Friday, July 22, 2011

Beats, Rhymes & Life

A reflective review of the movie- Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.

Those three words pretty much sum it up.
The quest for the right beats to unleash meaningful rhymes that both reflect and project life.

Much of my musical taste and outlook on life has been shaped by the musical group A Tribe Called Quest. It's laced in my writing, often referenced in my arguments and is imbued in my swag.

The dichotomy created by the varying elements of this eclectic hip-hop group represent the complexity that comes with knowledge of self. For instance, balancing the duality of being beholden to nurtured Afrocentrism, while the unyielding enlightenment causing acquiescence to mainstream society prevails.

Stepping out on a limb, I'll say this is the only movie I have ever watched where I was literally smiling from ear to ear throughout. Even when I was about to cry. Not because I'm like the crazed fans I recall seeing pour tears at the sight of Michael Jackson, rather because there is something about my connection with the music they make that hits my core.

There was a reason why it never felt right for me to step into the starting blocks of a single high school track meet without first listening to nearly all of the Midnight Marauder TAPE. "Aiyyo swing, swing, swing to chop, chop, chop..." always happened right before the 110s.

There is a reason why I can visualize neighborhoods in New York that I have never visited. Although I don't, I too represent Linden Boulevard.

Having made the cross country trip, solo, by vehicle, at least 5 times in the past decade and having lived in 5 states, mostly as an adult, my life has been an Award Tour. And for that the Tribe has laid much of my life's soundtrack. Much of the rest they have either been influenced by or they have in-turn influenced.

Such is the case for my current local link to the film. Oxnard native Madlib did the score for the movie. Wait a minute, a cat from Oxnard, where I currently live, of all places, was tapped to do the music for what turned out to be more than a documentary about my all-time favorite hip hop group?

During the documentary when the movie's director, Michael Rapaport asks the question of on-again-off-again group member Jarobi White, "What's the hardest thing about being in a group?" His answer - "Constantly considering someone else even before yourself," that, in my view, was one of the most introspective moments of the film. Not only is that a universal theme of generic relationships, it is a struggle that has plagued many before them and likely many to follow.

The Tribe remained relevant through my formative years partly because of their conscious and whimsical wordplay. I would argue that your mind processes differently when listening to music from the Native Tongue era.

In retrospect of their break up and upon witnessing the chemistry that I only got to see on stage first hand once - Rock the Bells 2008 at the Gorge (footage is in the film) - I question, could the Tribe regain relevance in a society inundated with images of sex, drugs and violence? As a culture as a movement, hip hop has evolved, but the guidance of our more wise and conscious elders could remain useful in the game.

Now if they would only listen to their own words,
Phife: You on point Tip
Q-Tip: All the time Phife
Phife: Then play the resurrector and give the dead some life.

James Joyce III is based in Southern California and saw the film during the opening weekend at the sole west coast theater showing the movie at the time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Bi-Coastal Reaction - jumpstart the juices

So I finally made it back.
For the first time since moving to California in 2009 under less than desirable circumstances, I found myself back in my native state.
The 410/443.

The last time I had been on this turf it was amidst witnessing one of the most historic events of my lifetime. The initial inauguration of President Barack Obama. A lot has changed since then. No longer merely an observer, but now a participant. The words "Change" and "Hope" have a much heavier connotation. And there is now an ice box where my heart used to be.

Circling back happened at the request of a childhood friend who requested my presence in his wedding. The timing and and the numbers in my bank account aligned and it was my honor to be a part of Joe and Marianne's very special day. Although I do urge them in matrimony to build close ties with other black folks as well; as for all the diversity there was at the wedding - beautifully held in the sculpture garden of the Baltimore Museum of the Arts - I was the lone darkie. (Yes, I am conscious of such things)

Yet that also played in my favor.

The urging to "get to bloggin" again came from a suspected family member. I was approached by a bubbly Korean girl who saw that my last name too was Joyce and wondered if we were related. She married into the name and later turns out we are not related, but when she added me on Facebook the tail end of her message simply reads, "Also, please update your blog. mmkthanks..." Ok, Ok!

Strange thing, I don't know of a single cousin of mine that shares the last name Joyce.

The trip back home — cause for black folk home is always where you were raised — also gave me a chance to catch up with two Maryland staples that I have been greatly missing: Steamed Crabs and Utz salt & vinegar potato chips. Check and Check. There was a few brief moments in the hectic weekend to catch up with a few family members, including a quick stop to visit my mom. Then it was back across the country. Tis a beautiful one we have indeed.

Getting back to west coasting was a transition. The attitudes are vastly different. For example, damn a pedestrian. Crosswalks in Maryland are treated much differently than in Cali.

Soon following this one was my first trip to San Francisco — vastly different indeed.