Skip to main content

Beats, Rhymes And Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest (A Review), 2011 Tribeca Film Festival

A word to the wise - Those wishing to make a documentary about live human beings should get ready for a potentially rough ride. They risk a post-production drama that may overshadow the film and thus leave those of us who would like to talk about the film itself to force such discussions into a lengthy footnote (see footnote).

This is not entirely the situation of Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, receiving its New York premiere at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and directed by actor Michael Rapaport, but according to some media reports, some of it may be true. Unfortunate, but not surprising. The documentary tells the twenty-plus-year story of the influential jazz-influenced hip hop group, A Tribe Called Quest, leaning heavily on the remembrances and sometimes divergent points of view of its four members - Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White.

A Tribe Called Quest emerged out of a time and place when music literally started on the streets and in the parks of the city, with live tape players broadcasting improvised rhythms and rap.  

Audience members with some objectivity, unlike the band members who may be too close for such a perspective, should quickly glean the divergent personalities and group dynamics, understanding what brought the four together and what kinds of personal tensions may have driven them apart.

It's a good film and well-worth seeing, especially for contemporary music history in New York. Yet, its real strength rests in allowing the central players involved, in addition to the commentary from the likes of Kanye West, Red Alert, the Beastie Boys, Moby, and Mos Def, to talk about their moment in hip hop, all the while revealing a universal story about the life and demise of a band. Good specifics make for the best universality. It borders on cliché, for sure.

Beats, Rhymes & Life. Left to Right: Phife Dawg, Q-Tip, and Jarobi White.
Photo by Robert Benavides, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Taking as its point of departure a 2008 reunion concert in Seattle, the film looks back to the beginnings of the group in St. Albans in Queens in the mid-1980s. A Tribe Called Quest emerged out of a time and place when music literally started on the streets and in the parks of the city, with live tape players broadcasting improvised rhythms and rap. The sounds of the city's inventiveness was infectious.

Q-Tip, a charismatic performer who soaked in every genre of music; Ali Shaheed Muhammad, a thoughtful and creative DJ; Phife Dawg, a master lyricist whose struggle with diabetes creates one of the film's narrative arcs; and Jarobi White, considered to be the group's soul and spirit but who left the group early, took the music to a new place. Together, the group helped shape a new jazz-infused, liberating Afrocentrist music sound, a positive affirmation of culture and community that set itself in counterpoint to gangsta rap. It was a musical movement that came from the city and was of the city, a Brooklyn and Queens moment merging with the hip hop scene evolving in the Bronx, blended with an extraordinary time of cultural creativity at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers in Lower Manhattan, where Q-Tip and Phife Dawg met in high school.

ATCQ made five albums from 1990 to 1998, each evolving musically. They experimented with sampling an enormous range of musical styles, propelling the group into an even greater fusion of rap, jazz, and world music. Their acclaimed album Low End Theory from 1991 features not only throbbing drum beats but also Ron Carter on bass on one track. With Phife and Q-Tip bouncing back and forth, the work achieved new heights in hip hop creativity. Alt hip hop had arrived. As they reminisce about the times on film, never together and most frequently as individuals, we can feel their great discovery of one another through musical and personal companionship. Pity it didn't last.

See Tribeca Film Festival website for ticket information.

Wed, Apr 27, 6 p.m. BMCC Tribeca PAC
Thu, Apr 28, 1 p.m. AMC Loews Village 7 - 2

Related: New York, New York Films at the 10th Tribeca Film Festival.

Footnote: The simple version goes like this: A filmmaker develops a passion about the fascinating story of a living subject. The subject agrees to be filmed. The filmmaker and subject have some sort of initial agreement about boundaries. The filming starts. The subject starts showing vulnerabilities and raises questions. Filming ends, and the post-production goes on for months. Relationships change, and anxieties on both parts shift into a higher gear. The filmmaker edits their subject's heartfelt complex story and various smaller dramas, years in the making, into approximately 90 minutes. The subject sees a rough cut or a trailer and becomes alarmed. The initial agreements are revisited. Perhaps, the subject would like to exercise some control over the final document or demand more credit. Now imagine that simple story involves multiple subjects, like four of them, with a long intertwined history. Imagine that they are a band. Oh, and we might as well toss in added complications of race and perception, even when that might be the least of it. In short - good luck, documentary filmmaker. Good luck, subjects.
For a look behind the scenes, read in Rolling Stone, "A Tribe Called Quest Documentary Director Michael Rapaport Opens Up About Controversial Film" by Jennifer Vineyard, April 21, 2011.





Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Update: As of March 12, 2020, many New York arts institutions have temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Please see this post for announcements of reopenings.

Several museums in New York City are open on Mondays, including MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney.

This list has been expanded to include free or pay-what-you-wish hours.


American Museum of Natural History Central Park West and 79th Street
See the post, Big Things to See at the American Museum of Natural History.
Cooper Hewitt
2 East 91st St.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1071 Fifth Ave

Jewish Museum 1109 Fifth Ave

Metropolitan Museum of Art 100 Fifth Avenue
See the post 25 Things To Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Met Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park is also open 7 days a week from March - October.

Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue

MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art), 11 West 53 Street: * Also, consult the post 25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern…

The Lonesome Metropolis: A Walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center

As New York City reopens, why do the attractions of the great metropolis still look mostly deserted on a summer morning? A morning walk from Grand Central Terminal to Rockefeller Center sought to address this question. As it turns out, there are several adequate explanations. But for what happens next, there are no right answers.

Many neighborhoods outside of tourist New York are still buzzing along. While some residents of wealthier neighborhoods have largely decamped to mountain cabins, beach houses, and other second homes, the less wealthy have nowhere to go and may still be working. Just visit Washington Heights or Corona or Flatbush, and you’ll see sidewalks full of shoppers and summer evening street partiers. Those who fled the city remain only a fraction of the total population.  

Other renowned parts of the city such as City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge have been frequently occupied, as in Occupied, with crowds protesting police violence. This week, NYPD officers in riot gear remove…

The Company of Nature: Walking With Butterflies in Fort Tryon Park

If wandering the empty urban canyons feels a little lonely and depressing, a better idea would be to head to the nearest park. This past Saturday, a day that was sunny but not too hot, Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan turned out to be the perfect place to not only satisfy wanderlust but to rediscover the company of nature. Butterflies were there. Hundreds of butterflies - Tiger Swallowtails, Monarch Butterflies, Black Swallowtails, Cabbage White Butterflies, and Silver Spotted Skippers, among them. Moths, too, although I have not yet learned their names.  The Heather Garden is situated just beyond the entrance to Fort Tryon Park. With seasonal plantings, the garden is always a serene spot.  Observing butterflies involves watching their interaction with blooming flowers and shrubs. The Tiger Swallowtails are easy to find and found here in significant numbers. Just look for the Butterfly Bushes. The Cabbage White Butterflies are here in abundance, too, though not as showy as the swallow…

The City Turned Inside Out: A Walk from Battery Park to Fulton Street

While the cast of HAMILTON sings “The World Turned Upside Down,” New Yorkers could easily hum along to “The City Turned Inside Out” this summer. (not a real song) Where once a city’s important work took place indoors - within the soaring office buildings, famous restaurants, legendary museums, and storied performance halls, the COVID-19 epidemic has literally turned the residents outdoors. 

At least it’s summer in the city, when spending time outdoors is common and pleasant enough. Still, the city remains strange this summer of 2020. 

With the absence of tourists, and with office workers connecting virtually from home, many of the city’s main attractions aren’t attracting many visitors. A walk from the Battery to Fulton Street on a pleasant Thursday afternoon bore this out. 

It’s uplifting to at least find plants that are alive and happy. Thanks to the city’s gardeners and landscapers, the city parks are looking particularly lush and splendid this summer. The grounds of Battery Park feel…

A Weekend Walk on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Imagine strolling from town to town near the eastern shores of the Hudson River, walking a well-trodden path lined with trees and stately architecture and with easy access to cafes, local shops, and train stations for an easy ride home. Imagine a weekend when the sun is bright and the sun is warm, and many other people - but not too many - are out enjoying the same weather and the same stroll. Such were the pleasures on a recent Sunday, in the latter part of this unseasonal winter, along the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail not too far north from New York City.


