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GrahamS.

Musical Monday’s Week 93: Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

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Microphone check one-two...what is this?

We watched:

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I started this thread early because—as a fan of this group—I fucking love this movie. After watching it tonight I feel like it has only gotten better—and more emotional—with age. Before I watched it, I read some of the reviews that came out at the time. They were largely positive but some complained that there wasn’t enough of the band performing. I agree—I would happily take a two and a half or three hour version of this movie with more performances. But what I think what the film has is extraordinarily candid access to all the members of the group. What it captures through this access is a portrait of the group’s rise to success, their eventual tumultuous breakup, the strong sense of a fan’s longing for the band to get back together, the sense of their gradually rebuilding their relationship, and a heartbreaking portrait of a lost hip-hop icon (and more than one if you include a brief interview with Adam Yauch).

That’s a lot of fucking stuff packed into a 97-minute documentary. And perhaps it doesn’t work as well if you’re not a fan. But for me, there are a number of things that make this movie special:

1. Priceless moments, like Q-Tip talking about creating beats on a school desk and being a computer geek in high school, the inspiration for Phife’s  “Seaman’s furniture” lyric, their outfits in 1990, etc.

2. The fact that it does not always paint everyone in the most flattering light (in fact, Q-Tip refused to promote this movie because he didn’t like how he was portrayed). Some critics wrote this off as a toothless fan-made “authorized” doc, but I disagree. I think one of the strengths is how the film shows the group’s arguments. It could easily have just coasted on nostalgia. The fact that Michael Rapaport captures the dismay of the group’s seemingly irreconcilable differences pays off in the possibly hopeful ending and ...

3.The fact they reunited for 2016’s awesome We got it from here...Thank You 4 Your Service. An amazing gift of an album. It’s great that Q-Tip dedicated the album to Phife Dawg.

Finally, 4. The interviews with Phife (who died at 46 from his battle with diabetes) now have an aura of melancholy. In the final third, the scenes where he gets a kidney from his wife made me choke up. Maybe I’m just a sap. R.I.P., Phife Dawg.

So those are just a few of the reasons why I think the film is an important part of the band’s legacy. It was a film that definitely made me emotional, perhaps partly because of the horrific week we’ve just had. But I’m definitely glad that I rewatched it.

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I admit to not being overly impressed. I stopped it the first time. When I revisited it I watched the whole thing from the start. As a non-fan I would have liked to see more music, just to see what made these guys so successful. I would have liked more focus on the other two members. I think Q-tip at one point says Jabori (sp?) is the soul of the group but I never find out why.

The other thing I would have liked to learn is why the hip hop generation was the first to “scratch” and sample music. There is a comment along the lines of “You use what tools you have, and we had records.” Lots of other people only had records but didn’t take them in this direction. Thoughts?

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I have to give kudos to Michael Rapaport for taking this on as his first directed movie. He’s obviously a superfan but his questions are not slavishly adoring. As Graham S. said the doc pulls no punches.

Good job, goofy guy in Deep Blue Sea!

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35 minutes ago, Cinco DeNio said:

The other thing I would have liked to learn is why the hip hop generation was the first to “scratch” and sample music. There is a comment along the lines of “You use what tools you have, and we had records.” Lots of other people only had records but didn’t take them in this direction. Thoughts?

There are so many documentaries and books written about this subject, it’s hard to boil it down to a concise explanation, but I think this short video does an excellent job of doing that.

 

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26 minutes ago, GrahamS. said:

There are so many documentaries and books written about this subject, it’s hard to boil it down to a concise explanation, but I think this short video does an excellent job of doing that.

 

Haven't had a chance to watch the doc yet but I do recall that ATCQ was famously ensared in an early case about sampling because the used the famous bass hook from Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side. They were allowed to release the song "Can I Kick It" (and arguably, launch their career) but only if they agreed to give Lou all the royalties from that song. Seems pretty harsh now but apparently that was the precedent at the time.

