Beats Rhymes & Life – A NiteHawk story…

Sometimes you wonder why things haven’t always been a certain way that seems to make the most sense. When walking into a place such as Williamsburg’s NiteHawk Cinema, you instantly hate every movie experience that you’ve had before then. It’s a “could have had a V8” kind of moment where you’re immediately spoiled. I recently went to the theatre this past weekend to see their debut screening of Michael Rappaport’s documentary on A Tribe Called Quest, Beats, Rhymes & Life.

Now, sure, there’s been plenty of theatres with amenities and service features. This is nothing new. And yeah, by now you’ve probably heard or read a dozen reviews of Beats, Rhymes & Life. But what makes this different is that this is the first theatre like this in New York City. Brooklyn to be exact. And really, it’s not like any other. It’s laid back, with a bar and a hipster asthetic, but a feel that’s classic New York. Also, this is not any regular review. This movie holds a sentimental place for me because I went to see it with my boys and fellow members of my own erstwhile rap group, The Balance. How ironic that we’re sitting on the footage for our own documentary, 3 years in the making now.

Nitehawk was suggested by the homie Khadj about 2 months ago. He told me the scope of things and I looked it up to see what it was all about, but I couldn’t be prepared enough for what it’s like to really be there. Just pulling up to the theatre feels like pulling up to a Brooklyn hotspot. It looks clubbish. Then the ground level bar adds to the it factor by providing a hangout kind of atmosphere where one can go after or before viewing a film or if doing neither. This is only bolstered by the second bar upstairs on the theatre level where you’re greeted by friendly staff that will bartend and take your ticket order. The viewing rooms themselves are what the movie experience is made of; plush red and black seats separated by movable arm rests and triangular tables between them, with so much space in front of each row that you’d have to be Yao Ming to kick the seat of the person in front of you. There is no chance of that annoying ‘excuse me’ dance that people have to do when they have to get up out of their seats for something and shuffle through the row. You’re then greeted by an accomodating wait staff that will check your ticket, take your order and instruct on how to make further requests after the movie starts. This is what makes Nitehawk special; you’re equipped with a pen and pad on your table, complete with a ringed holder where you can place it to order more items cool and quietly without disturbing anyone’s experience – including your own. The menu is uniquely gourmet and quirky while maintaing a casual movie-friendliness to it. Things that stand out like the fried peanut butter and jelly bites and the other decadent deserts will keep word of mouth buzzing, and though there is not yet a way to get served alcholic beverages while watching the movie, the in-house drink specials without alchohol are memorable. Besides, you can reach the upstairs bar almost quicker than the bathroom by taking one step out of the screening room. Unfortunately, there’s only one bathroom so just hope for no lines (there’s also one at the downstairs bar). The brightest side to all of this and the cherry on top is the uber cool manager Jess G, who will greet patrons with a warm smile and is visible throughout – even handling service duties herself.

As far as Rappaport’s foray into documentary filmmaking, his obvious fandom comes across. He doesn’t waste our time with an introduction of himself, assuming that if you don’t already know who he is, then it’s inconsequential to the film. The film begins predominantly as a Q-Tip show, with alot of the focus on his thoughts on how the roots of Hip-Hop shaped the movement that fueled the group. And while members like Jarobi and Ali Shaheed Muhammad are introduced and interviewed one by one, their roles are never really explored or defined. This is not helped by the fact that a great deal of time is spent praising Q-Tip for his sampling and production genius. There is no real denying that Q-Tip is the nucleus and leader of A Tribe Called Quest, and he spends as much time refuting that notion as he spends crediting himself for most of the groundbreaking elements of the group. This is what allows the viewer to see the Tribe dilemma from all angles. It’s probably what is the biggest point of contention for any reservations or apprehension stemming from the group itself about the movie. You either love Q-Tip or don’t like him as much after watching the film, and apparently Phife leans more toward the latter. Although Phife is introduced and noted here and there in the first half of the film, it’s not until the last half where he gets the most attention when discussing his turmoil with Q-Tip and his battle with diabetes. Between Phife’s obvious underacheiver pattern and desire to stake his own claim in life (as seen by his foray into sports journalism) and the iconic lure surrounding Q-Tip’s career during and post-Tribe, it’s easy to see why the group fell apart. This is the climactic point of the film that brings the life out of it. Jarobi and Ali just come across as commentators and bystanders who either sway towards team Phife or team Q-Tip (in this case, Jarobi being Phife’s best friend, and Ali appearing to rock more with Tip by default). It’s wise to infer that alot of the film got scaled down and edited out as made evident by the slew of cameo clips in the ending credits from rappers and industry insiders who’s interviews did not make it into the documentary. This is probably disappointing to true fans who would have loved to hear more from artists like De La or Busta Rhymes who actually have a longstanding working relationship and friendship with the group, and less of Pharell drooling over them (which is cool by the way, because his commentary served as a highlight, but still…). A great job is done on emphasizing the importance of the group’s catalogue, but Rappaport seems to be a bigger fan of their earlier work. He uses a couple songs more than once throughout the film instead of throwing in some other classics, and when the film approaches their later releases, they just get glazed over. Rappaport ends things with footage from the group’s newer tour efforts and a suggestive blurb across the screen that informs that they are still obligated for one last album under their original contract with Jive records…Leaving hope for Tribe Stans still crossing their fingers.

At the end of the day, nothing beats getting that Midnight screening V.I.P. service (Thanks Jess). But more importantly, nothing beats seeing this kind of film with my crew and thinking about the similarities in our own story. We cracked up at the coincidences and the comparable traits between Q-Tip, Sol-Leks and I. We spazzed out as the classic verses dropped and rapped along, and Sek kept asking when me and WhoIsNumber5? are going to get to work on our documentary. A Dope moment in history and a great effort by Rappaport to document what no one else would…and get into theatres at that. Good to know that it came from a fan. I’m not even one of ATCQ, but their music is apart of my life’s soundtrack so it can’t be denied. I’m inspired to work on this doc, and to step up my movie theatre game. I suggest you do the same. And NiteHawk is an excellent place to start. Tell Jess hello for me.

“Ayo Shaheed, take us the F*ck outta here!”

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1 Comment

  1. Sir stop playing. We’ve definitely had the conversation where you questioned Q-Tip and Phife’s lyrical abilities and even asked what makes them “legends”, haha


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