DIRECTOR MICHAEL RAPAPORT was originally going to title his documentary about A Tribe Called Quest Beats, Rhymes, and Fights. It's a good thing he changed it, as the story told by Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is way more than a cheap Behind the Music-style cash-in than the earlier, cheesier title suggests.
Rapaport is a huge fan, but he doesn't just pop on the soundtrack and say so. That'd be a waste of soundtrack, considering all the quality hiphop he lays into the mix, along with testimonials on Tribe's impact from Mos Def, the Roots' Questlove, Pharrell Williams, and more. He takes that mix of talking heads and head-nodding beats, and scatters it between scenes of the group rising to fame both charmingly and awkwardly (dashikis! Floppy hats! Overalls!).
But Rapaport isn't interested in merely blowing sunshine up Q-Tip's ass: He makes the most of the access afforded him during Tribe's 2008 reunion tour to investigate their split, and it leads to one of best meditations on the struggles of brotherhood I've seen in a while.
That's Rapaport's biggest success—revealing these hiphop icons to be loving-but-dysfunctional siblings: Q-Tip, the nervous, driven nerd with a controlling streak almost as significant as his talent; Phife Dawg, the grumpy diabetic who doesn't understand why shit has to be so hard while simultaneously making things harder than necessary; and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, the quiet, polite middle sibling, keeping his head down and exuding reliability.
The group's arguments are plentiful, painful, and frustrating, with tension building as we wonder if Tribe's members will ever get over their silly bullshit long enough to recognize how good they have it. And as Rapaport reminds you with every classic he sends thumping through the speakers, the world sounds a hell of a lot better when they get it together.
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