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Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest | Documentary Review

July 7th, 2011 | by Roxi



Ever wondered how A Tribe Called Quest got together? Or, what Phife was talking about in Electric Relaxation when he dropped the line “buss off on your couch, now you got Seaman’s Furniture” ? Or even why everything fell apart after Beats, Rhymes & Life? Well Michael Rapaport takes us on a journey through the world of  Ali Shaheed, Q-Tip, Jarobi & Phife Dawg from the beginning, middle & to what could be seen as the end. Full of content, context and opinions, this is perfect for any music lover who wonders what made and soon led to break  A Tribe Called Quest.

The documentary explores the emergence of ATCQ onto the hip hop scene, their influences and how they came to create the Native Tongues collective. It’s a time to focus on their love of dashikis, kente cloth and of course that soulful, jazzy,  unique sound that had them in their own league. However their positive image which inspired so many people is closely juxtaposed by a turn in the film where the conflicts that emerged within the group are displayed. 

We are shown Phife’s reluctance to live in acknowledgement of his diabetes in the early years of ATCQ and the consequences it later had on his health and the dynamic of the group.  As they delve deeper into the the internal affairs between Phife & Tip, it becomes apparent that there’s a sense of stubborness preventing any hope of progression for the group.

It’s frustrating to watch two guys who came into the game together, and created beautiful music, unable to work with each other without any form of conflict. Furthermore you can’t help but feel bad for Ali Shaheed when he’s stuck in the middle of it all. Especially in the awfully awkward moment at Rock The Bells when Tip & Phife are arguing before they go on stage. You see a somewhat helpless Ali Shaheed running off to save the day, while the guys cool off. It’s sad but it makes you think that maybe it’s better that they are all doing their own things.

Despite their personal conflicts, Rapaport makes an effort to convey a sense of success for each member outside of ATCQ. You’ve got Jarobi pursuing his passion for the culinary arts after his early departure from the group.  Then clips of Tip promoting The Renaissance album, Ali Shaheed talking about Lucy Pearl and Phife’s amazing wife who has supported him through all his hardships. 

Yet there was something missing, it was almost baffling that Phife’s solo work failed to get a mention. While it never received the commercial critical acclaim , it was still dope and seeing it being ignored by this documentary was something of a letdown. It seemed like Phife’s solo efforts were overshadowed by the focus on his diabetes and arguments with Tip. As a hip hop head it’s quite disappointing to see someone’s creativity and efforts fully disregarded when we fully well know otherwise.


However, in terms of the bigger picture, this is a solid documentary that gives insight into the highs and lows of one of the most influential hip hop groups of the ’90s. It’s filled with diamond moments and animations that will make you giggle and give you an understanding of how different each of the four original members are. On top of that you get the opinions of Black Thought, Monie Love, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes & Angie Martinez, amongst others who really add some context onto the social and muscial relevance of ATCQ within the hip hop scene.

More than anything, you get to hear the story from each of their perspectives and while there’s a feeling that not everything is being revealed, it’s enough to keep you wondering what’s next for A Tribe Called Quest. This is a definite must see, it’s the perfect combination of golden age nostalgia, real life struggles and the music that we can’t live without. Don’t let this documentary pass you by.

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