A lady with a choppy monotone flight attendant flow announces on the classic Midnight Marauders album: “A Tribe Called Quest consists of four members: Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Q-Tip and Jarobi. A-E-I-O-U and sometimes Y.” Next month, fans will discover the Y’s behind the iconic Hip Hop group in the new documentary, Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. Directed by Michael Rapaport, the 90-minute film explores the significance of the Queens quartet and answers the questions looming over their 1998 break up. Big talent mixed with an even bigger Cain and Abel dynamic make for a captivating project filled with drama, comedy and some dope music.
Beats, Rhymes and Life… starts where all good stories do, at the beginning. The group takes you back to their “days on the boulevard of Linden,” playfully telling the story of how they met. From the footage, it’s clear that the brotherly bond established as kids between Jarobi and Phife remains strong (perhaps the strongest in the group). The film also provides some clarity on Jarobi’s (silent) role in Tribe as well as his sudden disappearance after the freshman album. Q-Tip sets the record straight about Jarobi’s relevance declaring him “the spirit of A Tribe Called Quest.” And if Jarobi's the spirit, Ali Shaheed is the peace. Always diplomatic, the deejay/producer is the thin line that separates the yin from the yang.
No doubt all four men played an integral role in Tribe becoming one of the most influential groups of our time. They pushed boundaries and challenged the norm that hip- hop so often settles into. Along with their extended Native Tongues family (several of whom make appearances in the film), Tribe made it cool to be weird, eclectic, and expressive. Black Thought even joked in the film about their questionable outfits while others like ?uestlove, Pharrell and Prince Paul discussed their relevance in Hip Hop. Snippets of videos from People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders, as well as a discussion about the genius infusion of Jazz and the clever use of sampling reminds fans throughout the film why Tribe was the total Hip Hop package, complete with batteries.
There’s a clear turning point in the documentary, however, where Tribe’s story goes from good to bad. Real bad, Michael Jackson. By the time their fourth album Beats, Rhymes and Life hit the radio or Rap City (whichever came first back then), the group had begun to come undone. They failed to acknowledge that the music industry had traded in originality and creativity for platinum chains and Cristal. Add to that Phife's relocation to Atlanta and a deep seeded resentment for Tip’s assumed leadership role and you get comments like "It’s not A Tribe Called Quest, it’s Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest” by the Trini – Gladiator, Phife Dawg. Fans could tell (and hear) the difference. The group released Love Movement two years later in 1998 and then disbanded. But that wasn’t the last we saw of them. In 2004, the platinum Jive Recording artists joined the Rock The Bells tour to help Phife, the self-proclaimed “sugar addict,” as he struggled with diabetes and finaces. But tensions were still high.
By the end of the film, Q-Tip and Phife seem to be at peace with one another, performing live on stage in Japan. But if they’re like most families, ATCQ likely has a few lingering issues. Things that we know nothing about…things not captured on camera. And while tragic, none of that really matters to the fan. What fans remember is the music. A Tribe Called Quest always gave us that…beats, rhyme and life. What more could you ask for?