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Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest DVD Review

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest movie poster Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Theatrical Release: July 8, 2011 / Running Time: 97 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Michael Rappaport / Producers: Edward Parks, Frank Mele, Michael Rapaport, Eric Matthies, Robert Benavides, Debra Koffler, ATCQ

Featured Subjects: Malik "Phife Dawg" Taylor, Kamaal "Q-Tip" Fareed, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White, Deisha Head Taylor, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, Barry Weiss, Chris Lighty, Bob Power, Pharrell Williams, Rashied Lonnie "Common" Lyn, Questlove, Black Thought, Maseo, Posdnous, Andres "Dres" Titus, Monie Love, Angie Martinez, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Bobbito Garcia, Michael "Mike D" Diamond, Adam "MCA" Yauch, Adam "Ad-Rock" Horowitz, Mos Def, Busta Rhymes, Mary J. Blige, Nathaniel "Afrika Baby Bam" Hall, Jerry "JuJu" Tineo, Lester "Psycho Les" Fernandez, Michael "Mike G" Small, Pete Rock, WP "Large Professor" Mitchell, Paul "Prince Paul" Huston, DJ Red Alert

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Thinking about the early '90s may conjure for you the music of Nirvana, Michael Jackson, R.E.M., Paula Abdul, Amy Grant, or Whitney Houston. For me, the names that come to mind include MC Hammer, Snap, Kris Kross, Black Sheep, Joe Public, Naughty by Nature, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, and A Tribe Called Quest.
In my young mind, these artists were all cut from the same cloth and doing the same thing in the genre today widely known as hip hop. I've since been able to distinguish the novelties from real musicians, but either way, a few songs from all of these acts are just about the most effective way to take me back twenty years.

From A Tribe Called Quest, the song that has always stood out for me is "Scenario". It hit #57 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #6 on Hot Rap Singles charts in 1992 and introduced the world to Busta Rhymes, a then 19-year-old guest performer. Incidentally, "Scenario" is not among the nearly thirty Tribe songs featured in Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, a new documentary on the respected rap group's time together and apart.

The film marks the unlikely feature directorial debut of Michael Rapaport, a veteran actor whose juiciest credits came in Tribe's one successful decade and include Beautiful Girls, Cop Land, Deep Blue Sea, and a recurring role on "Friends." Rapaport is evidently qualified to make this movie because he's a fan and because the group remains enough of a draw to land major gigs long after their 1998 split.

Q-Tip, a.k.a. Kamaal Fareed, demonstrates how the rhythms of obscure jazz albums found their way into the backing of A Tribe Called Quest raps. "Bonita Applebum" is one of a few Tribe Called Quest music videos sampled in the film.

Roughly the first hour of the film details Tribe's origins and output. Four black teenagers from Queens became a legitimate group near the end of their shared time at Lower Manhattan's Murray Bergtraum High School for Business Careers. Their success seems pretty instantaneous at a time when hip hop was being embraced by the general public through hit acts like Run D.M.C. and Public Enemy. Tribe's first three albums were well-received critically and brought profit to Jive Records. Rapaport capably documents this creative period (whose singles "Bonita Applebum", "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo", and "Can I Kick It?" are discussed) with music videos and live performances.

But industry success alone doesn't merit a music documentary (something nobody told the makers of Justin Bieber: Never Say Never). Fortunately, Beats finds some interesting material in the group's personalities. Two of the members, Jarobi White, who left in 1991 to pursue the culinary arts, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, are given only passing notice. The focus and the conflict lie with the other two members, its clashing leaders. Producer and primary writer Q-Tip is portrayed as the brains of the operation, whose passion for finding obscure jazz albums provided the group with inspired sounds to sample. The heart and perhaps most frequently heard voice is Phife Dawg, whose love of following sports is demonstrated as he talks Big East basketball in the 1980s and lists his favorite point guards and running backs.

