Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

“Along with jazz, it’s probably the last pure American art form. Hip-hop.” -Q-Tip

When I was 14, I went to Camelot Music to buy my very first rap tape. I came home with Sex Packets from Digital Underground. I had that tape for about as long as it took for my mother to realize I had bought something called Sex Packets, and then she dragged me back to Camelot, and berated the manager loudly until he let me exchange it. 

I came home with People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm by A Tribe Called Quest.

“Probably their most important contribution was the canvas they used were a lot of records that were in our parents collections that we didn’t bother to look at.” -?uestlove

Like most kids my age, I grew up with hip-hop. I would go over to my friend Dontrae’s house and watch Yo! MTV Raps every afternoon after school. I liked it, but I didn’t LOVE it until Bonita Applebum. Tribe introduced me to jazz-not the smooth Dave Koz jazz my father listed to-but Jazz. Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Ronnie Laws. I went from rolling my eyes at what my father was listening to, to digging through his albums when he wasn’t looking, and sneaking and listening to them on my record player. (I feel I can admit this now; surely he can’t ground me 20 years after the fact. Also I’m across the country. Sorry Dad.)

“I listened to Bonita Applebum all the time; I was obsessed with it. I had never heard anything like that in my whole life. And that’s where I changed from just a kid who liked hot beats, to really following something.” -Pharrell Williams

I listened the hell out of Travels. Luck of Lucien, Footprints, Bonita, Description of a Fool-I listened to that tape, front to back, for three months straight. At one point, the tape wore out in the middle of Public Enemy on side A and Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts) on side B. A Tribe Called Quest not only changed how I listened to music, but how I felt about music.

Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest chronicles the group’s rise from Queens, New York to become one of the most influential groups in hip-hop, to the bitter breakup in 1998 and subsequent reunion tour. And breakup. And reunion. But we’ll get to that. 

Director Michael Rappaport joins the group for their wildly successful return tour headlining the Rock the Bells tour in 2008. The film starts at the final show in Seattle, where Q-Tip declares that the only time they’ll be on stage again is if they “make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”. From there, it zips us back to Linden Avenue and Farmers Boulevard where John Davis, Malik Taylor grew up, hooked up with Jarobi White and Ali Shaheed Muhammed and left their wallet in El Segundo. 

The bulk of the film deals with Tribe’s rise to stardom and dives into the personal differences and conflicts between Q-Tip and Phife that eventually splits up the group not once, but twice. At one point, Phife laments not only being the Florence Ballard to Q-Tip’s Diana Ross, but also Tito Jackson. No offense to Tito, of course.

It’s also an amazingly personal film, tackling among other things, Phife’s struggles with diabetes. This was a moment in the film that personally struck home with me, as I am a Type 2 diabetic. In fact, the very first iteration of this blog years ago was called The Funky Diabetic. Phife is a Type 1 diabetic, and he frankly discusses his addiction to sugar and junk food. “You have to accept it. If you don’t accept it, it will kick your ass,” he says. As someone who constantly battles my own food addictions, this scene was a gut punch in the theater, and even watching it now gives me chills. 

Available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download today, this film is an absolute much see for anyone who has ever enjoyed a Tribe song, and tells an engrossing story even if you’re not a fan of hip-hop. 

Oh, and one last thing-I have searched Google up and down, front and back, and I can’t find this t-shirt, that I want so very, very badly. ?uestlove ain’t talkin-somebody find me this thing!