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HomeIndustry SectorFilmCraig Mann and Joe Dzuban Create Soundtrack for New Hip Hop Documentary

Craig Mann and Joe Dzuban Create Soundtrack for New Hip Hop Documentary

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Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is currently in limited release from Sony Pictures Classics.
Re-recording mixer Craig Mann recently teamed with supervising sound editor Joe Dzuban at Todd-AO to complete the soundtrack for the new documentary Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest, an electrifying portrait of one of the most influential bands in the history of hip hop. The film follows band members Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi from their childhood days in Queens, New York, through their rise to stardom and ultimate break up in the late ’90s. Directed by Michael Rapaport and produced by Rival Pictures, Beats Rhymes & Life is currently in limited release from Sony Pictures Classics.

From a sound perspective, Beats Rhymes & Life differs from most documentaries due to the prominence and importance of the music. The soundtrack weaves live recordings and album tracks together, not only as a way to showcase the group’s talent, but also to help tell the story.

According to Dzuban, the music became a character in the film. “In a normal documentary, you start with the dialogue and everything else augments that. The dialogue is king,” he said. “But in this case, the music played a role in storytelling just as much as the dialogue.”

“Mike was very concerned about making the music ‘bang,’ it had to pop!” Mann added.

Mann said that his approach to the mix was to treat the soundtrack like a DJ set. “I suggested that we have the music cues blend from one to the other,” he recalled. “We pulled a lot of tempo trickery and pitching to keep that vibe going throughout the film. One of the things that I really enjoyed about working with Mike was that he was always open to the ideas and tastes that we brought to the table sonically. Giving us that latitude on the stage really made a difference to the finished product.”

Mann and Dzuban did face a number of challenges common in documentary films, including segments recorded under less than ideal conditions and archival footage suffering from age. “We used Izotope RX quite a bit in editorial and Craig did more of that on the stage,” noted Dzuban. “The sooner you can overcome those challenges, the more time you have for storytelling and the more creative aspects of the mix, things that really make the final track stand out.”

“In a few cases, we laid studio instrumentals under archival performance footage to beef up the track so they didn’t sound anemic,” Mann said.

Longtime fans of A Tribe Called Quest, Mann and Dzuban believe that knowing the music resulted in a better soundtrack. It not only meant that they brought a lot of passion to the project, but it also gave them insight to the band’s work as artists. “There were a lot of decisions that we made regarding music transitions and edits that might not have been made by someone without a hip hop background and we believe that helped raise the level of the film.” Mann said, “Doing a music doc was high on my to-do list; the fact that it was about one of my favorite bands made this a dream project.”

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