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So since I am a super fan, I will post a shitload of other video links here. First, the deleted scenes:

Now, the unplugged show with De La Soul on MTV in 1991:

Now, some of  the music videos:

Those were videos from their first three albums, the next were from their 2016 album (after the doc, which came out in 2011). That album featured Elton John, Jack White, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar and a ton of other guests who were happy to help pay tribute. But the main draw is that the original band was reunited (although I believe their DJ, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, was largely busy doing the music for Luke Cage).

Finally, a good interview with Q-Tip about Prince, Phife Dawg and much more.

ok, I’ll stop now.🤪

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31 minutes ago, theworstbuddhist said:

Haven't had a chance to watch the doc yet but I do recall that ATCQ was famously ensared in an early case about sampling because the used the famous bass hook from Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side. They were allowed to release the song "Can I Kick It" (and arguably, launch their career) but only if they agreed to give Lou all the royalties from that song. Seems pretty harsh now but apparently that was the precedent at the time.

Yes, that’s true (I didn’t post the music video for that because they had to change the track and it’s not as good). It’s a great song.

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Ok, I’ll post one more thing. Here’s Can I Kick It?

 

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6 hours ago, GrahamS. said:

3.The fact they reunited for 2016’s awesome We got it from here...Thank You 4 Your Service. An amazing gift of an album. It’s great that Q-Tip dedicated the album to Phife Dawg.

Finally, 4. The interviews with Phife (who died at 46 from his battle with diabetes) now have an aura of melancholy. In the final third, the scenes where he gets a kidney from his wife made me choke up. Maybe I’m just a sap. R.I.P., Phife Dawg.

So those are just a few of the reasons why I think the film is an important part of the band’s legacy. It was a film that definitely made me emotional, perhaps partly because of the horrific week we’ve just had. But I’m definitely glad that I rewatched it.

I watched this the year it came out but didn't watch it again this week. But I was curious how different it feels now that they got together for one last album (which is fantastic if anyone hasn't heard it) and Pfife dying. My recollection is this ended on a note of "well... that was the story and nothing will bring the guys together again." So, knowing it wasn't the end and having a real end probably makes it feel a lot different.

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Yea, I'll add, I'm a super fan of the band for sure. They're my second favorite rap group and I have all their stuff. (Outkast is first.) 

But I did not particularly enjoy the documentary. It's weird though because I do agree with the points Graham made, but also with what Cinco said. It needs more music. It needs more Ali Shaheed. It does give good access to the Tip and Phife, for sure, and some of it isn't all rosy. I would have preferred to see more of them when they were young, instead of seeing an older Q-Tip going to see his high school teacher. I dunno. Show me how their clashes and closeness created this music and made them popular and influential. That's the connection I think the documentary needed.

Also they don't even mention "Scenario" once.

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I’m on the side of “it was good, but could have given me more.” It was great to have that kind of access, but the film itself felt pretty dry to me. I feel like a group as innovative as ATCQ deserves a documentary that doesn’t feel so prosaic.

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All fair points. I think when you have a group that iconic, it’s pretty much impossible to cover what everyone wants in a feature-length doc that’s not a filmed performance (ala Stop Making Sense). There should really be a Netflix/Hulu/Hbo/whatever season-length documentary about them. Something like what Wu-Tang got (my phone keeps wanting to call them “Will-Tang” for some reason, which makes them sound like a Will Smith backing band).

COMPLETELY unrelated tangent: are any of you fans of Unspooled? Sometimes I like it—and I’ve liked their YouTube shows—but sometimes I find Amy’s opinions so nit-picky as to be cringe-inducing and damn near unlistenable (thinking specifically of the Goodfellas episode, where she seemed to take issue with what the movie WASN’T as to what it actually was. Don’t get me wrong—we don’t have to universally value something as a classic, but comparing the actual version of a film to an imaginary version in your head just reeks of BS to me. I couldn’t finish that episode because she did that so frequently that it undercut any valid points she had and it drove me nuts). Just curious.

