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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Museums in New York Open on Mondays

Please see this post for current announcements of reopenings . Please consult the museum websites for changes in days and hours. UPDATED September 23, 2020 Advance tickets required for many museum reopenings. Please check museum websites for details. • The  Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)  reopened to the public on  August 27 , with new hours for the first month, through September 27: from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday to the public; and from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.  on Mondays for MoMA members on ly. Admission will be free to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday, through September 27, made possible by UNIQLO. See this  new post on WOTBA for a sense of the experience attending the museum . •  New-York Historical Society  reopened on  August 14  with an outdoor exhibition, "Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine,” in the rear courtyard. The exhibit by activist Kevin Powell and photographer Kay Hickman will highlight how New Yorkers weathered the quarantine

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

25 Things to Do Near the Metropolitan Museum of Art

(updated) Sitting on the steps in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of those iconic things to do in New York City. On a sunny day, the wide steps can become crowded with the young and old, the tourist and the resident. It's tempting to stay awhile and soak in the sun and the sights. Everyone has reasons for lingering there, with one being the shared pleasure of people watching along this expansive stretch of Fifth Avenue, a painting come to life. Certainly, just getting off one's feet for a moment is welcome, especially if the previous hours involved walking through the entirety of art history from prehistoric to the contemporary. The entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be a singular pilgrimage, uninterrupted by feeble attempts to take in more exhibitions along Museum Mile. Pity the poor visitor who tries "to do" multiple museum exhibitions in one day, albeit ambitious, noble, and uplift

A Walk in the Forest Primeval

Contemplating the fall of civilizations in Inwood Hill Park At times, it feels like we’re living at the end of civilization. With the arrival of the global pandemic, many governing structures are teetering at a breaking point, one measured in graphs, curves, and waves. Whole systems like mass transit and global trade are fractured as well. Steps leading to a high ridge trail in Inwood Hill Park Most threatened are our social arrangements, the ones in which most of us were socialized. The norms of human interaction are shockingly in tatters these days. Just three months ago, it was normal to hang out with others in person without worrying if being in one another’s presence would cause illness or possibly death. Political and economic structures are teetering, with a critical collapse of what was once known as the public space. A Baltimore Oriole visits a tree near the main entrance of Inwood Hill Park on Seaman Avenue. It’s easy to imagine a swift evacuation of once pr

North Towards Autumn: A Day Trip on the Metro-North Hudson Line

The peak of autumn colors in New York City tends to fall sometime in the days following Halloween, but those anxiously waiting leaf change can simply travel north.  Near Beacon, a view of autumn colors from the Metro-North Hudson line One way to speed the fall season is to take the Hudson line of Metro-North north of the city and watch the greens fade to oranges and yellows and the occasional burst of red.  Autumn light in Hastings-on-Hudson Weekends during the month of October are ideal times to make the trip. The air tends to be crisp with bright blue skies, and the Hudson River glimmers like a mirror in the light of autumn. As the Hudson line hugs the river for much of the distance north, the train ride alone provides plenty of opportunities for sightseeing. Try to grab a window seat on the river side of the train car for views of the Palisades and the bends of the Hudson Highlands later in the trip.   Autumn leaves on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail in Hastings Still, October is a gr

25 Things To Do Near the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

(updated 2016) The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at 11 W. 53rd Street is near many other New York City attractions, so before or after a trip to the museum, a short walk in any direction could easily take in additional experiences. Drawing a square on a map with the museum at the center, a shape bounded by 58th Street to the north and 48th Street to the south, with 7th Avenue to the west and Park Avenue to the east, proves the point of the area's cultural richness. (A map follows the list below.) While well-known sightseeing stops fall with these boundaries, most notably Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the great swath of famous Fifth Avenue stores, cultural visitors may also want to check out places such as the Austrian Cultural Forum, the 57th Street galleries, the Onassis Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Society. The image above shows an intriguing glimpse of the tops of two Beaux-Arts buildings through an opening of the wall inside MoMA's scu

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. View of the Hudson River from the Keeper's House 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. Recommended purchase - a map det

From Penn Station to New York Landmarks: Measuring Walking Distance and Time in Manhattan

(revised 2017) How long does it take to walk from Penn Station/Madison Square Garden to well-known destinations in Manhattan? What are the best walking routes ? What if I don't want to see anything in particular but just want to walk around? In addition to the thousands of working commuters from the surrounding area, especially from New Jersey and Long Island who arrive at Penn Station via New Jersey Transit or the Long Island Rail Road, many people arrive at the station just to spend time in The City. Some have questions. Furthermore, a sporting event may have brought you to Madison Square Garden (above Penn Station), and you want to check out what the city offers near the event. This post if for you.  The map below should help you measure walking distances and times from the station to well-known destinations in Manhattan - Bryant Park , the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Empire State Building , Times Square , Rockefeller Center , Washington Square Park , the High Line

The High Line and Chelsea Market: A Good Pairing for a Walk

(revised 2017) The advent of spring, with its signs of growth and rebirth, is apparent both on the High Line , where volunteers are cutting away the old growth to reveal fresh blooms, and inside the Chelsea Market, where new tenants are revitalizing the space. A walk to take in both can become an exploration of bounty and surprise, a sensual walk of adventure and sustenance. A good pairing for a walk: The High Line and Chelsea Market Walking the High Line for a round trip from Gansevoort to W. 30th and then back again adds up to a healthy 2-mile walk. Regular walkers of the elevated park look for an excuse to go there. Especially delightful is showing off the park, a model of its kind, to visitors from out of town. A stroll through Chelsea Market. Time check. If you haven't stopped into Chelsea Market lately, you may want to take a detour from the High Line at the stairs on W. 16th St. and walk through the market for a quick assessment or a sampling. Among the sampli

25 Radical Things to Do in Greenwich Village

A list of 25 things to Do in Greenwich Village with history of protest, old cafes, and signs of change. Hipstamatic iPhone images of contemporary Greenwich Village by Walking Off the Big Apple (Revised and updated.) Flipping through  Greenwich Village: A Photographic Guide by Edmund T. Delaney and Charles Lockwood with photographs by George Roos, a second, revised edition published in 1976, it’s easy to compare the black and white images with the look of today’s neighborhood and see how much the Village has changed. A long shot photograph of Washington Square taken up high from an apartment north of the park, and with the looming two towers of the World Trade Center off to the distant south in the background, reveals a different landscape than what we would encounter today.    On the north side of the park, an empty lot and two small buildings have since given way to NYU’s Kimmel Center and a new NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Center Life. The Judson Memorial Church