Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Five records, four guys and one dysfunctional relationship add up to the
core of “Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,”
a note-perfect documentary on the group’s quarter-century history.

One
need not even listen to the Tribe’s style of music to appreciate the
film’s dramatic heft. Instantly likable, it’s better than any rock doc
of recent memory, including “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” “Dig!,”
“Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” and “The Fearless Freaks.”

The film opens Friday exclusively at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, 2501 W. Memorial.

Appropriately,
it begins with harmony and discord: the former, onstage as the
splintered Tribe reforms for a 2008 tour; the latter, immediately
backstage, as the dueling talents call the performance their last as a
group. “It’s about the unit” is spoken more than once, but the movie is
more about the love-hate relationship between its two largest egos.

When
one of them says, à la “Lethal Weapon”’s Sgt. Murtaugh, “I’m getting
too old for this shit,” it’s not an exaggeration; Q-Tip and Phife Dawg,
now in their early 40s, have been best friends since they were 2 years
old. Old photographs of their early days, as well as the infancy of the
group they would form in high school in 1985, are layered in three
dimensions, like scenes culled from View-Master cartridges.

Although
mishaps of dated fashion, the four men of A Tribe Called Quest were way
ahead of their time with influential, genre-swirling tracks like “I Left
My Wallet in El Segundo,” “Bonita Applebum” and “Buggin’ Out” — party
records free of disses and full of samples pulled from the work of their
elders, the way Quentin Tarantino does for his films. Singing the
band’s praises in interviews are De La Soul, Mary J. Blige, Beastie
Boys, The Roots, Mos Def and many others.

As
interesting as that story is, the internal conflict lifts the
documentary beyond a retrospective puff piece, as two men who love each
other like brothers also fight like them. Phife, feeling like The
Supremes to Q-Tip’s Diana Ross, sums it up best: “Stop trying to front
like I’m Tito or some shit … no offense to Tito.”

Michael
Rapaport — an actor known for his work in the likes of “True Romance”
and “Deep Blue Sea” — directs with surprising energy and ease,
assembling a compact yet complete-feeling film as lively animated as its
opening credits. —Rod Lott

Rod Lott

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