Every musical act has that one pivotal moment that forever alters their history — for better or worse — forever. For A Tribe Called Quest, that signifier arrived in the form of Beats, Rhymes and Life, smack-dab in the middle of 1996, also a pivotal time for Hip-Hop music in general. Having previously survived the rise of gangsta rap and caught in the middle of its East vs. West hoopla (as well as the dawning of the commercialized rapper), fans once again looked to the Tribe for an alternative probe into the true school form of the music. The fact that they delivered and failed at the same time is a remarkable feat in itself.
Although the fourth opus for the group climbed to #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, there were those instant classic elements noticeably missing from the equation that had illuminated the first three LPs to historic lure. Unbeknown to the general public at the time, building tensions stemming from personality differences had hampered the group’s chemistry in the studio. Dubbed “The Consequence Album” by longtime fans as a result of the eventual G.O.O.D. Music signee’s frequent contributions to the project (including the varying versions of the single “Stressed Out”), the writings on the wall slowly began to come into fruition that the group was slowly drifting in different directions. However, greatness is clearly defined in low points and Tribe still mustered up some gems that were exemplified in the album’s title.
In the Beats department, The Umhah – the trio of producers formed by Tip, Ali and then unknown J. Dilla – was created and laid a foundation for organic neo-soul production that would go on to influence much of the R&B of the late 90s. Despite the inner turmoil, Q-Tip and Phife showed no shortage of accelerated, complex Rhymes, as exhibited on records like “The Hop” and “Baby Phife’s Return” and the Life aspect was fully represented on “Word Play” which served as dictionary lesson for the streets and the first single, “1nce Again” that went on to be nominated for a Grammy later the next year.
In hindsight, it is the message more so than the music that has made Beats, Rhymes and Life such an important album in Hip-Hop’s timeline. Not too many artists have accomplished that on their best effort and ATCQ did just that on one of their least revered.
Thanks to the recent release of Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest, fans get a true glimpse of the importance of the album, as told through the eyes of the group and their peers. For those who haven’t checked the Michael Rappaport-helmed flick, the trailer’s here and the movie’s available for digital download on iTunes now. For old dinosaurs such as myself, the DVD version hits retail on Tuesday, October 18th. Along with OkayPlayer, Potholes In My Blog & GetRightMusic, we’re taking part in a really dope giveaway centered around the DVD release. Special prizes including a RDH-GTK1i Hi-Fi Music System (seen in the image below) and Muteki™ Hi-Fi Music System will be given away but you must use the hashtag #BeatsRhymesLife in order to enter and qualify. Keep up with the contest and additional movie updates by following @ATCQMovie and also @MichaelRapaport on Twitter.