In case you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t heard, hip-hop legends and multiplatinum selling artists A Tribe Called Quest are featured in the documentary “Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” which has received great reviews across the board and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the LA Film Festival last week.
The directorial debut of actor/comedian Michael Rapaport is the first ever hip-hop group documentary and has generated a considerable buzz, not only from the positive reviews but also from surprising revelations in the film about the nature of the relationship between the group members.
GlobalGrind had a chance to kick it with Michael Rapaport and talk about the challenges of making the film, his relationship with ATCQ, fainting in the club back in the day and stalking Rihanna. Also, check out the exclusive clip from “Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” below!
GG: “Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest” is your directorial debut. As a fan of ATCQ, was there pressure to do right by the group? How did you handle it?
Michael Rapaport: I felt a lot of pressure to do the film justice and to do it the right way. There hasn’t really been a proper documentary about a hip-hop group and I know how precious A Tribe Called Quest is to the fans. Their legacy and what they did for hip-hop was so important and their music captures such a unique spirit for the listeners. I wanted to do right by that. I just worked hard and I put good people around me and fought to try and make the film that I believed was the best interpretation of what I saw.
Was the experience of working with ATCQ what you expected?
It was a lot of fun, exhilarating, frightening, grinding. I knew it would be hard but I didn’t realize how hard it would be. The shooting part of it was challenging and the editing was daunting.
A lot has been said and written about the onscreen tension between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. As a fan, what was your reaction to witnessing that in person?
Q-Tip and Phife and Jarobi have known each other since they were kids and Ali they met when they were teenagers. Dysfunction is something I’m very accustomed to in my own personal life, so I relate to that on a lot of levels. I know that relationships go through challenging things, bumps in the road and hard times. Seeing it expose itself in front of the camera was a surprise, but the fact that it existed was not. They’re like a family and they’re married to this thing that’s bigger than them which is called, A Tribe Called Quest. Malik (Phife Dawg) and Kamaal (Q-Tip) have had prolific solo careers but the fans want them to get back together. Things happen in relationships and friendships and from my point of view as a director, there was no judgment about that. There’s nothing that goes on within A Tribe Called Quest that I haven’t experienced in my own personal friendships.
Are you all on good terms again?
We’ll see. Everyday we make progress with getting everybody happy with the business side of things and the creative side of things. You only get one time. You only have one documentary about you.
The audience loved it at the screening we saw. What was your best, most memorable moment of making the documentary?
The first day of shooting was the concert footage and it was probably the easiest and most exciting thing because it was actually coming to fruition. Interviewing Phife was always great, as well as when Q-Tip was talking about the music and revealing things that as a fan I didn’t know. And seeing other artists like Pharrell, who’s such a big star in his own right, be reduced to this, like googly-eyed fan and geeking out, was great.
What other groups would you like to make a documentary about or see made?
De La Soul, Eric B and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, The Roots, The Native Tongues as a whole. These are interesting guys with crazy stories who changed the fabric of American pop culture. The slang, the swagger is rap music and it’s the last great form of American music. All of them should be documented as far as I’m concerned. I’m not taking them all on because this one damn near killed me, but they should be documented.
What’s something that you wish you could’ve included in the film?
There’s a whole section on Large Professor that I wanted to do and stuff on Zulu Nation, Busta Rhymes, Consequence, J Dilla. The film is about 90 minutes and you can’t put in a seven-minute section on Large Professor. I mean we could do a whole thing just on the song “Scenario” and the birth of Busta Rhymes as a solo artist. The things that didn’t get put into the film but that I would love to see in a DVD, are the technical things. It’s more informative and not so much suited for a film. Q-Tip is really good at articulating how songs are made. As a filmmaker you can go to the magic only so many times.
Q-Tip is really good at doing impressions. He does impressions of Red Foxx and his mom in the film and does a great one of Nas. He’s very charismatic and it was very easy to edit him because he has a way about him. He’s an icon! He and Phife Dawg are like superheroes to people who grew up listening to hip-hop. They mean a lot to all of us so of course we should make a movie about them. Wouldn’t you want to make a movie about Batman? It’s the same sh*t.
