Film Review: Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

| 14 June , 2011 | Reply

Keeva Stratton

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest
Directed By: Michael Rapaport

In this fun and funky documentary, tracing the history of an influential East Coast hip hop group, we are taken into the lives of the various members of A Tribe Called Quest. The group, who were part of the  ground-breaking Native Tongues hip hop movement, which included De La Soul, Jungle Brothers and Queen Latifah, played a key part in helping to develop a very different aesthetic and philosophy in hip hop than the West Coast gangster rappers with which hip hop is more commonly associated here in Australia.

Intelligent, articulate and immensely talented as musicians, the ability of the group members of A Tribe Called Quest to appropriate from the soul, jazz and funk music of their parents\’ generation and transform these musical influences into a new, fresh musical voice and means of expression for their own peers, was indeed amazing to watch.

As someone who has little understanding or interest in hip hop as a musical genre, this was a film that left me with a profound sense of appreciation. I was certainly able to accept the film\’s claim of hip hop being one of the few true American art forms, and was intrigued by the way the hip hop stars of the late eighties and early nineties are finding their new place as mature stars within today\’s music scene, much as the jazz musicians before them.

As you\’d expect, the soundtrack is prominent and effective, as it sets the mood for this documentary about a musical form. Littered with the who\’s who of hip-hop, the film is also enriched by the commentaries of more commercially known artists, such as the Beastie Boys, Pharell Williams and Mos Def.

Perhaps the documentary\’s only weakness is the strange side-tracking that occurs when the film\’s focus shifts too intensively to the breakdown of the friendship between band members Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. In the context of the story, this felt a bit too trivial and somewhat distracting from the more interesting expose of the artistry and community that came through this musical form.

Overall, Beats, Rhymes & Life was an entertaining and educative piece on a genre of music that has perhaps been too quickly avoided by many who had misunderstood it.

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is showing as part of the Sydney Film Festival. For more information visit


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Category: Film & TV

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