Q-Tip was best in the middle of the Tribe's career. Before Midnight Marauders and after this album, his lyrical muscles were just too weak for his image as the Abstract Poetic. This album attempts to supersede the impossibly high level of balanced perfection that Midnight Marauders presented to the world. They add mini tracks (Crew, Separate/Together) and try to attack the mainstream directly (many conscious rappers don't know that conscious rap only works when it doesn't keep talking about how conscious it is). They try to embrace the party world (Jam, the Hop) and the cerebral world (Mind Power) and flirt with less conventional song forms (Word Play). This is all well and good, except for Consequence (where the hell did he come from?) and Stressed Out, which can be omitted from the album with no trouble at all.
The production on this album strikes an excellent balance, and the overall pace of the album is even more deliberately measured than that of Midnight, which was almost a fluke of a perfect album. There are discordant keyboards on joints like Phony Rappers and Separate/Together, then the tight jams of the horribly underrated Get a Hold and the hint of what is yet to come, Keeping it Moving. Most of the songs retain a crucial jazz element of the earlier work combined with a hint of the futuristic sterility of the Love Movement, but this middle ground, combined with the unhurried brilliance of the lyrical work, makes it my favorite tribe album.
Instead of being a great rap album like the one before it, Beats Rhymes and Life is a great Tribe album. It takes time to understand it but it fits perfectly in its place in the Tribe canon and in the mid 90s, when hip hop was just about to start killing itself.