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Loving and fighting with A Tribe Called Quest

Bloggers and critics have created list mania as we enter 2012, but I’m taking a more mellow approach, simply reflecting fondly on the films that I adored. No ordering, no alphabetical lists versus numerical countdowns, just memories. One of my favorite docs by far was Michael Rapaport’s BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST (Sundance 2011), and lucky for you, it’s now out on Blu-ray.

You simply cannot beat a few elements in BEATS, one being the brilliant James Blagden animation. It’s fantastically alive, pulsing with motion and color as it illuminates the energy behind this iconic hip hop foursome that of course later became three. (And, if you don’t know Blagsden’s animation work, this No Mas short on Pittsburgh pitcher Dock Ellis’ LSD pitching journey is a sharply hilarious introduction.) Another element that’s unBEATable is, of course, the music.

And, while Rapaport’s most practical thread exists in the film as a thorough and insightful history of 80s (and beyond) hip hop, the most emotional line follows the tumultuous relationship between key collaborators Q-tip and Phife Dog. Collaboration’s a bitch: there’s a lot to work out between these friends-since-Little League who have fundamentally different approaches to the world. Rapaport gets to the heart of the conflict, in one key interview each, which are both conducted outside in public parks. It’s a somewhat strange approach, given that Q-tip stands through the whole conversation with the director, and Phife is perched on a railing. It’s not your usual hyper-lit interview, but they both were comfortable enough to talk, and talk they do.

Is there hope for the Tribe, who split in 98 and toured last in 2006? The film ends on a fairly positive note. The music is still great. Twenty years is a long time, conflicts run deep, but so does love.

–AH