Beats, Rhymes & Life: the Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Can I kick it? Yes you can!

Great rappers are great writers. They pull you into their reality and make you think while you’re dancing.

Back in the day—like waaaay back in the late ’80s-early ’90s—I lived in Brooklyn, during the Great Hip-Hop Renaissance.

Pre-iPod, you could tell which songs were huge by who blasted what out of their car windows as they drove up and down the avenue in the summertime.

During that brief and glorious time, hip-hop was more than a bunch of negative, materialistic, auto-tuned, blinged-out dudes rapping about driving their cars through the ‘hood, flossin’ in da club with their hos, and swilling Cristal in their jewel-encrusted pimp cups.


Mind you, back then there were plenty of rap clichés going on—but there were also pioneering groups that cranked out amazing beats with lyrical explosions to match.  Native Tongues founders: groups like De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, and A Tribe Called Quest blasted out of the boroughs in great bursts of creativity, positivity, and humor.

Michael Rapaport’s new documentary, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest captures that time and brings us up to the present, showing us how Tribe’s jazz-infused influences helped elevate rap to a true art form—thanks to Q-Tip’s masterful composition and the collaboration between him, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White.

If you love music, and dig rap and hip-hop, Beats, Rhymes & Life is a must-see. And if, like me, you were young and in New York City during that time, it’s really and truly absolute must-see.  Here’s the trailer:


A few years ago, I was blessed to be at a small party where Q-Tip was spinning, at his manager’s home in the Hamptons.  I danced inches from his turntables and chatted with him between sets and jumps in the pool. I’ve always loved Tribe’s music but never realized how huge they were, or what an impact they had, until I saw this movie.

I’m glad people are taking the time now to document this important period in our musical history and culture before it’s too late.  I’m also glad to see Tribe still performing to enthusiastic audiences around the world, even if they’ve gone their separate ways in life and in the recording studio.

Meanwhile, groups like People Under the Stairs, the Beastie Boys, Pharrell Williams, and The Roots are just a few of the rappers out there who are carrying on the true spirit of hip-top, sampling interesting loops and talking about things that matter—in their lives and ours—which is the stuff of great writing (and dancing).

A Tribe Called Quest discography