Movie Review: Beats Rhymes & Life
I have been eagerly anticipating the release of Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, since the moment I discovered Michael Rapaport intended to make this film. Like many of you, I have read most of the reviews and noticed all the reviews to be generally positive. I won't waste your time by providing a review that recants many of the reviews already written by those bloggers privileged enough to see the movie earlier than me. Instead, I am going to review the movie by reviewing those who have already reviewed the movie. Confused? Let me explain.
As most of you are aware, almost all of the positive reviews have had a slight caveat. Numerous reviews (particularly from the hip hop perspective) have criticized Michael Rapaport for placing too much of the film's focus on the ongoing feud between Phife and Q-Tip. Let me say that such criticisms are not only overstated, but they are immaturely childish. As many reviewers have correctly pointed out, Rapaport does an excellent job in documenting the story of A Tribe Called Quest. He does an extraordinary job of telling this story because Rapaport is a true hip hopper himself. The film is filled with fascinating stories, archival footage, and subtle tidbits that will satisfy the most hardcore of hip hop culture enthusiasts (many of you on this blog). By being a hip hopper himself, Rapaport knows what true heads want to see and he delivers it.
The feuding between Phife and Q-Tip naturally becomes part of the film because the feuding between the group's two frontmen is part of the group's story. Ignoring the feud would not only equate to historical revisionism, it would simply be dishonest. Those who have criticized the documentary for focusing too much on the Phife v. Q-Tip feud are probably the same kind of adults who still get upset that there is no Santa Clause or Tooth Fairy. The trials and tribulations of the friendship between Q-Tip and Phife is emblematic of the challenges that any childhood friendship endures as the bond attempts to weather the storm adulthood naturally brings.
I experienced mixed emotions while watching this movie. On one hand, the hip hop geek in me was on sensory overload as I saw a brilliantly executed documentary about one of my favorite groups of all time. On the other hand, I was saddened to the point of anger when I realized that the film did not nearly focus on the feud as much as many of its critics claimed it did. As I thought about this a little more, I came to the conclusion that much of the "feud" criticism is symbolic of the difficulty that hip hop culture has experienced during its not so graceful aging process.
The fact that so many hip hoppers (at least many of the influential ones) had a problem with the part of the documentary that displayed the challenges that all adult relationships experience, leads me to believe that either hip hoppers aren't maturing, or they simply won't allow their beloved culture to. Either way, it's problematic. Though the element of youthful rebellion that is intrinsic to hip hop culture may be what initially appealed to many of us, the culture embodies much more than simple youthful rebellion. The original hip hop generation has not only grown into adulthood, but some of the original hip hoppers are now old enough to die of natural causes. However, by the looks of the reviews that I read surrounding the Beats Rhymes and Life documentary, it appears that far too many choose to comment on the culture from the perspective of naivete.
To those who truly value the culture, the challenge is now focused on how to preserve our culture for future generations. One hundred years from now, hip hop will be lucky if it finds itself in a similar position to the one that jazz is currently in. Sure, jazz is not generally considered mainstream music. But, who wants that anyway? Almost one hundred years later, jazz still maintains a niche audience. Not only is there a niche audience, but those who appreciate jazz music are generally the cultured and intellectual types. Society typically holds in high regard those who appreciate jazz. Does hip hop music have a similar future? The answer is for us to decide. However, the future will continue to look glum as long as the culture's vanguard continue to demonstrate an inability to deal with mature subjects even when such subjects are dealt with in the most lighthearted of ways.