Some real intrigue is mined in the final half-hour, as Phife Dawg's medical expenses for treating Type I diabetes inspired the group to reunite a few years ago over escalating tensions. The subject matter wanders into reality TV territory but it is tactfully and tastefully handled by Rapaport, as we hear both sides of a rift regrettable and, as these things typically are, fueled by egos and stubbornness.

Malik Taylor, better known as Phife Dawg, discusses personal problems including sugar addiction, diabetes, a kidney transplant, and in-fighting. Pharrell (Williams) is one of several musicians who testify to A Tribe Called Quest's influence.

If you're not a fan of the group and of what increasingly seems to make the cut-off of lamented "old school rap", the human interest portions of the final act may be all that keeps you invested in Beats, Rhymes & Life and even that requires something beyond apathy to the music. Rapaport does a respectable job of celebrating the group and familiarizing us with its two bold, contrary talents, but the material does seem a bit thin to warrant such attention, even with musicians like Pharrell, Common, and members of Jimmy Fallon house band The Roots testifying to the group's achievements and impact.

An R rating "for language" is easily earned; vulgarities flow less in A Tribe Called Quest's creative lyrics and more in the musician reflections (even former Jive CEO Barry Weiss gets in the act, with a colorful and seemingly regretted description of Q-Tip). After a limited summer U.S.-only Sony Pictures Classic theatrical release which is winding down now just past the $1.2 M mark, Beats, Rhymes & Life recently came to Blu-ray and DVD. We review the latter here.

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: October 18, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Black Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($30.99 SRP) and Instant Video


Beats, Rhymes & Life looks pretty excellent in the DVD's 1.78:1 widescreen presentation. Like many documentaries, this one gathers video from a variety of sources, resulting in plenty of fuzzy, grainy clips. The original material, however, is clean, sharp, and well-defined, making it easy to forget you're watching standard definition except when pressing pause. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also quite satisfactory, mostly in the few Tribe tunes it prominently plays. Dialogue remains clear throughout, making most of the subtitles the optional kind.

Phillip Niemeyer (right) and James Blagden demonstrate the techniques they brought to the film's opening and occasional animation in "Bringing Beats to Life." Director Michael Rapaport places A Tribe Called Quest's in the same leagues as The Beach Boys in his Los Angeles Film Festival premiere remarks.


Extras begin with an audio commentary by director Michael Rapaport. The passion and enthusiasm he brings to the film are apparent here too, as he hardly lets a shot pass without shedding some light on it. He has a lot of thoughts to share
about the many influential hip-hop figures featured, his own attraction to the genre, and the documentary filmmaking process from licensing footage to capturing intimate moments. It's a solid listen.

"Bringing Beats to Life" (10:20) is a featurette devoted purely to the stylish animation the film employs on the opening credits and the group's album covers. It's strange for something so narrow to be the disc's only making-of piece, but the topic warrants such notice from Rapaport and the animators themselves, who share their painstaking process.

I'll leave you to guess what "On the Red Carpet: Los Angeles Film Festival Premiere" (5:12) is. Rapaport, Tribe members (but not Q-Tip, who is conspicuously absent), and esteemed guests (including director John Singleton and actresses Taraji P. Henson and Juliette Lewis) comment on the film and the group before and after the seemingly uncarpeted June 2011 screening.

Director Michael Rapaport is seen and heard in this deleted interview with ATCQ's Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Though missing a few Blu-ray-exclusive extras, the DVD still has a nice supply of special features for Q-Tip to look over.

Six deleted scenes (25:04) give us a lot more talking heads, including more with The Beastie Boys, Ludacris, and Pharrell. They sound off on Zulu Nation, A Tribe Called Quest's break-up and musician dissent in general, the possibility of Tribe creating more music, the Native Tongues collective, and the individual members of Tribe. The footage is nice to see, but also clearly stands in the way of an appropriate feature runtime.

Beats, Rhymes & Life's good original theatrical trailer (2:23) is kindly preserved.
Wish that Sony's other divisions and every other studio would think to make these standard inclusions as they once were.

