DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Beats, Rhymes, and Life
The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest
As an actor, Michael Rapaport often plays the same types of characters. He plays them well. Whether it’s in Beautiful Girls, complaining about women, or a small role in the underrated Big Fanas an obnoxious Eagles fan, he’s always welcome on screen. He's great in Cop Land, Hitch, True Romance, Kiss of Death, Higher Learning, Mighty Aphrodite,and he was the only good thing in another Woody Allen movieSmall Time Crooks.
As the producer/director of this documentary, he’s a work in progress.Choosing the band A Tribe Called Quest to do a documentary on is the perfect subject. Rapaport loves hip-hop, and that band is considered one of the most influential.Their The Low End Theory was No. 154 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 best albums of all time. As a producer in the movie says, “It was their Sgt. Pepper.”It was the hip-hop community'sSgt. Pepper.
ATCQ brought together lots of jazz elements to their rhymes, and they did more than just boast.It’s interesting to hear the band talk about writing a song like "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" (Redd Foxx always used El Segundo as a punchline in Sanford & Son).I enjoyed watching Q-Tip -- the producer, songwriter, and leader of the band -- talk not only about the growth of ATCQ – but his fighting with bandmate Phife Dawg.
The problem is that we aren’t giving enough information on many things.Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad converted to Islam. It was never mentioned.We hear a few people talk about how Q-tip is a perfectionist. If it was up to him, it would take as long to release a Quest album as Guns ‘N Roses. Yet, we aren’t given examples of that.Is he in the studio for 3 days straight making somebody lay down a track over and over? Is he telling one of the MCs to do 68 takes? What?And at a time when ATCQ is doing this different style of jazzy/alternative rap, why are we not hearing about the east coast/west coast thing?
There’s a few interesting scenes that show the band going through albums to find things to sample and loop.We get some nice glimpses into the rise of hip-hop, and some of the personalities at that time, like DJ Red Alert. The facial expression Q-Tip had when he found out one of his classmates was his nephew – and he’s trying to make it in the rap scene.And there’s a touching segment that deals with Dawg’s diabetes.
The much better documentary on Basquiat last year covered more about the New York scene when he was rising up in the art world. This documentary should’ve had more of that.I sometimes wondered if the shaky and blurry camera work was part of a street vibe Rapaport was going for, or just shoddy filmmaking.I wish he went for a better narrative and a bit more structure. I almost get the feeling Rapaport just did a bunch of interviews with various people (The Roots, Beastie Boys, etc), and it was all just edited down.