A few RHHReporters had the pleasure of viewing not one, but two great documentaries on very worthy subjects from the “golden-age” of the mid-90s when good Hip-Hop was still involved in the mainstream a little. One came out awhile back in 2008 called “This is the Life: How the West Was One” about the Good Life Café Hip-Hop open-mic nights in South Central Los Angeles that gave birth to a whole movement in the LA Hip-Hop scene. The other was “Beats, Rhymes, and Life: Travels of a Tribe Called Quest,” which came out just last year, and as you can tell from the title, documents the lives of Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi and the trials and tribulations that filled their careers together. Both films were made by people who are very much part of the Hip-Hop scene. This is the Life was directed by Ava DuVernay also known as Eve from the female duo Figures of Speech, who were regulars at the Goof Life Café. Beats, Rhymes, and Life was directed by Tribe fan and Hip-Hop head Michael Rappaport (also known as Remy from “Higher Learning”).
Although the subject matter of the movies has its differences, The Good Life was in the heart of LA and the artist coming out of that scene represented West Coast to the fullest while a Tribe Called Quest originated on Linden Avenue in Queens near where Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and other East Coast legends came from. Those differences reflect a common place and time in the culture of Hip-Hop where creativeness and style were the most important aspects of the art form.
The Good Life’s roots are very humble, the store’s owner, B. Hall, agreed to let local youth use the space because she was already into community organizing and had a son, R. Kain Blaze, who was into Hip-Hop music and culture. The Nation of Islam provided informal security but most of the cypher’s participants regulated themselves and their peers pretty well. And there were rules to follow by request of B. Hall. There was no cussing, no leaning on the paintings that hung on the walls around the stage, no gum on the floor, no “iggity miggity” Das-EFX style-rapping, and the #1
rule: Don’t be wack! If a rhymer was deemed wack by the crowd, shouts of “Please pass the mic” could be heard clearly. Apparently no rapper was immune to this treatment, as legend goes, Fat Joe was booed off the stage after he not only cussed, but started to spit wack rhymes as well. Notable MCs who regularly performed and rose to the top at the Good Life and who are featured in the film include 2Mex, Abstract Rude, Chali2na & Cut Chemist (of Jurassic 5), Medusa, C.V.E. (Riddlore, Fsh, Tray-Loc, Wreckless), Volume 10, Ellay Khule (Hip-Hop Klan), Figures of Speech, Ganjah K, Busdriver, and of course Freestyle Fellowship (Aceyalone, Mikah Nyne, Self Jupiter, PEACE) whom many considered to be the kings of Good Life cypher. The Thursday night open-mics went on from about 1989 until 1995 when it had reached a good amount of notoriety. By the end stars from the cast of “Beverly Hills 90210” were visiting the venue and even staying for what was called “The Afterlife,” the scene in the parking lot that went on after 10pm. A depiction of the open-mic was on the TV show “South Central” which called it “The High Life.” There was also the rumors of more well-know rappers biting styles from Good Life rhymers. Many thought that Ice Cube’s style changed after seeing Volume 10 at the Café. In the movie, a track from Mikah Nyne called “Mary” that was recorded before Bone Thugz-N- This is the Life/Beats, Rhymes, and Life Harmony came to LA and visited, which sound very similar to “Thuggish Ruggish Bone.” It is also said that Good Life favorite Ganjah-K was one of the first “weed-rappers” that wrote whole songs with different weed-related concepts and even had an album scheduled to come out called The Chronic before Dr. Dre. Some artists eventually did get record deals and some of their due recognition and were able to turn their art-form into a career and continue to give inspiration to generations of MCs all over the world.
Also giving inspiration to MCs all over the world was A Tribe
Called Quest, who also had humble roots from the area known as St. Albans in Queens which has produced many famous artists including James Brown and John Coltrane. The film “Beats, Rhymes, and Life” chronicles the groups rise in the Hip-Hop scene that was looked at as, like the MCs from the Good Life were called, alternatives to the rising popularity of Gangsta Rap and were even labeled “weird” by outside spectators. Featuring interviews with all the members of Tribe (Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi), their past managers, friends, family, as well as artists like Large Professor, De La Soul, Price Paul, DJ Red Alert, Pharrel Williams, and more. Also like the Good Life scene, Tribe was surrounded by many other talented and creative Hip-hop artists that were able to inspire each other and challenge one another to push the boundaries of the genre. Members of Tribe went to high school with the Jungle Brothers, one of them had an uncle by the name of DJ Red Alert who changed the groups lives for good. They eventually became part of the Zulu Nation and the core of the super-crew The Native Tongues along with Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Brand Nubian, Queen Latifah, the Beatnuts, Busta Rhymes, and others. It goes in-depth into the personalities that make up the group, like Q-Tip’s love of vinyl records and Phife’s wide knowledge of sports. From when Jurobi left the group after their first album for the culinary arts, to when Phife had to be given a kidney by his wife and his struggles with diabetes. They put out 5 classic albums: People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990), The Low End Theory (1991), Midnight Marauders (1993), Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996), and The Love Movement (1998) which was almost immediately followed by the group’s break-up. For years it was rumored that there was major beef between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, but in 2008 the entire group came together for the Rock the Bells Festival and tour across the country. The joy was short lived as the two front-men began arguing and fighting backstage at performances. After the tour the group again went it separate ways with many bad feelings in the air. When Phife’s health got worse Q-Tip reached out. In 2010, once again the group got together to perform in Japan, this time the event was all vegetarian, with no beef.
Films like “This is the Life” and “Beats, Rhymes, and Life” are great documentations of Hip-Hop and steps it has taken to get where it is today. Today, real Hip-Hop may not be on the radio or TV stations, but its alive and well in the Underground and at shows, events, workshops, festivals, clubs, parks, and streets all over the world, and thanks to groups like A Tribe Called Quest and the MCs of the Good Life Café many aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and test the creativeness that comes to them, not matter how “weird” it may seem at the time.