Editor’s note: This review was originally published on January 28, 2011 as a Sundance Film Festival review.
Director: Michael Rapaport
I’ve been sitting here in front of the computer trying to write this review and I’m at a loss for words. Michael Rapaport made an admirable documentary about A Tribe Called Quest, why can’t I do the same while writing about it? The film critic gods failed to tell me reviewing documentaries would be quite difficult (thanks, jerks!), but I’m going to listen to “The Low End Theory” record, and continue staring at this screen until I gain my writing rhythm.
Every beginning has an end, I suppose. BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST is an unapologetic look at the rise and fall of arguably one one of the most influential hip hop groups of our time, A Tribe Called Quest. After introducing our four members (Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed, and Jarbi White), and how they came together, the focus shifts on the rocky friendship between founders Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. These two have known each other since they were baby boys, so like a family, clashes are bound to happen. Rapaport carefully highlights both positive and negative viewpoints of the feud. Like Biggie Smalls once famously rapped, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.” It’s uncertain if the biggest issue regarding the problem is Q-Tip’s ego or Phife’s jealousy, but things eventually go from good to bad, to a complete standstill. Phife has had a lifetime of healthy issues and surgeries, so it made it difficult for him to get out there and perform; I can’t imagine how frustrating that was.
This biggest question for the making of this documentary is, why Michael Rapaport? Documenting a popular group faithfully and accurately during a very sensitive time cannot be easy. Sure, Rapaport’s been around Hollywood for quite some time, but he’s never directed a film. Did Rapaport succeed? With finesse. ATCQ fans will certainly appreciate the 90s old school animation that he uses as the opening credits to the film. From the get-go, we’re on our way to swaying and bobbing our heads as the music and hypnotic visuals play. Rapaport perfectly captures the real heart of ATCQ. Though there may be some very uneasy moments to watch, he paints respectable portraits of each members in the group.
While it’s uncertain if ATCQ will ever get back together and play again, it’s quite certain fans will love and appreciate BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST as their final encore.