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Michael Rapaport finds the dysfunction behind A Tribe Called Quest’s mellow vibes

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey has us thinking about other “inside the band” documentaries.

Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest (2011)
Along with simpatico acts like De La Soul and Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest embodied the inclusive, utopian hippie spirit of the Native Tongues hip-hop renaissance of the late ’80s and early ’90s. But behind the mellow grooves and classic albums lurked deep reservoirs of ego and dysfunction. With his heartbreaking and head-nodding A Tribe Called Quest documentary Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest, character actor turned documentarian Michael Rapaport poignantly and unforgettably explores the tense relationship between perfectionist frontman Q-Tip and all-too-human sidekick Phife Dawg. 

Q-Tip’s demanding ways and impossibly high standards, both for himself and his intimidated collaborators, proved essential to A Tribe Called Quest’s enduring genius, but they also wreaked havoc on his complicated, fraught relationship with Phife, a sweet, mild-mannered underdog whose physical frailty—he suffers from diabetes—renders him particularly vulnerable. A fan above all else, Rapaport clearly began the project as a valentine to a halcyon moment in hip-hop’s fabled past, but it evolved into something much darker and trickier, yet no less compelling. Beats Rhymes & Life indelibly captures the heady, exhilarating spirit of a time, place, and scene that gave birth to an astonishing amount of classic music from kids barely old enough to drink, as well as the brittle bonds behind the deceptively communal spirit of one of rap’s true golden ages. 

Availability: No digital rentals or streaming currently, but available for digital purchase and on DVD/BD from Sony.