The Old Croton Aqueduct, the system that once delivered fresh water from the Croton River to New York City, was a huge and complex marvel of engineering. The trail sits on top of the aqueduct system. This post describes a walk along just a section of the trail, the one that begins at the Keeper’s House in Dobbs Ferry and ends in Irvington.


First, catch a Metro-North Hudson line train to Dobbs Ferry, a village in southern Westchester C…

The Most Beautiful Bridge in the World

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965), the leading proponent of the International Style of modern architecture, visited NYC on several occasions in the 1930s and 1940s, and he made much to say about the skyscraper city. He didn’t think much of the faux tops of the tall buildings nor did he care about the haphazard city planning, but he did fall madly in love with one particular bridge: 
"The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel beams, it gleams in the sky like a reversed arch. It is blessed. It is the only seat of grace in the disordered city. It is painted an aluminum color and, between water and sky, you see nothing but the bent cord supported by two steel towers. When your car moves up the ramp the two towers rise so high that it brings you happiness; their structure is so pure, so resolute, so regular that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh. The car reaches an unexpectedly wide apro…

Starstruck at MoMA

(Update July 31, 2020. Please note: After reopening in 2019, MoMA is currently closed as a result of the pandemic. MoMA has not announced its reopening.) 
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan is undergoing a significant renovation and expansion that will increase gallery space by thirty percent upon completion in 2019. In the midst of renovation and following a long hot summer, the museum may currently look a little rough around the edges and even disorienting for longtime patrons. For starters, you’ll need to enter the museum on W. 54th Street instead of W. 53rd Street while the work is taking place, and the museum store is now currently on the second floor next to the coffee bar which has also moved.


This state of affairs didn’t stop visitors on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend from making a pilgrimage to the museum to gaze at treasures of modern art. In an age of quickly disposable digital imagery, the original and cherished works still exude their aura. Ironically,…

Taking a Constitutional Walk

A long time ago individuals going out for a walk, especially to get fresh air and exercise, often referred to the activity as "taking a constitutional walk." The word "constitutional" refers to one's constitution or physical makeup, so a constitutional walk was considered beneficial to one's overall wellbeing. (Or, as some would prefer to call it, "wellness.") The phrase is more common in British literature than in American letters.

As early as the mid-nineteenth century, many American commentators expressed concern that their countrymen were falling into lazy and unhealthy habits. Newspaper columnists and editorial writers urged their readers to take up the practice of the "constitutional" walk.



One such essay, "Walking as an Exercise," originally printed in the Philadelphia Gazette and reprinted in New England Farmer, Volume 11, 1859, urges the people of farm areas to take up walking. City dwellers seemed to have the advantag…

Delacroix’s Cats

Following its record-breaking debut at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the blockbuster Delacroix exhibit has opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. While not all of the works could travel, as some are intrinsic to the Louvre, the big cats made the trip to the city. For the Delacroix exhibit poster, the Met has selected Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, the artist’s great and surprising painting from 1830, as the signature and defining work of the exhibition.


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798–1863), known as the leading Romantic painter of his era, loved cats. His many notebooks show preparatory sketches of lions, tigers, and several charming domestic cats. The big cats, for the most part, made it into big paintings. At 52 x 76.6 in. (130 x 195 cm), Young Tiger Playing with Its Mother, 1830, is astonishingly large for an animal painting of his time, a size normally devoted to a history painting. His most famous work, La Liberté guidant le peuple, dates from the same year.�…

NYC Re-openings and Travel Advice

As the pandemic crisis improves in New York State, several NYC attractions are scheduling their re-openings. What will open, and how will you get there? This list will be updated following official announcements.
UPDATED August 7, 2020. With the state of New York currently ahead of the class in the pandemic outbreak across the US, many favorite local destinations have started to reopen. The rollout is designed to be gradual, with geographic regions advancing according to a fixed set of metrics. 
New York City, the hardest hit area in the first months of the crisis, entered Phase 4 on Monday, July 20. The local exception: indoors of malls, restaurants, and cultural institutions.

Openings     
Phase 4 began in NYC on July 20. Stay outside! (Forward.ny.gov) NO indoor dining!
• Restaurants: Consult this NYC Department of Transportation map (updated link) for restaurants currently open in NYC. 
• Outdoor dining has been extended through October 31. 
• On July 1, city beaches opened for swimming.
•…