Microphone check, one two, what is this?  It’s actor Michael Rappaport‘s entry to the Sundance Film Festival, Beats, Rhymes, and Life.  The film is a documentary about iconic 90′s hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest, charting everything from their formation, rise to fame, split, and recent reunion for 2008′s “Rock The Bells” tour (although they still haven’t gone back into the recording studio).  So how does the actor turned documentarian fare in creating a bio-doc about one of the most prolific hip-hop groups from the medium’s adolescence?  Check out the rest of the review after the jump…

The Players:

  • Director – Michael Rappaport
  • Starring – Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White, J-Dilla, ?estlove, De La Soul, Angie Martinez, The Beastie Boys, and many more…
  • Music – A Tribe Called Quest (duh), Madlib

The Good:

  • The Music – On top of featuring the Tribe songs we all know and love like Can I kick it, Bonita Applebum, and I Left My Wallet in El Segundo, there is a whole bunch of original music from jazz/hip hop fusion DJ Madlib.  It’s often downplayed and used as a transitional device, but it’s still nice to hear some original music thrown in the mix.
  • The Editing – It’s a pretty simple story which, if you’re a fan, you’re probably already aware of.  But the film’s cuts between interview footage, concert footage, music videos, and animated sequences manage to keep the energy up throughout the film which otherwise, wouldn’t be particularly revelatory.
  • The Perspective – The story of the band is told in their own words.  Q-Tip and Phife tell their own sides of the story, and own up to their own shortcomings.  Q-Tip is a control freak, and Phife is emotional and reactionary.  But they make these confessions themselves, and their self awareness keeps them from coming off as petty.

The Bad:

  • Run of the Mill – Rappaport says he was inspired to make the film because he doesn’t think that a decent documentary has ever been made about a hip-hop group.  And while this may be true, he’s not exactly pushing any boundaries as a filmmaker.  Although it is a passable documentary about the rap crew, it doesn’t have the character of say, Anvil, or the extreme intimacy of The Fearless Freaks.  It may be a good hip-hop documentary, but that doesn’t make it a great documentary that stands apart.
  • A Tribe Called Quest – Believe it or not, the weakest part of the film is the rappers themselves.  For a group of individuals who make their living from their use of words, they are surprisingly inarticulate about their own stories.  Every other sentence ends with, “You know what I’m sayin’?” or “So I was like–” followed by a silly face.  I don’t know what that means!  Tell me!  Be specific!


This is a serviceable documentary about an interesting group of artists, whose music holds a place in history and the hearts of their fans.  It is peppered with interviews from other hip-hop stars and figures who offer decent perspective on A Tribe Called Quest.  If you don’t know about them, it will provide you with enough information to send you off to the record store with some enthusiasm.  If you are a fan already, you will probably be happy to see all of this footage collected into one piece.  However, as a movie, it isn’t anything particularly special.  This is the kind of movie that is likely to end up on something like Netflix Instant View, and will be good for an afternoon when you’re folding laundry, or just hanging out with nothing else to do.  But you shouldn’t feel like you have to burn too many calories hunting it down or thinking too hard about.

Rating: 5/10