 

 

 

 

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42 minutes ago, GrahamS. said:

All fair points. I think when you have a group that iconic, it’s pretty much impossible to cover what everyone wants in a feature-length doc that’s not a filmed performance (ala Stop Making Sense). There should really be a Netflix/Hulu/Hbo/whatever season-length documentary about them. Something like what Wu-Tang got (my phone keeps wanting to call them “Will-Tang” for some reason, which makes them sound like a Will Smith backing band).

COMPLETELY unrelated tangent: are any of you fans of Unspooled? Sometimes I like it—and I’ve liked their YouTube shows—but sometimes I find Amy’s opinions so nit-picky as to be cringe-inducing and damn near unlistenable (thinking specifically of the Goodfellas episode, where she seemed to take issue with what the movie WASN’T as to what it actually was. Don’t get me wrong—we don’t have to universally value something as a classic, but comparing the actual version of a film to an imaginary version in your head just reeks of BS to me. I couldn’t finish that episode because she did that so frequently that it undercut any valid points she had and it drove me nuts). Just curious.

 

 

 

 

I was thinking - perhaps this documentary should have just been about Phife's life. That may have tempered some of our missed expectations and maybe have made it even more emotional.

One thing that always surprises me about their last call reunion record was how great Jarobi sounded on it. He was never a huge part of the music, but his voice was strong on the last one.

And yea, a bunch of us have been in on Unspooled since episode one and it has its own forum here if you scroll down a little bit on this here website. Come over and join us! We're pretty pro-Amy over there, though. :P No, it's common critique, I think. She doesn't bother me though. I want her nitpicks and value them. I do find I agree with her a lot, but if not, that's how I strengthen my opinions/arguments too. I do to some extent come at these movies with a "we need reevaluate a lot of these sacred cows" angle like she does, and that, I think, is true.

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1 hour ago, AlmostAGhost said:

One thing that always surprises me about their last call reunion record was how great Jarobi sounded on it. He was never a huge part of the music, but his voice was strong on the last one.

I listened to their last album right after I finished watching the movie. RE: Jarobi, I absolutely agree. 

 

1 hour ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I do to some extent come at these movies with a "we need reevaluate a lot of these sacred cows" angle like she does, and that, I think, is true.

I totally agree with that as well. Films do need to be re-evaluated and I agree with  both her and Paul’s take on that. 

I guess my reaction to her nit-picking comes from my creative writing background. Constructive criticism is valid and useful, but sometimes I don’t think her criticisms are constructive, they come more from what she wishes something could be, which severely undercuts whatever valid points she might make. It’s like me wishing Bob Dylan had a better singing voice. It might be something I personally prefer, but it’s completely irrelevant to his cultural significance and his work.

does that point make sense? If I were to stay on topic and make it more focused on her, I just sometimes find it convenient that she’s willing to nitpick how realistic Goodfellas is  and it’s casting and then adore Titanic (which I won’t bash on the whole, but Billy Zane and his subplot, c’mon), which offers up a pretty romanticized version of history. You can dislike/have issues with Goodfellas all you want—everyone’s taste is subjective, after all—but she raised so many inconsequential points on that episode (in my opinion) that I was surprised she didn’t think think the title should be changed to Good Fellows.😁

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Regarding Unspooled, I certainly get the criticism, and I personally know of a few people who have stopped listening for just that reason. Hell, I myself haven’t listened in quite a while. On the other hand, I feel like Unspooled is a chance for her to take off her movie critic’s hat and just be a movie fan. It’s what allows me to give a film like Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy movie 5-Stars on Letterboxd while simultaneously giving A Clockwork Orange or Raging Bull 2 and 1 stars. Sure, on an intellectual level I get that they are better movies, but they also aren’t movies that I particularly like sitting through either, and I would definitely have nits to pick on how to “improve” them.

