One of the documentaries I was most looking forward to at this years Sundance Film Festival was Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, primarily for personal reasons since I’m a huge Tribe fan. Directed by Michael Rapaport and filmed over the course of three years, the documentary follows and charts the journey of one of the most influential and iconic hip-hop groups of all time through the eyes and voices of the group (Q-Tip, Phife, Ali and Jarobi) and other musicians who have either been influenced directly or collaborated with the group. At the center of he film is the conflict of the mysterious breakup of the group in 1998, which saddened fans worldwide, that stemmed from an argument between Q-Tip and Phife, concerning the health of Phife who suffers from Type 1 diabetes. Weaving the history and music of one of the greatest musical entities to ever grace your ears, Beats, Rhymes and Life is the ultimate tribute for any fan of the Tribe.
Rapaport recreates the atmosphere and time of the golden era of hip-hop, revisiting the locations where the group originally formed in Queens, New York to Murre Bergtraum High School where they began to bang beats on school desks. Obviously having unlimited access to each performer helps the film to feel like a honest and intimate portrayal of each member of ATCQ. In addition there are a plethora of rare stories from an all star collection of legendary music figures such as DJ Red Alert, the Jungle Brothers, Busta Rhymes, the Beastie Boys, Pharrell, Pete Rock and De La Soul. There are also some fantastically animated sections that breathe life to each of the four album covers and interstitials between sections of stages in their life.
Bottom line is that if you are a fan of ATCQ, this is a must-see and if you are unfamiliar with the group it paints a vivid portrait of each persona and song that made them so influential. Celebrating their music above the beef is the ultimate goal for Rapport, despite Phife’s struggle with diabetes which is painfully detailed along with disagreements with Q-Tip. There is one scene with Jarobi talking about Phife’s struggle that nearly brought me to tears. And despite the fact that in 2008 when the group came back together for one last tour and started having arguments again, the vision of the film is to see the group move beyond their problems and reconnect for the purpose of celebrating their amazing and powerful music.