See this movie – Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (2011)

After doing my first music review based on my friend Mizzter J’s rap mixtape “BreadCrumbz”, I was compelled to do a review about this film. I mean, it’s about A Tribe Called Quest, my favourite rap group of all time! Why would I not do a review about a documentary directed by Michael Rapaport (Gary from “Friends”) about my favourite rap group of all time?! But seriously, I could spend the rest of this review talking about how awesome they are, but I won’t. Instead, I will tell you about this movie. But first, let me give you this history lesson about A Tribe Called Quest (cue National Geographic theme song here).

In 1988, during the pre-Afrocentric era of hip hop culture, a rap group from New York burst onto the rap scene. They were….yes, that’s correct….A Tribe Called Quest which consisted of four members: Q-Tip (Kamaal Fareed), Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White.  In 1990, they released their first album, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm”.  It was a minor success, due to the simple lyrics, sleepy beats and experimental production. However, it did spawn one of their greatest hits – “Bonita Applebum”, a laid-back song where Q-Tip expresses his love to a girl with a big ass. I know it sounds sleazy, ladies, but it’s REALLY a nice song. I’m just saying.

One year later, ATCQ decided to let go of the experimental bullshit and kick some serious ass! The result was “The Low End Theory”. With its hard-hitting jazzy beats and sharp, intelligent lyricism from both Q-Tip and Phife Dawg (who proved here that he had skills on the fucking mic), this album was a huge success. It spawned the hits “Check the Rhime” , “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and “Scenario”. It should be noted that “Scenario” is one of the greatest posse cuts EVER and a stepping stone for the manic lyricism of Busta Rhymes whose last verse is still fucking awesome up to this day!

But it was their third album “Midnight Marauders” that made me a die-hard ATCQ fan. Ironically enough, this was the first album I ever heard from the group and it still remains my all-time favourite. Released in 1993, this was A Tribe Called Quest at their prime. The production, the beats, the lyricism…..EVERYTHING was on point in this album! More commercial than the first two albums, “Midnight Marauders” spawned the classic songs “Award Tour”, ‘Oh My God” and “Electric Relaxation” (a.k.a. the Season 1 theme song of “The Wayans Brothers” – you know, the song they were playing when the old woman got knocked by a bus – and lives, God forbid – with Marlon and Shawn Wayans in the back? Yeah, THAT SHIT!)

But things turned dark for the Tribesters after the monumental success of “Midnight Marauders”. Jarobi and Ali had left the group already, and there was resentment between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. This tension was reflected in their fourth, and darkest (in terms of mood and beats), album “Beats, Rhymes and Life”. HEY, THAT’S THE NAME OF THE MOVIE! As one of the many ATCQ fans worldwide, I must admit that this is my least favourite album in their discography, but it is still a good album nevertheless. Times were changing as a result of the East Coast-West Coast rap feud, and their album reflected that dark period in hip hop. In 1998, they released their fifth album “The Love Movement”, a much-more fun-spirited album than its predecessor.  It only spawned one hit: the still-catchy “Find a Way”.  This would be ATCQ’s last album, and after its release, the group was disbanded, much to the shock and sadness of the hip hop community.

Which leads us to this film. “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” gives us a candid look into the history of this influential rap group. Through interviews, rare footage and snippets of classic ATCQ music videos, we see the birth, maturity, death and (spoiler alert) REBIRTH of the group. But was it really a good movie, or am I just saying it is because I’m a die-hard ATCQ fan? Let’s see, shall we?


Read history lesson (with National Geographic theme song) above.


Read the first part of the history lesson (with National Geographic theme song) above.

MY THOUGHTS: The use of the “Midnight Marauders” track “8 Million Stories” ( a song about Phife Dawg’s problems and stress) that opens the film sets the direction that it would eventually go. This film is not only about the creation of a legendary rap group, but the situations that led to its disbandment, preferably the troubled friendship between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. The bickering between the two is the film’s high point, where one is accused of being self-centered while the other is accused of being ungrateful. The group did indeed reunite , but it’s the event that led to the group coming back together which adds an emotional level to the film. Generally, “Beats, Rhymes and Life” is highly entertaining and well-directed. But it’s the soundtrack that truly makes film work.  Throughout the film, we hear ATCQ’s greatest hits from “Bonita Applebum” to “Find a Way”. We also get to see Q-Tip’s skills as a music producer as he takes samples from vinyl records to make really dope beats. He also shows how he made the “Midnight Marauders” track “Lyrics to Go” which is possibly one of the greatest ATCQ songs ever fucking made! Period! Yes, it’s that great a song, that great a sequence and ultimately, that great a movie!

SHOULD I SEE THIS FILM?  If you’re a fan of A Tribe Called Quest, then you NEED TO SEE THIS FILM! If you want to see a great  documentary about rap music, SEE THIS FILM! If you don’t give a fuck about A Tribe Called Quest, and your rap icons are Soulja Boy, Waka Flocka Flame and Bangs (that Afro-Australian motherfucker who recorded the YouTube sensation”Take U To Da Movies”), you should be SHOT! And instead of flowers, someone should place all 5 ATCQ albums in front of your tombstone! Speaking of which, if you’re a ATCQ fan, you should have all 5 albums that I mentioned in the “history lesson”. If not, you should really stop sticking! “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” delivered what I expected from a documentary about the greatest rap group of all time, and more! In a year of movies about giant robots, drunk pirates and fast cars, this film really stood out to me. And it’s a documentary, of all things. Imagine that. Hmmmm.

Now go watch the “Bonita Applebum” video already! It’s still a great song and video, goddammit!

MY RATING – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

– Matthew

One thought on “See this movie – Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (2011)

  1. Pingback: Definitely see this movie – Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) « A Legally Black Blog

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