I'm not much of a hip-hop fan. I did get into Notorious B.I.G for a while there in high school. I liked Puff Daddy (P. Diddy, Diddy, or whatever name he goes by now) for a little while too. However, there's one group I really enjoyed and that was A Tribe Called Quest. They were innovators, much like Dr. Dre and the NWA, but with less hate for cops and society, and more love for all. That is until an ugly rift between the group's headlining names forced them to split apart. 'Beats, Rymes, & Life' ('BRL') covers the wide-eyed beginnings of this young group of rappers and follows them all the way through to the rough demise of the group.
I just reviewed 'Journey to Fearless,' another music documentary which acted more like a two-hour commercial for Taylor Swift. Documentaries about famous people or artists can turn out that way if they aren't treated right. This documentary, I'm glad to say, isn't anything like that. It's a bare-it-all collection of interviews, stories, and concert footage that accurately depicts the group's rise to stardom and their utter collapse.
Directed by actor Michael Rapaport 'BRL' gets up close and personal with the four members of A Tribe Called Quest. While Rapaport talks to the ever congenial Jarobi, and the peaceful Ali a few times, most of the movie is focused on the lead members of the group Phife and Q-Tip. Best friends from the beginning Phife and Q-Tip joined with the other two guys in high school and quickly formed their hip-hop band which was later named A Tribe Called Quest with the help of fellow rap group The Jungle Boys.
They rose to stardom fast on the back of their catchy tunes like "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo," while also becoming known for coining the phrase "applebottom," which referred to girls with "fat asses." Q-Tip took the lead writing most of the songs, all the while, mixing them with old beats he'd loop from classic vinyl records. He became known for his sample beats, and those same beats would be the foundation for the Tribe's success.
Phife discusses, quite openly, about his addiction to sugar. Which wouldn't be such a bad thing if he wasn't diabetic. Phife's diabetes would go on to ultimately play a huge part in the instability of the group as a whole.
Rapaport, at times asks questions off screen as he's interviewing his subjects. Phife and Q-Tip talk very candidly about their falling out. Footage of a blow-up at a concert in Seattle is even provided as we see their friendship start to implode. Once best friends, the constant pressure of stardom started to wear on them. Like so many other acts before them A Tribe Called Quest found themselves at a crossroads. They could either stay together and resent each other even more, or they could part ways. They parted ways.
What I like most about 'BRL' is its frankness and candor. These guys don't really censor themselves. They talk about what happened in a personal, matter-of-fact way that's refreshing. They aren't afraid to lay it all out there and let fans in on what really happened when they split up. Whose feelings were hurt, and how their relationships ultimately kept them all tied together through the thick and thin.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Sony Pictures Classics release is housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with one 50-GB Blu-ray disc. The case indicates a Region A only release.
Like all documentaries, there are various pieces of footage used throughout they movie. Even though it may be in 1080p some of the older, cruder footage doesn't come anywhere near looking high-def. That's to be expected though. You can't really have a documentary which spans two decades without including some unsightly footage here and there.
While the movie may feature its fair share of blocky and overly grainy footage from the 90s, its principle photography – the interviews with the members of the band and their friends – looks very good. The close up shots feature a wide variety of detail. It's easy to see the smallest facial feature, such as freckles and individual strands of facial hair, during the interviews. The clarity during these scenes is top-notch. Crushing does exist at some points, but that's just because it's hard to get the right lighting all the time when you're shooting a documentary with interviews outside and trying to get candid footage at out-of-control concerts.
Technical problems aren't really noticeable. Some negligible banding and aliasing exist but nothing that's going to make you eject the disc in frustration. The principle photography is free of any micro-blocking that might appear during concerts with brilliantly flashing lights that swing wildly around the stage. In short it looks good for a documentary, and fans will be happy.
Yes, the movie is front-heavy but that's to be expected when you're talking about a documentary whose primary feature is interviews from the people involved. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound mix is centered up front for the most part for obvious reasons, but whenever we're treated to the group's music then all the channels kick in.
Concerts are full of ambient sound. Screaming crowds, echoing lyrics, and thumping beats. LFE is deep and expectedly loud whenever the group is shown performing. The mix is nicely balanced, evidenced by scenes where Q-Tip shows us how he samples his own beats from his record collection. The way the sound fills up the front channels and travels to the rears is engulfing.
Yes, most of the time people's dialog is coming at you front and center, but this movie has what so many other documentaries don't have. Killer hip-hop music to fill in the gaps.
If you're at all familiar with the group you'll want to get your hands on this documentary. Fans are definitely going to enjoy this, but even documentary fans without any knowledge of the group will like this movie. It's one of those documentaries that so succinctly studies its subject that even a person with no former knowledge of Tribe could come away feeling like they know them intimately. This movie is recommended for just about anyone looking for an entertaining documentary.