Saturday, August 06, 2011

Beats, Rhymes, and Life- The Movie


Group dynamics are a funny thing. Musical group dynamics take it to a whole another level, and Hip Hop isn't immune. Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes, and Life examines the often-tense interworkings of A Tribe Called Quest while still celebrating and looking back at one of Hip Hop's most influential and iconic groups.

Rapaport captures the beginnings of the group with some great interviews and rare footage from the early days. Scenes from Tip and Phife's Queen's neighborhood and Tip and Ali's trip back to their High School shaped the doc and gave us a glimpse of their growing process. Lest we forget too that before ATCQ was The Jungle Brothers, who it could be argued "paved" the way, a fact not glazed over. The entire Native Tongue vibe (a term we come to find out Q-Tip coined) is laid out and shown as it emerged in the late 80s.

The interviews really hit hard when the discussion veers from the Afrocentric, free-flowing, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (an album that a young Commish shunned for a bit, due to the band's non-hardcore look and jazzy, "hippie" loops. Until I really sat and listened, and in part due to my love for "Can I Kick It", this debut took a while for me to digest) to their second joint The Low End Theory. Pharrell Williams and Questlove of The Roots really shine when brought in to talk about the sophomore release.

It is also where Rapaport lays out the beginning of friction between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, the latter starting to battle his diabetes during this time. It is a tension that lasts until the present day. Phife seems to resent the light Q-Tip receives and the perception that he is the frontman and talent of the group. Key word: perception. Tip doesn't and hadn't done a thing to attract that perception, and stresses that to Phife throughout the film.

The film isn't without some omissions though; for one the actual music is limited to 10-15 second concert clips or show appearances. The great posse cut "Scenario" isn't discussed, nor the group's work on their legendary videos.

The thrust of the group's popularity (89-94) happened to occur when a young Commish was on the come up and making my own transition from young knucklehead to, well, older knucklehead. As my man Fresh Marcus said, "it was like a soundtrack to my youth." Exactly. The flick was a retrospective journey for many of us older heads that brought many a chuckle, some head scratching, and even a tear. Can I kick it? Yes, you can.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous calvin natty light said...

Phife is just bitter. He's the better MC, but has it in his head that he is second fiddle. Tip never tried to be the frontman.

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Fresh Marcus said...

While Tip and Phife were both hittin' equally hard on the records, I think it likely that Tip was exerting more influence on the business side and with regard to the comprehensive vision, artistically and culturally, for the future of the group. Therefore, he was the de facto frontman.

Throughout the movie, it is indicated that Phife was basically (barely) showing up for sessions and shows, and not giving a lot of thought to what the Tribe was trying to represent and accomplish. No detriment to his quality as an MC, but no leadership shown.

Despite his craftsmanship, you regrettably see Tip on some childish ish in the film, e.g., calling out Phife in front of the whole crowd when Dawg is physically having difficulty making through a show because of his health. Tip also exhibits a lack of maturity and social conscience (quite un-Tribe-like) when he refers to cats being on a "fa**oty" vibe.

No disrespect to either of the cats. They are both ridiculously talented, and will always both be lifelong favorites of mine.

The movie was great, but I left saddened by the personal conduct of both MCs. Big up forgiveness and compassion.

9:36 AM  
Blogger Commish CH said...

I think Phife missed the boat back in the day to step out in front. Summer of 92 he was coming off the "Scenario" lead off and the "La Schmoove" guest appearance. Would've been a perfect time for him to drop a solo joint. People would've went bananas over it at that time.

But as FM said, it might not have been in his DNA to take the effort to do that.

Also if Phife blows up that summer, we might have MORE conflict and in turn never get Midnight Maruders.

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