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Jun 14, 2011
When hip hop music first hit the streets of the South Bronx, New York, popular opinion was that this new genre of music was a passing fad. Nearly 40 years later, hip hop has grown beyond street DJs and emcees into a culture that encompasses spoken word poetry, fashion, and more.
Perhaps one of the greatest groups to contribute to hip hop's staying power was A Tribe Called Quest. Consisting of Q-Tip (Kamaal Ibn John Fareed, formerly Jonathan Davis), rapper Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and rapper Jarobi White (a member of the group during their first album, then only part-time when he went on to culinary school), the four artists from Queens, New York made socially conscious rap, while drawing on the influences of jazz music.
In the words of artist Q-Tip, "My pops used to say it reminded him of bebop."
Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is a documentary tour of the group's origins. While the film is something of a biography on Tribe--from the group's rise to eventual breakup and reunion--it also tells the deeper story of an important period in hip hop. A Tribe Called Quest was part of an umbrella consortium of sorts called the Native Tongues that also included Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, and De la Soul. These groups focused on positive rap that encouraged unity, with reverence towards African history and community. They also discussed issues like date rape and women's rights, and spoke out against violence.
Beats, Rhymes, & Life, directed by Michael Rapaport, brings viewers into the era of hip hop that inspired artists like Mos Def, Common, Pharrell, and the Roots. Through interviews with these newer artists, members of the Native Tongues and other legendary performers like the Beastie Boys, viewers get to see the side of hip hop that is often overlooked by the press.
Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is an excellent film that all music lovers are likely to enjoy. More than a documentary, it is the Character Approved story of a defining moment in hip hop history.
[Image: Sony Classics]