Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest Blu-ray Review

Here we go yo, this was the scenario:  I love the music that has come from the influential hip hop group known as A Tribe Called Quest and jumped at the chance to review this Blu-ray.  ‘Beats, Rhymes & Life’ is a very well put together documentary that chronicles the past, present, and possible future of the group.  It provides an insightful look at the history of the band, their influence on the mainstream, the tension from within the group that lead to their initial break-up in 1998, and where things have come to, over a decade later.  Getting a look inside the Tribe is great enough for anyone curious, but it also helps to be treated to so much of their music and music like it.  Also helping is the fantastic Blu-ray presentation, which is packed with extras and features superb video and audio quality.

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Tavels of a Tribe Called Quest is the dream project from director Michael Rapaport.  The New York actor has been a huge fan of the influential and groundbreaking hip hop group, A Tribe Called Quest, since their inception and took the opportunity to go out on tour with the group in 2008, when the group reunited to perform sold-out concerts across the country, almost ten years after the release of their last album.  As he travels with the band members (Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White), Rapaport captures the story of how shaky their relationship has become; and how their personal differences and unresolved conflicts continue to be a hazard to their creative unity.

The film manages to take a pretty encompassing look into the past as well, with interviews and footage from the past, showing what it took for the group to come together.  The film provides some perspective as to how the band’s unique approach to hip hop helped transform and influence the genre for years to come.  Things become more interesting when the present is dealt with, providing some insight as to how things got to the way they have become, with all the various difficulties along the way.  In addition to chronicling the past, present and future of the band, the film includes interviews from the Beastie Boys, Pharrell, Mos Def, Santigold, De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers and Common, all of whom attribute some combination of love, respect, and inspiration drawn from the legacy of A Tribe Called Quest.

This documentary is notable for the clash that occurred between Rapaport and the group when it came time to actually have it shown to audiences.  Some of this is covered in the bonus features, but suffice it to say that not everyone, particularly Q-Top, comes off great in this film, which is more a matter of not having one’s artistic integrity come off as too much of a big ego.  With that said, despite the fact that these things (obviously) don’t represent people at their finest moments all the time, I do give a lot of credit for the amount of honesty that seems to be present in this film.  Rapaport certainly seems to have gotten a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage and older footage to truly capture the full scope of the Tribe.

Aside from the tension within the group, which led to the eventual break-up in 1998, this film is also great for showing the conception of so much of the group’s music.  A Tribe Called Quest has some of the best beats in the world of hip hop and it is very evident thanks to the fantastic soundtrack that accompanies the film.  Seeing the early days, including concert footage and music videos is a great and does a great job of providing plenty of contexts as to why the group received the notary that they did.  Additionally, the interviews help out with this as well, providing an outside perspective from other accomplished artists who have inside knowledge and praise to spread about the group.

When the film does get into how personal drama from within led to lots of fighting and an eventual split, the film remains interesting and insightful.  This is especially the case when things come closer to the present and we see how the guys, namely Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, try to reconcile their differences for the sake of the music and the fans.  Watching them practice and even working out a dance routine for their concert performance was quite entertaining on a number of levels.  The film also doesn’t shy away from Phife’s physical problems, due to his diabetes, which provides for another level of drama added to the film.  There is basically a lot of heavy stuff here, but it all worked well under the context of this very honest film.

I really dug this film a lot.  It helps, of course, that I am a huge fan of A Tribe Called Quest, so getting the chance to watch a music documentary about the group and all they’ve been through and where they’ll go to from here was already a giant plus for me.  However, what helped further was the skill that first-time director Michael Rapaport had in assembling this thing.  He made a lot of good choices that provided for a film that is insightful, entertaining, quite funny at times, and most of all a great listen in terms of hearing musicians both speak and perform.  I enjoy a good documentary, especially one with subject matter that I have such a fondness for.

I love getting to review Sony Pictures’ Blu-rays, because that means the presentations will be fantastic.  While being a mix of digital camera work, film, archive footage, and music videos, the 1080p HD MPEG-4 AVC transfer does great justice to this film.  This is a great looking film, even when it cuts to the much older footage.  All of the present day filming looks vibrant, sharp, and detailed.  The opening, which features a mix of concert footage and very colorfully animated segments, is a perfect way to start off what is such a great looking video presentation.

The best thing about hearing a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is the fact that I get to hear all of the fantastic beats provided in this film with crystal clarity.  This is a great film to have a solid sound system for and the Blu-ray does proper justice for this particular area.  Along with hearing the wonderful music so clearly, the mixing of all the different chatter between the various interview subjects and group members comes across very clear.  It is definitely a solid mix that once again nicely compliments this Blu-ray package.

There is a nice package of extra features here as well, further complimenting the film and providing even more insight into the group and the process of creating this documentary.  It also helps that all of these features are in HD.

Special Features Include:

Commentary with Director Michael Rapaport

Deleted Scenes – About 25 minutes worth of material.

Bringing Beats to Life – A featurette about the creation of the animated segments in the film.

On the Red Carpet – A brief look at the LA Film Festival Premiere


Theatrical Trailer

Exclusive to the Blu-ray:

Mike’s Journey – A 20 minute look at the making of the film, Rapaport’s inspiration, troubles and challenges in making the film, and mention of the group’s reaction and how that sorted itself out.  It’s a solid feature to check out after the film.

Eight Extended Scenes – Another hour worth of material with more interviews and footage.


My love and appreciation for A Tribe Called Quest was well suited for viewing this Blu-ray.  Given how much I love listening to the music of the group, getting to watch a story that details what went into the group’s creation, along with the music they brought about, and their history from there was a great joy.  It helps that Michael Rapaport’s skillfully made doc manages to be presented on a fantastic Blu-ray disc, which features a pretty fantastic audio track and a very vivid video presentation.  The quality amount of extra features only helps things further.  Certainly a good pick for pick for hip hop fans and music documentary fans.  So come check the rhyme y’all.

About the author

Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Gofer, and a Lefty. There are too many films, TV shows, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at, and check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.