Beats Rhymes & Life — The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest
When: Through Thursday, Aug. 18 at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Where: The Belcourt
... But Beats Rhymes & Life, the directorial debut of actor Michael Rapaport, is not your typical music doc. Nor is its subject, A Tribe Called Quest, your typical hip-hop group. More than almost any act to come out of hip-hop's early-1990s golden age, Tribe redefined the way rap was made, the way rap was heard and the way rap made you feel.
A lot of music docs sling hyperbole to exaggerate their subjects' impact. But it's hard to overestimate the way Tribe influenced hip-hop, from jazz-sample collages that showed new ways of layering (and trolling for) samples to their abstract lyrics, which struck off for parts unknown away from gangsta shit or militant protest rap. Their first three records shaped the aesthetics of rap as surely as Sgt. Pepper's did rock — and more importantly, they sound as fresh today as the day they dropped.
The story behind Tribe and their ascendancy is the sort of music-industry fairy tale that keeps the dream factory knee-deep in applicants. Boyhood friends Q-Tip and Phife Dawg meet Jarobi and DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad in high school in Queens. They make demos and meet some people — some really important people — and make a record, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, that shifts the whole hip-hop paradigm. The four high-school friends go on to create two additional albums of unrivaled quality (and two more that are still better than most) before illness, egotism and artistic difference end the group with a whimper. ...
As great and game-changing as the music is, by film's end it's of almost secondary concern to watching these childhood friends repair their fractured relationship en route to their unexpected 2008 reunion. For longtime Tribe fans and followers of the genre, rest assured that in Beats Rhymes & Life you're going to see one of the best music docs in ages and possibly the best hip-hop documentary of all time. For admirers of true stories told with depth, beauty and humanity, you're going to see something maybe even better — a real movie.