Michael Rapaport's documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, about the godfathers of conscious hip hop, is a visual and music-historical delight, if jumbled in its delivery. It opens with an argument between Tribe MCs Q-Tip and Phife Dawg that sets viewers up for the tension that will mark the relationship. But the scene's context is confusing, as it's unclear when the dispute is occurring. From there it's mostly chronological -- but not always.
The story is complex: The group, formed in Queens in the late '80s, has broken up and reunited multiple times, and its history is colored by Phife's medical problems and his love-hate relationship with Q-Tip. This fractious state is discussed at length by the two MCs, but never explored in detail by any objective party. (The wise but reticent Tribe DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammed doesn't discuss the matter much, though he's seen wincing time and again when the conflict flares up.)
The film is well worth seeing for the archival footage and extended commentary from Tribe members and other luminaries such as The Roots, The Beastie Boys and Large Professor. But repeatedly, Rapaport does only a so-so job leading viewers through the group's history. It's a good documentary, but the sometimes-confusing directorial techniques prevent it from being great. Starts Fri., Aug. 12. Regent Square