As has become the norm, the DVD lacks certain bonus features from the Blu-ray. Exclusive to this title's BD are an hour's worth of extended scenes, the more general 19-minute making-of featurette "Mike's Journey", and BD-Live.

The disc opens with an updated Sony Blu-ray promo and trailers for The Guard, POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Take Shelter, Lightning in a Bottle, and It Might Get Loud. The "Previews" listing repeats them all in the same succession.

The DVD's static, silent main menu widens the one-sheet artwork and replaces the peace sign crosswalk signal with the usual listings. Colorful and thematically compatible submenus incorporate black & white pictures of Tribe members. The standard black Eco-Box keepcase does not have the usual portions cut out.

"I Left My Ticket in El Segundo" is the first A Tribe Called Quest single celebrated in "Beats, Rhymes & Life."


Beats, Rhymes & Life is no doubt the most polished documentary on A Tribe Called Quest we can expect to see anytime soon. Though it makes for an okay viewing, I'm not convinced there is enough interesting material here to justify the feature film treatment. Still, if you are a fan, you will enjoy this celebration of their music and if not, you should at least be riveted by the more compelling stretches of behind-the-scenes drama.

Delivering good picture and sound plus a satisfying supply of bonus features, the DVD should please anyone who enjoys the film and doesn't wish to spend a few dollars more (or the several hundreds to upgrade formats) for the expansive Blu-ray.

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Beats, Rhymes & Life Songs List (in order of first use): A Tribe Called Quest - "8 Million Stories", A Tribe Called Quest - "We Can Get Down", A Tribe Called Quest - "Can I Kick It?", Pure Essence - "Third Rock", A Tribe Called Quest - "Check the Rhime", Margo's Kool Out Crew - "Death Rap", Run DMC - "Sucker M.C.'s (Krush-Groove-1)", A Tribe Called Quest - "Mr. Muhammad", James Pants - "Ah Get Up", Schoolly D - "PSK", J.V.C. Force - "Strong Island", Mantronix - "Fresh is the Word", A Tribe Called Quest - "Push It Along", A Tribe Called Quest - "Footprints", A Tribe Called Quest - "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo", A Tribe Called Quest - "Bonita Applebum", De La Soul - "Ain't Hip to Be Labeled a Hippie", The New Birth - "African Cry", Ndikho Xaba & The Natives - "Nomusa", De La Soul - "Buddy", A Tribe Called Quest - "Jazz (We've Got)", A Tribe Called Quest - "Buggin' Out", A Tribe Called Quest - "Oh My God (Remix)", A Tribe Called Quest - "Lyrics to Go", Minnie Riperton - "Inside My Love", A Tribe Called Quest - "Clap Your Hands", A Tribe Called Quest - "God Lives Through", David T. Walker - "On Love", A Tribe Called Quest - "Crew", Yesterdays New Quintet - "Daylight", Phil Hewitt - "Donna", A Tribe Called Quest - "Baby Phife's Return", Money Mark - "Margaret Song", Sparky D - "He's My DJ (Red Alert)", A Tribe Called Quest - "Youthful Expression", Jungle Brothers - "On the Run", Jungle Brothers - "Black is Black", Jungle Brothers - "The Promo", Donald Byrd - "Distant Land (Hip Hop Drum Mix)", Lonnie Smith - "Spinning Wheel", A Tribe Called Quest - "Ham 'n' Eggs", A Tribe Called Quest - "Butter", A Tribe Called Quest - "Electric Relaxation", A Tribe Called Quest - "Excursions", A Tribe Called Quest - "Award Tour", A Tribe Called Quest - "Find a Way", Q-Tip featuring Norah Jones - "Life is Better" - A Tribe Called Quest - "Stressed Out", A Tribe Called Quest - "The Chase - Part 2", A Tribe Called Quest - "Midnight", A Tribe Called Quest - "Get a Hold"

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Reviewed November 16, 2011.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Sony Pictures Classics, Rival Pictures, State Street Pictures, and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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