How did your father, NY radio DJ Disco Dave, influence your love of music?
My father was the general manager of WK2 Disco 92, the first station in New York City to play disco music, late ’70s. One day he brought home a promotional copy of “Rapper’s Delight” which I still have. That changed my whole outlook on music. Then he brought home a promotional copy of “The Message” and so on and so on. It was how hip-hop became part of my life, the soundtrack of my life.
When I was 15, I started going to the clubs. You’d see Scott La Rock, Stetsasonic, Biz Markie, Salt-N-Pepa, Finesse and Sequence, Brucie B DJing at The Rooftop. I watched Red Alert DJ every Friday at the Latin Quarters and I remember Melle Mel freestyling for like an hour in a Lawrence Taylor jersey. You’d be like ‘Oh sh*t there’s Melle Mel and he’s f*cking freestyling in front of everyone!’ When I saw Big Daddy Kane as a backup guy for Biz Markie and I said, ‘Oh that guy’s good!’
I remember fainting in Union Square in a club! It was winter either late ’85 or early ’86 while Sparky D was on stage performing and I fainted because it was so hot. My friends dragged me to the bathroom and threw water on me. These are things that when you’re a teenager, they’re a big deal and change your perception of the world. To me those moments were as iconic as Dizzy [Gillespe] and Miles [Davis] performing at Birdland.
Who would you say is the King of New York hip-hop right now?
I don’t know where he is! Who is he? Where’s the next Nas? There’s gotta be some young kid rhyming in New York in the projects and writing about what they’re seeing. Is there someone? I don’t even know. I’ve given up. It’s heartbreaking to me that there isn’t someone like a poet kicking that sh*t the way it’s supposed to be kicked. I’m not with that corny East Coast/West Coast stuff but someone’s gotta represent New York and our music. Jay-Z’s not even the King, he’s something else. He’s like an icon now. There’s gotta be someone. Where’s the next Biggie or Nas?
Who’s your favorite person to follow on Twitter?
I’ve only been on there for 4 months. I don’t understand what the f*ck this whole thing is for. What is this sh*t? I’m unimpressed with the celebrities, I’m unimpressed with myself on there, I’m unimpressed with the whole deal. I don’t know what the hell it’s for. At first I thought you just keep tweeting, then I had someone tell me that they stopped following me because I tweet too much and that tweets are supposed to be important. I don’t know what the f*ck it’s for. I think it’s crazy that somebody’s made a billion dollars on this sh*t. Who’s the popular Twitterer? Kim Kardashian? Rihanna? I’ll follow Rihanna anywhere. I’ll follow her in real life, whatever. ?uestlove is good … and I follow Q-Tip on Twitter.
What’s the most important thing you learned from making your first film and what advice would you give to aspiring documentary filmmakers out there?
1. Hire a good editor. I made a mistake and hired this f*cking bum. Hire a good editor.
2. Clear all your music first if it’s a music-based film.
3. The subject of the documentary should have absolutely no say whatsoever in the end cut. Here’s the deal – the reason why people do documentaries on other people or other subjects is because you cannot document yourself. I didn’t want this documentary to be contrived and over-produced.
I look in the mirror and see myself a certain way. The rest of the world sees me as the Adonis that I am but when I look in the mirror I see the flaws. That’s why I let the world judge me and say, ‘You’re an Adonis, Mike!’ You can’t look at yourself in the mirror and judge yourself the way the rest of the world can. That’s why you can’t have final say in your own documentary. It’s too close for comfort.
What’s the deal with a soundtrack to the film?
As of now, there is no soundtrack. That’s in the hands of the group and they have control over the music. If they don’t choose to jump on the opportunity to give the fans a soundtrack, that’s a shame. I hope they do it. It’d be awesome. The fans want it! Just one song and then boom, you get an Oscar nomination and then you go off into the sunset and no one can say, ‘We want more Tribe.’