With all the interpersonal drama surrounding the documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, it seemed doubtful that any one of the contending Tribe members would bother to show for the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s been a contentious few months: In December, Q-Tip tweeted that he was “not in support of the a tribe called quest documentary.” In January, Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi sat out the film’s Sundance screening – and then in March, aired their grievances on MTV, with Q-Tip claiming that director Michael Rapaport was refusing to grant the group producer credits.
So there was general surprise when Ali appeared at the premiere last night. Even his onetime partner, Phife Dawg, was startled.
“I really didn’t know that he was coming,” said Phife. “That makes me really happy.”
Ali told Rolling Stone that he was there to “support and represent” – as well as to demonstrate that the intramural squabbling was over. The film, he said, now has the group’s complete approval. “Just because Q-Tip is not here does not mean he’s not in support of the film,” Ali said. “I’m here, and I’m representing Q-Tip. We’re happy with the finished version. If none of us were fine with this, no one would be seeing the film.”
Rapaport said that his original goal in making the movie actually had been to reunite the group. “We got two out of three – two out of four,” he said, recalculating to include the sometime Tribe member Jarobi. “Maybe we’ll get a bigger surprise out of this later.”
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“Every day I wake up is leading to a Tribe reunion,” Ali said. “That’s always the question – will we or won’t we? I’m always available.”
“See? That’s a step in the right direction,” Phife added. “We need two more, but that’s a good step.”
Whether any reunion prompted by the documentary will lead to new Tribe music (which would finally release Tribe from its original six-album contract with Jive Records) is another matter. The group’s fifth and last album, The Love Movement, was released in 1998, and the four members haven’t been together in the studio since.
“Jarobi’s in Atlanta, I’m in California, Q-Tip’s in Jersey, and Ali’s in Brooklyn,” Phife said. “So it’s a matter of us getting in one place at one time, and hammering this thing out. Doing a soundtrack for the movie wouldn’t count [towards the contract]. And even if it did, we’d be killing our fans. They already know those songs. I would want new music out there, wouldn’t you?”
“If the stars align,” Ali said, “and we feel like we have a purpose in recording, then it can happen.”