A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Beats, Rhymes & Life’ + 10 More Worthy Rap Docs


By Chris Yuscavage

Whether Q-Tip likes it or not, there’s an A Tribe Called Quest on the way.

On Tuesday (December 7), the ATCQ MC called SIRIUS Radio channel Shade 45′s morning show to clear up his concerns about the Michael Rapaport-directed doc, “Beats, Rhymes & Life,” after taking to his Twitter account last week to reveal his unhappiness. “The sentiment of the film is there,” he said on the show. “80 percent there. It’s just not done … Different things need to be done edit-wise.”

Tip also revealed that all of the members of ATCQ, including himself, Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, have served as producers on the film. So while he’s not happy with the project as it stands now — and thinks Rapaport may just be rushing through the editing process in order to have it ready to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival next month — he told the station that that doesn’t mean it won’t be finished soon. “It’s just not done yet,” he said. “It’s just that simple.”

We can understand why Tip might be a little hesitant to rush things. Tribe has a long history, filled with several tricky conflicts between members of the group and a lot of things going on in the background, and it’s important that Rapaport and the guys get things right before the public sees it. But it’s also brick outside out here in the Big Apple right now — and there’s nothing we’d like to do more than to kick back on the couch and watch a quality rap-related documentary. So to help hold rap fans over, RapFix put together a collection of 10 of the best hip-hop documentaries of all-time. If the Tribe flick is half as good as any of these, we fully expect to add it to this list when it finally drops.

The Documentary: 2010′s “One Night in Vegas
The Artist It Featured: 2Pac
What Made It Worthwhile: As one of the documentaries presented in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, “One Night in Vegas” is as much about rap as it is about sports. The doc focuses on the relationship between 2Pac and boxer Mike Tyson and about the fateful night that saw ‘Pac get killed after a Tyson match in Las Vegas. We’re still not any closer to finding the killer who committed the crime, but that didn’t make this doc any less informative or entertaining.

The Documentary: 2003′s “Get Rich or Die Tryin’ “
The Artists It Featured: 50 Cent and G-Unit members Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo
What Made It Worthwhile: Back when Fif was still just a young buck in the game, he released this documentary as a bonus along with his debut album of the same name. And while it wasn’t exactly a masterpiece from a production standpoint, it did give rap fans exactly what they wanted at the time: More 50!

The Documentary: 2003′s “Beef
The Artists It Featured: Snoop Dogg, Kool Moe Dee, Jay-Z, KRS-One, DMX and more
What Made It Worthwhile: Speaking of 50 Cent, lest you think his long-standing beef with Ja Rule was the first of its kind, Beef — the first in a series of “Beef” DVDs — was released to show that battles between rappers have been going on since the beginning of time. Or, at least, since the beginning of hip-hop. This documentary was one of the first to take a closer look at some of the most notable beefs in rap history — including KRS-One vs. MC Shan and Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee all the way through Jay-Z vs. Nas and 2Pac vs. Notorious B.I.G. — and to interview artists about how individual beefs started and why they amounted to what they did. In other words, this doc took the time to answer the timeless hip-hop question: What’s beef?

The Documentary: 2009′s “Big Pun: The Legacy
The Artist It Featured: Big Pun (with additional appearances by Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony, Snoop Dogg, DMX, Method Man, Swizz Beatz and more)
What Made It Worthwhile: The interesting thing about Big Pun is that, despite the success he enjoyed with his debut album, he didn’t get to tell much of his life story before his untimely passing in 2000. In this doc, director Vlad “DJ Vlad” Yudin (who is also directing Twista‘s new documentary, “Mr. Immortality: The Life and Times of Twista”) interviewed other artists about Pun to help get his story across and to reveal the legacy that he left on the game.

The Documentary: 2010′s “Straight Outta L.A.”
The Artists It Featured: Ice Cube, Ice-T and Snoop Dogg
What Made It Worthwhile: Consider this a Westsiiiiiiiide story. Another doc used in ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, Straight Outta L.A. is about the impact that the Los Angeles Raiders had on the NFL and the rest of the country in the late 1980s. But it’s also about the impact that gangsta rap and the West Coast hip-hop scene had on the Raiders during that same time. Ice Cube—a lifelong Raiders fan—directed the film and used it to reveal the role the team had on him and his group N.W.A. [http://www.mtv.com/music/artist/nwa/artist.jhtml] at the time as well as the devastation the city felt when the team moved to Oakland in 1995.

The Documentary: 1995′s “The Show
The Artists It Featured: Afrika Bambaataa, Diddy, Dr. Dre, Kid Capri, Notorious B.I.G. and more
What Made It Worthwhile: Remember back in the mid-’90s when folks started asking, “So, this rap thing … this is for real, huh?” With rappers routinely releasing gold and even platinum plaques, this documentary looked to find an answer to that very question. And while we look back now and ask why a number of other artists weren’t interviewed at the time (no ‘Pac? no Snoop? no Nas?), it’s interesting to take a look at a doc about the importance of hip-hop today, just a few days after rappers swept up more than two dozen nominations for the 2011 Grammy Awards nominations.

The Documentary: 2009′s “Biggie Smalls: Rap Phenomenon”
The Artists It Featured: Notorious B.I.G. (with appearances by Diddy, Jadakiss, Junior M.A.F.I.A. and more)
What Made It Worthwhile: For our money, we’re still checking for Notorious to get the full scope of Biggie’s life. But this documentary featured never-been-seen clips of B.I.G. doing his thing on stage as well as interviews from those closest to him during his all-too-brief career. Along with another doc called “Bigger Than Life,” this is must-see TV for any fan of the late, great Big Poppa.

The Documentary: 2008′s “Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan
The Artists It Featured: All nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan
What Made It Worthwhile: The GZA is rumored to be putting together a Wu documentary that documents the earliest clips of the original Wu members. But until he gets around to putting that out (we’re not holding our breath!) there’s this in-depth documentary that aired on BET back in ’08 and features a rundown of how the Wu-Tang Clan came to be. If you don’t know their story, this is the best way to discover it.

The Documentary: 2001′s “Welcome to Death Row
The Artists It Featured: Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, 2Pac and more
What Made It Worthwhile: None of the major artists who were signed to Death Row actually participated in the making of this documentary — but surprisingly, that actually turns out to be a good thing. Rather than focusing on the music, this focused on the inner-workings on Death Row as well as all of the things that went on behind the music. Picture the music label version of The History Channel’s “Gangland” episode about the Black Mafia Family (another must-see, if you haven’t already!) and you’ve got “Welcome to Death Row.”

The Documentary: 2009′s The Carter
The Artist It Featured: Lil Wayne
What Made It Worthwhile: Though Weezy never signed off on this and later separated himself from it completely, he did initially allow Quincy Jones III to trail him for more than a year to document the making of Tha Carter III as well as everything that Wayne went through leading up to it and immediately after it. As a result, you’ll get a pretty good sense of how Wayne built himself into the self-proclaimed Best Rapper Alive and everything that went into making him a superstar. It’s exactly the type of thing we’re expecting from ATCQ’s Beats, Rhymes & Life — whether Q-Tip approves of it or not.

Are you excited to check out A Tribe Called Quest’s new documentary? Have you seen any of the documentaries listed here? Can you think of any rappers you’d like to see featured in a documentary? Tweet us at @MTVRapFix or tell us in a comment below!