Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Did You Miss The Hip-Hop Event of the Week?

Judging by the ridiculously loooong standby ticket line outside AFI Silver last night, you probably did.

I told you that the screening of Beats, Rhymes and Life, the A Tribe Called Quest documentary, was going to be hot.

The lobby of AFI was a madhouse, and the Silverdocs organizers weren't playing--while picking up my tickets, I was told that you had to be in seats 30 minutes beforehand, or they would start releasing seats, even if you'd purchased tickets online!

There was a lengthy wait to even get in the screening room.  Once in, I had to save two seats for folks I know--So Wise Sista and Single Independent Sistah--earning me staredowns from organizers, but they showed up just in time.

I couldn't stop smiling during the first hour of the film.  Really.  Director Michael Rapaport did an amazing job of showing the joy, creativity, and boundless talent inherent in the origins of hip-hop.  Looking at all of the scenes of young Black New Yorkers in the '80s and early '90s (oh, those clothes and hairstyles!), working together to develop a culture and a sound that changed the world was nothing short of awesome.  The energy in the concert shots just popped off of the screen--people in the audience were nodding their heads to the music and rapping along.

No matter what you've read online, all of ATCQ (including original member Jarobi) were able to candidly tell their stories of the group's rise to fame and subsequent break-up.  I don't think that Q-Tip came off as a narcissist; if anything, the film reaffirms his status as one of the true geniuses of hip-hop production.  The scenes where he's talking about the jazz and classic soul beats behind their seminal hits are a must-see for anybody who really wants to understand the roots of the genre.  There's even several cameos from industry legends (DJ Red Alert, Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Beasties, to name a few) who inject humor and provide prospective in regard to ATCQ's tremendous impact on the culture.

The film doesn't gloss over the group's years of internal beef and petty squabbles.  The artistic marriage between Phife and Q-Tip has fluctuated between hostile divorce and passive separation for the past 13 years, and fine, fine, fine (did I mention fine?) Ali Shaheed Muhammad has been caught in the middle.  Phife seems to have more issues with Q-Tip, but Tip could care less--he's been out grinding.

I walked away from the movie feeling that they will eventually work it out to crank out one last album.  The success of the documentary will prove that their fan base has only grown since their last recording.  There was even a White guy in the audience last night with a t-shirt reading Bonita, Bonita, Bonita...We're all ready and willing to see how their sound and lyrical styles have evolved.

Another thought:  Could this film inspire another generation of rappers? I hope so--real hip-hop is in need of a renaissance.  We're in the Dark Ages right now, experiencing a lyrical version of the plague.

Like Phife Dawg said at the post-film discussion, the story of ATCQ is really about love: The deep friendships four young guys cultivated over the course of 25 years (the scenes where Jarobi was talking about how Phife's health problems have affected him were especially touching); the love of rap; and the love the fans continue to show them all over the world.  Make sure you catch the film when the documentary officially opens in D.C. next month.  You won't be sorry.


  1. Couldn't have said it better, myself! As a matter of fact...I didn't even try write a review of the film, just of the handled it for the both of us!