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Documentary
 

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


Hip-hop giants A Tribe Called Quest are chronicled in the documentary ‘Beats Rhymes & Life.’ You got to get it, got got to get it.

Rod Lott August 29th, 2011

To paraphrase the tagline from “The Social Network,” you don’t get to millions of albums sold without making a few enemies. In the case of A Tribe Called Quest, the enemies number exactly two, which would be all good if they weren’t named Q-Tip and Phife Dawg — half of the pioneering hip-hop act’s lineup.

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

 
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