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

Michael Rapaport (Gary from Friends) dissects the rap rapport of hip-hop’s greatest quartet in this 2011 documentary.

Although it’s weird hearing Phoebe’s cop boyfriend’s voice between Tribe verses, it’s Rapaport’s candid interviews that provide intimacy and insight, not to mention pleasure and pain. There’s sadness in the scenes of such simpatico stylists no longer able to be in the same room without coming to blows, a similar relationship to the Goss brothers in Bros: After the Screaming Stops but altogether wittier. “That’s cool if you want to play Michael,” Phife says of Q-Tip AKA The Abstract, “but stop trying to front like I’m Tito. No disrespect to Tito.”

The doc charts the group’s journey from Queens to its implosion, via dashikis, diabetes and lyrical dexterity: “You could find The Abstract listening to hip-hop / my pops used to say it reminded him of bebop.” Indeed it was by sampling his parents’ jazz records that Q-Tip formed A Tribe Called Quest’s sonic blueprint, which (along with the rest of the Native Tongues movement) helped shape hip-hop’s golden age. “Aside from jazz it’s the last true American art form,” notes Q-Tip.

That Phife died 5 years after the film’s release adds another layer of emotion, particularly when we see him receive a supportive text from his estranged bandmate before undergoing a kidney transplant. With contributions from the Beastie Boys, The Roots and Common (wearing a John Coltrane t-shirt) and original music by Madlib, Beats, Rhymes & Life is a soulfully human movie about imperfect people making perfect music.

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