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World Cinema Showcase Festival Diaries #4

This documentary filled a gap in my knowledge. Having gone in knowing very little about A Tribe Called Quest, the innovative American Hip Hop group who rose to fame in the 1990s with hits "Can I Kick It?" and "Bonita Applebum", I left understanding the lasting impact they had over a true American art form. As it's pointed in the documentary, hip hop (along with jazz) is a true American art form. You lose sight of this fact when music today is dominated by terrible hip hop music, but spend 90 minutes with this documentary and you realize that A Tribe Called Quest were the most intelligent, artistic hip hop group of the 1990s.

I would recommend Beats, Rhymes & Life to anybody, to die-hard fans of hip hop music and to the uninitiated. It is all made accessible under the careful hand of Michael Rapaport, who gets candid interviews with everybody. All the prominent members of the American Hip Hop scene and all the members of Tribe, Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who each talk fondly and respectfully about a time when the group was burgeoning. It all unfolds at a chilled and easy-to-watch pace with the accompaniment of motion graphics.

What I admired most about the documentary is how it deals sensitively with fragile group dynamics. Michael Rapaport is clearly a fan, but he is careful not to make matters worse. He shows us that what threatens the group is not simply fragile egos, but personality clashes. For instance, what Q-Tip says to Phife in the throw of a performance does almost irreparable damage to the entire group. It's that funny thing with groups that its personalities come together to make great art but they almost always guarantee its destruction.

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Content updated: 23/03/2018 22:09

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