Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest screens at Vancity Theatre
Directed by Michael Rapaport. Featuring Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. Rated R.
Back in the late '80s, a lot of people got into hip-hop through the gateway drug called Native Tongues, a co-op of trippy, jazz-inflected rap groups like De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, and A Tribe Called Quest. This time-jumping documentary, directed by actor Michael Rapaport—and screening Monday night (January 9) at Vancity Theatre—is at its best when recreating that heady period, which ended roughly with the breakup of ATCQ and the rise of nihilistic gangsta rap (never mentioned here).
Beats, Rhymes and Life is slightly less successful, or at least more MTV-predictable, when it focuses on the troubled, brotherly relationship between the quartet’s Lennon and McCartney—although viewers will be hard pressed to say which is which when it comes to ornery little Phife Dawg (formerly Malik Taylor), who provided humour and street cred, and charismatic Q-Tip (aka Jonathan Davis), blessed with good looks and lofty notions. Less present in front of the camera are Jarobi White, who jumped ship to open a restaurant, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, soft-spoken deejay and producer (and Tupac Shakur lookalike), currently performing in Lucy Pearl and other R&B outfits.
Rapaport digs up great archival footage of the burgeoning Queens scene, includes smart comments from industry insiders (including various Jungle Brothers and Beastie Boys), and follows the playfully energetic group on reunion tours of the U.S. and Japan. It is odd to see such recent upstarts morph quickly into middle-aged dudes, although human frailty was always part of the ATCQ’s dynamic, especially after Phife started passing out from diabetic attacks. His subsequent battles with his health, and with “control freak” Q-Tip, for direction (and income) of the band provide more drama than the story needs. Lately, some roughneck business between Rapaport and the band, over its cinematic representation, adds extra subtext—although a whiff of publicity stunt hangs over their subsequent microphone checks.