Q-Tip performs in Michael Rapaport's documentary "Beats,… (Robert Benavides / Sony…)
An exploration of the history of a New York hip-hop collective, the documentary "Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest" captures a sense of the shared bonds and joys of music-making and the difficulties of holding onto those feelings as the accumulated peeves and disagreements of years roll by.
The directing debut of actor Michael Rapaport, the film has both a fan's enthusiasm and a slyly observant way of letting the subjects talk themselves into unexpected revelations. It is at its most vibrant when re-creating the energy of Tribe's original moment in the late '80s and early '90s, when the musicians brought a spirited, playful artfulness to the sometimes drearily self-serious world of hip-hop.
Alongside De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers — all part of a loose assemblage known as Native Tongues — Tribe innovated with lyrical expansiveness, creative production flourishes and an inclusive worldview. The sense of joy and discovery conveyed when frontman Q-Tip rifles through his record collection to show how he landed upon a drum sample for an early track is infectious.
Rather than turn the film into a simple nostalgia piece, Rapaport shrewdly but perhaps inadvertently inserts himself into the middle of the group's more recent dramas: in particular, the tensions that erupt between band mates Phife Dawg and Q-Tip during a series of reunion concert performances in 2008.
The film serves both as a welcome document and reminder of the group in its prime, while also creating a portrait of lives still in motion, grown men trying to move on from yet respect the work of their younger selves.