Big Money Mike and I were going to collaborate on a review of the new Michael Rapaport documentary about A Tribe Called Quest. But in the back of my mind, I knew that Mike was going to have a lot to say and I thought he should post his thoughts alone (which he did here) and I could come in a few days later and give a few opinions on my own.
This isn’t a full-fledged review, as I already did that at Epinions. Instead, I wanted to take a couple thoughts from Mike’s review and spin them, which doesn’t mean I disagree with him, but just that I may have seen some things slightly differently.
Before I do that though, I want to agree whole-heartedly with something that Mike said. One of the best reasons to see the flick is simply to hear Tribe’s music with other Tribe fans in a big theater. Mike called it an audio document of his teenage years and I think that’s pretty spot on and since I’m just three days older than him, we were probably listening to The Low End Theory at the exact same time when we were fifteen years old, just a few time zones away.
The film succeeds on all fronts. Rapaport wisely stays out of the way here, unlike many documentary directors who tend to believe the film is as much about them as it is about those they are ostensibly documenting.
I thought that parts of how Rapaport shot and edited the film made it awkward. The shaky camera and the horrendous shots where he must’ve been lazily sitting in a chair while shooting, make some of the work hard to stomach. Some of the shots are dark and you’re not exactly sure who is in the scene. I imagine that this was probably a labor of love for Rapaport, but I think that if someone else was in control, it wouldn’t look so amateurish. Then again, no one else was probably going to be in control.
I also thought the way Rapaport split the movie into two emotionally different halves, with the first half being all about their music and history, and the second half being about Tip and Phife’s feud, made the movie seem unbalanced. If the entire movie was about Tip and Phife’s feud with the music and group history better sprinkled in, I think I would’ve felt steady throughout the film. Instead, I felt the first half of the movie was fantastic, while the second was akin to a teenage school-girl drama.
It seems pretty obvious that he (Q-Tip) was not comfortable with the idea of being documented, and even though he offers a lot of insight into the formation of the group and the crew’s early days, he sort of fades into the background when any kind of tension is discussed and to me, it appears that he’s trying a little too hard to be politically correct.
The way I saw Tip was that in reflection, his heart was breaking. It was uncomfortable watching him speak. No matter how much Phife seemed to be the heart and soul of certain songs, Tip was still the alpha dog, the leader. And when you see yourself as the leader, you take on more responsibility. You probably get more credit than you deserve and you also probably take more blame as well. Tip pushed Phife to his greatest successes, but he also broke him. I saw that Tip was going through memories and trying to find the words to explain exactly what happened, and at the same time figuring that he was at fault and the reason the group was no longer.
Overall, Mike and I come to the same conclusion. If you’re a Tribe fan, it’s a must-see. If you’re a hip-hop fan, you’ll love it if only for the music. If you’re a new hip-hop fan, get educated and see it. If you simply like documentaries, you’ll probably have issues with it, but overall it’s still worth checking out.
If you don’t know where it’s playing, check out the schedule.
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