early clothing choices are hilarious, while Questlove keeps it technical with an analysis of ATCQ’s sound). Beats, Rhymes & Life shines with gems such as Q-Tip breaking down the samples on “Can I Kick It?” and is a must-see for fans of hip-hop.
Phife Dawg and Michael Rapaport sat down with us to discuss the film on a recent promotional tour in Los Angeles:
OKP: What challenges did you face while making the film?
MR: The main challenge was how to tell the story of four people who had been in a group for 20 years and tell it, not just in an informative and entertaining way, but also in a way that had an emotional heart to it. Also, dealing with a group that isn’t together. I essentially was dealing with them as individuals. I’ve never been in the room with all four of them at the same time. I’ve been in the room with at most three of them.
OKP: What did you think of the film?
PD: I thought it was great and was overwhelmed by the response at Sundance. It was cool seeing 20-something years, my whole adulthood, flashing in front of my face.
OKP: What surprised you most about it?
PD: Jarobi being emotional. He is but he’s not. That definitely caught me off guard.
MR: I don’t think anybody expected the movie to be as emotionally charged as it was.
OKP: Any regrets?
PD: Yeah, we broke up. Period. It’s that simple. I don’t think we should’ve broken up. I hope one day [we can] put the train back on course.
OKP: What’s your relationship like with Q-Tip now?
PD: Our relationship is cool. Brothers argue and fight. We’re no exception to that. At the end of the day, he knows I’ve got his back and I know he’s got mine.
OKP: Will ATCQ ever get back together for a new album?
PD: The fans might want it like that, but they have to understand that we can’t just get together as far as recording is concerned and put out anything. It has to be correct and right because the consensus will be that, ‘We waited 13 years and all you came up with is this crap.’ I’d rather not do it and have people say we tarnished the legacy. So I’m happy the way things are right now; people still love us and hopefully if we do decide to do an album it will be one we can be proud of.
- Elsie Nwankwo
*photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics