A Tribe Called Fresh
Friday, July 15, 2011, the unofficial documentary on A Tribe Called Quest landed in DC like a living memorial to Hip Hop royalty. Beats, Rhymes & Life, directed by Michael Rappaport opened in theaters to excited fans, girls with crushes on Q-Tip (who discovered how fine Ali Shaheed is--late comers!), wannabe MC’s & posers disguised by the hip hop heads to their left & right. There were very few of them, I promise.
The documentary highlighted how Tribe came together & how they crumbled. Everything in between was a love affair between 4 brothers & every one of us in the tiny movie seats. There was no need for popcorn & over priced sugary treats for this one—more than enough morsels to feed the soul.
What 30 & over Head doesn’t remember the way a Prince Paul or a Jay Dee beat felt back in the day, heavily laced samples from your parents’ record collections & the heartbeat of urban youth [read: black kids]? We’d already uckedf the police & been angry about the crack epidemic with Left Coast rappers. Some of us weren’t living that lifestyle & embraced Tribe, & later the Native Tongues, like a distant cousin. Backpack Rap, as it would come to be called, was easy-going, thick with coherent word play, & allowable in the car with our parents. It was the great equalizer for those of us who grew up with cats wearing African fabric EVERYTHING & rockin’ wild versions of the ‘fro. ATCQ put US on the map & made us relevant outside of the havens our parents designed to protect us from miseducation & misdirection.
On screen I saw the major players whose cassettes I played on repeat to get through. I can remember where I was when videos premiered, places outside of my home where the music was the backdrop. People’s Instinctive Travels came out when we moved to Las Animas street in Colorado, my mother’s 1st HOUSE on her own as a single mother. & later I would BECOME Bonita AppleBum. The Low End Theory went with me when I met the late Betty Shabazz. The Love Movement thumped in my 1st apartment & went with us on road trips, my girlfriends & I thinking we were grown. Phife’s venture into solo-ism was discussed between me & the Sexxxy Trini on the occasions when we’d pretend we were gon’ examine the concept of doin’ more than crushin’ on each other. To this day we still discuss Hip Hop & took care never to bastardize our relationship. I committed to Lucy Pearl out of love, & crush, for Ali Shaheed Muhammad. The other 2 were favs of mine as well, but Ali was a selling point for me. Kamaal the Abstract comes up in the shuffle on iTunes because I’m a thorough & forgiving fan.
At times, the documentary is sad, watching the health struggles of Phife Dawg. I remember the 1st time he resurfaced on TV—VH1 Hip Hop Honors--& it damn near being a holiday for me. I screamed out from my living room floor glad that my dude was still alive & stunned by how bad he looked. Catching them on stage at Rock the Bells 2008 was the equivalent of Christmas for summa y’all. That whole day was VH1’s Best Day Ever & to have ATCQ, in totality, take the stage was like being handed keys to the brand new whip of your choice with the big red bow juxtaposed against the snow. The exact side of beef they were cuttin’ was never made clear before this unofficial doc. It all felt so…high school & like folks should be able to see past themselves & find their way back to the brotherhood that’s been holding these cats down since they were toddlers. Trugoy of De La Soul put it best when he basically said if the dudes are gon’ behave as they have been with each other he’d rather see ‘em SADDOWN!!
& it appears they have, again, giving the cancerous cells of their relationship a break—with Jarobi & Ali Shaheed caught in the middle as helpless onlookers. Coming out of remission when Phife’s medical bills require it will not help the fans, but I understand the obligation to work to keep my man alive. But it’s over for now. Too little (or so it seemed) has gone down over too much time with too few honest words exchanged & no real forgiveness on the table. Get a sack, roll that shit, light that shit, smoke it. Friendship that is. Brotherhood.
With or without the demise of this incredible group, we’ve all got our memories. We’ve all got our quotables, bound forever by the ability to rap over ATCQ tracks with friends & strangers alike. When this comes out on DVD it WILL be added to the collection. It’ll be filed under nostalgia & dusted off whenever I need to remember a time in Hip Hop when you felt like a part of the family, like ya favorite MC’s might actually grab the mic, House Party style, at the basement jam you were at. They continue to provide “Electric Relaxation” & make me take my “Lyrics To Go.” I still have no tolerance for “Sucka Ni&%as” (whover ya are) & me & my friends still be “Buggin Out.” Midnight Marauders continue to be my tour guide through life when I get lost, seeing me through many “Excursions.” Tribe is like “Butter,” Baby.
Do ya’self a favor & check the flick if you haven’t. See it again if you have. BUY the DVD when it drops.
Watch me move.