What is it that everybody has and some pirates and thieves try to take? Da booty.
When I first heard this riddle, I was listening to The Love Movement by A Tribe Called Quest. The lines were childish, yet clever, which to me epitomize Tribe’s unique style. This spirit, the whimsical street genius of Q-Tip and Phife Dog, was what I hoped Michael Rapaport’s award-winning documentary would capture. When I made the trip up to Red Butte Garden this past Wednesday to watch Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, I wasn’t disappointed.
The film opened with the iconic intro to “Can I Kick It,“ and from that point on, Tribe’s music and the movie were one. Viewers witnessed the four-man genesis of A Tribe Called Quest from their childhood in New York and high school associations with The Jungle Boys to their eventual split in 1998 and subsequent reunions thereafter.
Rapaport deftly chose not to portray Tribe merely as a successful hip-hip group (five gold and platinum albums in eight years) or even as a set of talented musicians (Q-Tip is compared to Charlie Parker) but as cultural activists whose views on Afrocentric unity led to the collaborative supergroup, The Native Tongues—the Sergeant Peppers of Hip-Hop.
All documentaries, however, are obligated to present the darker half of their subjects and the drama in Beats, Rhymes, and Life felt obligatory. The destructive addiction trope turned out to be Phife’s lust for sugar despite his diabetes, and the group’s initial split felt almost cordial. It wasn’t until a backstage look at their San Francisco concert that I realized how tenuous the relationship between these giants of hip-hop actually was.
I left the showing informed and nostalgic, humming "Baby Phife's Return." We can only hope.