I wonder if they’re looking at Bonita Applebum?

Theatrical Release Date: 07/22/2011
Director: Michael Rapaport
Featuring: Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Jarobi White
Rated: R for language.
Runtime: 1 hour, 35 minutes


1998 saw the break up of one of hip hop’s most influential groups, A Tribe Called Quest. Comprised of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad (and initially, Jarobi White), they were at the forefront of a movement that combined hip hop and jazz, creating a whole new vibe within their art form.

In 2008, the group reunited to raise money for medical expenses Phife Dawg would be needing due to his diabetes. It’s here that director Michael Rapaport starts his documentary, “Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest”. A lifelong fan of hip hop, Rapaport clearly has a love for the music and sets out to explore where the group came from, why they split up, and where they were now.

Really, for all intents and purposes this is your standard biographical documentary. Rapaport tries to get cute and starts us at a confrontational moment (which will confuse anyone not already familiar with A Tribe Called Quest), then he brings us back to the 80s where a quick primer on the rap scene in Brooklyn and Queens sets up the formation of the group. Interviews with A Tribe Called Quest’s members, as well as many notable contemporary artists like Monie Love, De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, and DJ Red Alert help to flesh out what the social scene was like and what ‘Tribe’ meant to it.

We see what brought the members together and how the fracture between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, along with growing desires for members to get involved in other/solo projects, split the group up. Along the way, there are explanations of how key songs came together, especially from their first two albums, “The Low End Theory” and “Midnight Marauders”.

The oddest thing about the documentary is that while Rapaport attempts to fill in the complete backstory of A Tribe Called Quest, the project still feels like it was made to satisfy his own personal curiosity as well as satiate fans who miss the group. It’s hard to see this of being much interest to anyone not already familiar with them or their songs.

As such, I can only give “Beats Rhymes & Life” a 3 out of 5. The coverage applied to the group felt very much like a longer edition of VH1′s ‘Behind the Music’ without the need for commercials or censors. I personally enjoyed the nostalgic trip, hearing the songs, and hearing from other hip hop artists what A Tribe Called Quest meant to them; but this is by no means a excellent documentary in terms of its filmmaking and Rapaport’s almost fanboy appreciation of the music is apparent throughout.

3 out of 5