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You could've filmed a full-length documentary on the fighting, contradicting and compromising that has accompanied Michael Rapaport's "Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest," the actor's encomium to his favorite hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest.
Beleaguered by he said/he said disputes over money, content and ownership, members Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad have publicly disowned the film, yet for fans, "Beats, Rhymes & Life" stands as a fascinating document of one of the most influential musical groups.
When the group first appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s, their revolutionary fusion of jazz and hip-hop, coupled with an eccentric, playful style, would influence a generation of rappers. Roots frontman Black Thought called them the "Miles Davis of hip-hop" and in 1989, the group received one of the biggest record label advances for a new artist. After five albums, Tribe Called Quest broke up in 1998, only to reunite a decade later to help defray mounting costs for founding member Phife Dawg's longstanding battle with diabetes.
"Beats, Rhymes & Life" is evenly split between the halcyon days of demo tapes, hit records and camaraderie and the latter, sadder era of infighting and bickering that defined the recordings of 1996's "Beats, Rhymes & Life" and 1998's "The Love Movement." (It should've been called "The Last Movement," laments Phife.) When Rapaport's cameras catch an altercation between Phife and Q-Tip before a 2008 Rock the Bells show, the fly-on-the-wall voyeurism shines a light, for better or worse, on the love/hate, highly emotional relationship between the two childhood friends.
Tip has been vocal about the film not showcasing, in his opinion, the group's music as much as it should. It's a fair point, as classic albums like "Midnight Marauders" are swiftly discussed before Rapaport focuses on the latter-day drama. But to whitewash the last 15 years as if they never happened would've diluted and misrepresented the legacy of one of hip-hop's most adored groups.
Like any good music documentary, "Beats, Rhymes & Life" is less a fawning tribute than an honest document; an ambitious, and mostly successful, attempt to capture a mercurial and passionate group whose sonic legacy has long been cemented but whose history can now be told.
Don't forget to check out our exclusive Q&A with Phife Dawg on the making of the film.