Published Jul 28, 2011Actor Michael Rapaport (Beautiful Girls, Bamboozled) has had a lifelong love affair with hip-hop, and, with his own money, bankrolled this documentary on A Tribe Called Quest, who one of the greatest hip-hop bands to emerge out of the 20th century.
This documentary has been involved in some controversy of late, namely the band refusing to endorse it or do promo, despite being its producers. And that's an awful shame because Rapaport takes a lovely ATCQ obsession and creates a complex portrait of a band of would-be brothers navigating the fine line between art and ego.
Archival still photography is animated and infused with fluorescents to weave the ATCQ tapestry in Rapaport's vision, detailing the humble beginnings of the band (made up of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheen, and Jarobi), from Queens and Brooklyn to platinum-selling international superstars.
Their "music as a place of refuge" approach to jazz and Afrocentric rap helped popularize conscious hip-hop, paving the way for the likes of Kanye and Pharrell Williams, but as Rapaport details their 1998 break-up and 2008 Rock The Bells tour reunion, old points of contention (and profound bitterness) still act like salt in festering wounds. Backstage bickering and petty digging, particularly between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, who have known each other since they were toddlers, is cringe worthy to watch, particularly as it's spliced in between the bass-heavy, funky beats they've created, which evoke nothing short of grooving joy.
The most salient and florid scene details Phife's battle with Type II diabetes and kidney transplant surgery, which steals much of our pathos, despite Phife being the most notoriously proud and stubborn member of the group, while Q-Tip (now a successful solo artist) takes on the role of the calming,
Featuring interviews with the Beastie Boys, Pharrell Williams, Prince Paul, Common, Talib Kweli, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Questlove from the Roots and Mos Def, Rapaport definitely proves he's in his element capturing the scene. Can he kick it? Yes he can. He takes his time with his rap idols to build character (and all four members are indeed characters), resulting in a tragi-comic hip-hopera.
It's odd, however, that he chose to title the documentary after the album that broke the band apart, rather than Low End Theory, their juggernaut launching pad, but this is less about a group and more about the saga of a family.
Music fans and hip-hop newbs alike will enjoy this film, where one is given the opportunity to see music, in all its colours and shapes. It's a visceral experience not to be missed. (Mongrel Media)