Honestly, it’s just the way the show has been structured from the beginning. And not to sound like a smart ass, but isn’t wishing she would do it differently kind of like complaining about Dylan’s voice or wishing Goodfellas was something other than what it is? There are plenty of “good/classic” movie podcasts that would probably agree with you. If you don’t agree with her, or if her opinions tend to get on your nerves, my suggestion would be to find a different podcast to listen to. I mean, sometimes it sucks when you want to like something and just can’t, but life’s too short to waste time on something that doesn’t bring you joy.

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10 hours ago, GrahamS. said:

I listened to their last album right after I finished watching the movie. RE: Jarobi, I absolutely agree. 

 

I totally agree with that as well. Films do need to be re-evaluated and I agree with  both her and Paul’s take on that. 

I guess my reaction to her nit-picking comes from my creative writing background. Constructive criticism is valid and useful, but sometimes I don’t think her criticisms are constructive, they come more from what she wishes something could be, which severely undercuts whatever valid points she might make. It’s like me wishing Bob Dylan had a better singing voice. It might be something I personally prefer, but it’s completely irrelevant to his cultural significance and his work.

does that point make sense? If I were to stay on topic and make it more focused on her, I just sometimes find it convenient that she’s willing to nitpick how realistic Goodfellas is  and it’s casting and then adore Titanic (which I won’t bash on the whole, but Billy Zane and his subplot, c’mon), which offers up a pretty romanticized version of history. You can dislike/have issues with Goodfellas all you want—everyone’s taste is subjective, after all—but she raised so many inconsequential points on that episode (in my opinion) that I was surprised she didn’t think think the title should be changed to Good Fellows.😁

I welcome anyone coming to the Unspooled boards even if they disagree with Amy. I generally agree with her but I've found nitpicking a bit much sometimes as well.

So long as you log on (or create an account) just to complain about Amy and then never post again which happened with Goodfellas (and had happened here with several women guests).

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23 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

So long as you log on (or create an account) just to complain about Amy and then never post again which happened with Goodfellas (and had happened here with several women guests).

Haha! I THINK you mean so long as I DONT log on solely to complain about her (seems like you accidentally dropped a word there)?

Thanks. I have commented on a few Unspooled episodes here and there and have avoided commenting on episodes—like Goodfellas—where I figured she was getting a ton of shit flung at her anyways. There are areas that I do agree with her (like how there are too many Marvel movies—and I do like some of them, but it does seem like having a handful of them per year is kinda excessive) and I like how she champions independent movies. I like their -best-of-the-year eps. She does an amazing job at research (as does Paul), which is often the most entertaining part of the shows. I admire the fact that they are forcing themselves to sit through some of the films on the AFI list with an open mind (there are a lot of films on the list that I either have seen so many times I don’t want to see them again or are just not my bag). So—to make a long story long—my reaction to the podcast is of two extremes: agreeing  /accepting her POV as interesting 2/3rds of the time, and 1/3rd wondering if she set out to pick apart a film inch-by-inch.

RE: Cameron’s point, I also would rather watch The Mummy (or Big Trouble in Little China, or The Guest, or Tango & Cash, or other fun pulp) than A Clockwork Orange—I’m no big celebrator of “the classics” as being timeless or a fan of blanket-labeling directors as “geniuses” (for example, as a writing major forced to read a lot of Shakespeare and have open-mindedly tried to watch a lot of Shakespeare plays—and was even in one in middle school—I’ll freely admit that I find a lot of Shakespeare to be boring. I also think Kubrick stopped being a genius filmmaker after his 60s period and that the sequel to The Shining is a much more well-written movie than The Shining.The Shining is iconic and entertaining...but emotionally hollow. What can I say, I’m a heretic). I’m in no way looking for Amy to validate my point of view and she’s absolutely entitled to rip on as many celebrated films as she wants. I just sometimes think her complaints are superficial to her detriment.

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27 minutes ago, GrahamS. said:

Haha! I THINK you mean so long as I DONT log on solely to complain about her (seems like you accidentally dropped a word there)?

