Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is a documentary about the cataclysmic sonic-boom rappers who had their heyday in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and the movie is a celebration of the band’s highly influential aural attack. Led by producer and rapper Q-Tip, A Tribe Called Quest created a vast, echoey cave of sound that you felt like you could enter and party inside. The band’s rise paralleled that of gangsta rap, but the divide could hardly have been more stark. Whereas N.W.A declared their nihilism in an early video by walking through a banner with Martin Luther King’s words on it, A Tribe Called Quest, sampling everything from ”Walk on the Wild Side” to Carly Simon, used the power of hip-hop to affirm King’s message, carving out big bold beats of love.
Directed by the actor Michael Rapaport (Prison Break) as an energized Behind the Music episode, the movie captures how the quartet’s loving feelings for one another eventually became laced with resentment. Q-Tip, a born star, shared the mic with Phife Dawg, a diabetic whose health problems led to at least ? one major performance meltdown, but their lifelong friendship ballooned into a complex rivalry. The group has had more rifts and reunions than Spi¨al Tap, and the film’s treatment of their fights and détentes does get a touch wearying. (The strife continues off screen as well: Q-Tip is on record as not liking the movie.) That said, Beats is a welcome blast of ’90s nostalgia, taking us back to a time — and a sound — that pulsates with optimism. B+