Can They Kick It?

27 Jul

A documentary for fans, and made by a fan, Beats Rhymes & Life tells the story of the rise and fall and rise and uncertain future of A Tribe Called Quest, one of the best rap/hip hop groups of the last 20 years. Through interviews with group members and others (including The Beastie Boys, Monie Love, De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, and Common), we learn how the group was formed, how it found success with a unique sound, and how eventually, differences, miscommunications, pride, and ego led to the group’s breakup in 1998.

Actor Michael Rapaport (Friends, Prison Break, Mighty Aphrodite) set out to make his movie in 2008, when A Tribe Called Quest reunited and went on tour. The film captures not a triumphant return to the stage but a fractured and tenuous relationship among the band, with unresolved issues that threaten any long-term reunion plans. In this footage and the accompanying interviews, Q-Tip is presented as ATCQ’s brains and leader, and Phife Dawg as its heart. And those two just can’t seem to see eye to eye. It’s a love-dislike relationship, with wounds that cut deep. And the film, in natural, not augmented ways, helps you see the discord is very real and heartfelt.

The rest of the movie is like that too. Neither a slick documentary, a PR puff piece, or an amateurish home video, Beats Rhymes & Life feels instead like an affectionate tribute to an influential music group, warts and all, made by a guy who really likes them. It’s filled with great music and well shot interview footage. I wouldn’t say the movie was essential viewing, but it’s a fun documentary and worth the hour and a half if you’re a fan of hip hop and rap. I’m giving Beats Rhymes & Life a B.

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