Oof, yes. You are correct. 

I don't mind people disagreeing with the hosts. I disagreed with Amy on parts of her Goodfellas criticisms. But when someone comes on, first post complaining, I immediately get red flags due to the sheer number of first time posters who have to disagree with a woman.

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I had to give up on Unspooled early on. I know it's good to take a second look at sacred cows, but Scorsese one of my favorite filmmakers and it felt like Amy Nicholson just relished in taking a dump on him at every opportunity because he was over-represented on the AFI list. I didn't even get the sense that she liked movies, just that she liked having opinions about them. There were three or four episodes in a row where she accused male characters of being incels just because they weren't getting laid on screen and at that point, I was out. It felt like the attacks she was making were very personal, on the people who liked those movies, so it was very unpleasant to listen to.

 

ANYWAY, I think the strongest sequence in Beats, Rhymes, and Life was when Q-Tip and Phife were recounting the same events that led to A Tribe Called Quest's breakup, but from their own perspective. When Q-Tip said in an interview "I don't have beef with Phife, Phife has beef with me," he felt all he was saying was that he had no beef with Phife. Phife, on the other hand, thought Q-Tip was saying, "it's that CRAZY Phife who's wrecking the group, not me!" I think they were both coloring events to make their own side look better and both being a bit unreasonable.... but both also kind of right. It was a great illustration of how two old friends who had made great art together could let their egos get in the way of forgiving each other over minor (or even imagined) slights.  I just wish the documentary had more of that insight.

Seeing how the band reformed to make another album and Phife's tragic death, I would love to see a film documenting their reformation and their reaction to Phife dying. There's got to be a great story there. Did it take the shadow of a best friend's impending demise allow the group to bury the hatchet, or was it something simpler? Did they just... start talking again one day? If not, who put them in touch again?

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I have a theory that—although Q-Tip didn’t initially like how he came off in the movie—seeing things from Phife’s POV might have eventually opened him up some. At times during the film, he does seem a bit dismissive of Phife’s troubles, even though he also agrees to help him with the tour in 2008. It’s also possible that Phife saw—in his own words—that they were both holding on to their petty bullshit.

Part of my reason for this theory is that Q-Tip does have a lyric in which he references their adventures being captured cinematically (on their last album). If he’d continued to have a problem with the film, I don’t think he would have mentioned it.

I think I mentioned this Q-tip interview earlier but accidentally didn’t post it. He talks about a variety of topics, including Prince and Phife. It’s a long interview that’s visually dry, but content-wise is very worthwhile (especially, I imagine, if you work in the music industry). Q-tip is laid back and very articulate, doesn’t give brush-off answers.

 

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7 hours ago, GrahamS. said:

I have a theory that—although Q-Tip didn’t initially like how he came off in the movie—seeing things from Phife’s POV might have eventually opened him up some. At times during the film, he does seem a bit dismissive of Phife’s troubles, even though he also agrees to help him with the tour in 2008. It’s also possible that Phife saw—in his own words—that they were both holding on to their petty bullshit.

Part of my reason for this theory is that Q-Tip does have a lyric in which he references their adventures being captured cinematically (on their last album). If he’d continued to have a problem with the film, I don’t think he would have mentioned it.

I think I mentioned this Q-tip interview earlier but accidentally didn’t post it. He talks about a variety of topics, including Prince and Phife. It’s a long interview that’s visually dry, but content-wise is very worthwhile (especially, I imagine, if you work in the music industry). Q-tip is laid back and very articulate, doesn’t give brush-off answers.

 

This is a good interview and it kind of threw me to hear he was working with Megan Thee Stallion. I don't know if he produced her album but this sounds like it was way before she blew up. I've never really looked into his production work but this makes me curious who he's worked with that I never knew about.

I've also wondered how much, if any, this movie had to do with the final album happening. I never really read much about what got them back together but I always suspected this movie helped a bit.

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