Won’t find ‘Phony Rappers’ here

If you’re not familiar with A Tribe Called Quest, the first suggestion of this writer would be to immediately familiarize yourself with the early-1990s hip-hop pioneers. With that out of the way, the recently released documentary chronicling the rise and gradual decline of the Tribe becomes a compulsory viewing. Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, directed by Michael Rapaport, screened at the Original Princess in Waterloo last week to a packed house.

Beginning with the group’s early days in the New York borough of Queens, it introduces Kamaal “Q-Tip” Fareed, Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, the group’s original lineup. Appearances by collaborators De La Soul and other big names that came into their own around the same time and place help string together the story of the Tribe as it went on to release the seminal albums The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders during the rise of the New York hip-hop scene.

Amid sparring between the two most prominent members, Q-Tip and Phife, along with battles with their label, the Tribe dissolved without warning to fans after the release of their final album, The Love Movement in 1998.

Shot during the lead up to and during the group’s 2008 reunion tour, Rapaport gives a front row seat to the palpable tension and bickering between Phife and Q-Tip, to the point that taking the stage to perform for packed stadiums becomes questionable at times.

The film’s depiction of the Tribe during its heyday, with the group’s signature cries for unity for the common cause of one tribe, juxtaposed against the competing personalities that tore the Tribe apart from the inside, makes for compelling viewing. The thoughtful, impassioned tracks produced by the group helped bring hip hop to prominence in the decade that saw its rise to the place it currently holds in popular music.

Familiar or not with the Tribe, the film stands on its merit as a well-done depiction of inner turmoil leading to the demise of a wildly successful group.

Of course the hatred seems more superficial than not at times, as the members have been and are still today apparently willing to hit the road for tours from time to time — not that the internal drama the audience is privy to seems staged or exaggerated in the film.

For its well researched back story and countless interviews with those who were the forefathers of, played alongside and felt the legacy of the Tribe, Beats, Rhymes and Life is well worth 98 minutes of your life, especially given the several hours afterward that the soundtrack —spanning the group’s entire discography and arranged by DJ/producer Madlib — will bounce off the walls of your brain.

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