The Swarm

January 22, 2011

What's The Scenario? Michael Rapaport Talks About His A Tribe Called Quest Doc and Why Q-Tip is Still Buggin' Out

David Prince

When actor/director Michael Rapaport first set out to make a documentary about one of his and hip-hop’s most-beloved groups, he wanted to answer the question on every fan’s mind: Is A Tribe Called Quest ever going to record together again? Two and a half years after Rapaport convinced the four members of the group—Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi—to participate and support the production, the film is having its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

“Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” was shot during the group’s 2008 reunion tour and features appearances by Native Tongues conspirators De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers and disciples like Kanye West, Pharrell and Nas. But when a trailer for the film appeared online in early December that seemed to emphasize the tensions within the group, Q-Tip publicly disavowed the film in a series of angry tweets and interviews. “The filmmaker shld respect the band enough to honor our request regarding the film,” Q-Tip wrote. “The filmmaker should respect the band to the point of honoring the few requests that’s was made abt the piece.”

Earlier this week, Q-Tip again lashed out at Rapaport, tweeting “the director of the film cannot speak to what is in my head abt the documentary” and “nor can this director EVER say the i dont speak for the group. when i say i do then belive me i do.” Yet he still referred to the film as a “flattering look at our career” and has continued to promote the Sundance screenings.

The Daily Swarm caught up with Rapaport this afternoon, and he explained how the issues he’s had with the group are indicative the very tensions he documents on the film and that keep the group’s future plans in doubt.

TDS: How long have you been working on this film?

Michael Rapaport: We started filming in summer of 2008 and just finished editing, so about two and a half years.

Who first approached who?

It was my idea to make a documentary about A Tribe Called Quest. I approached Q-Tip about it: he was cool with it, but said I had to get approval from the other guys. So I went to all three other guys – Jarobi, Ali, and Phife – and talked to them each individually. They agreed as a group to do it, and next thing you know I was shooting a movie.

Who put up the backing for the film?

I financed the movie. I was not hired by A Tribe Called Quest. Along the road I picked up some other investors, but the inception of the movie came from my credit cards.

Is Nas a producer?

That got a little misunderstood somehow. Nas has been a big supporter of the movie, and a real help, but he’s not a producer. His support has really meant a lot to the project.

How about the Tribe guys? Did they help you set up interviews or participate in the production process at all?

They didn’t get involved, really. I already knew Mike G from the Jungle Brothers, and the Beatnuts. I knew Pharrell. People have a lot to say about A Tribe Called Quest because they mean so much to them, so once the word got out, everyone I tried to get with was anxious to talk because they’re such big fans.

Was it clear that this was an “authorized” documentary?

I’ve had an agreement with A Tribe Called Quest since the inception. They’ve been behind the film, aware of the film, and signed off on doing the film before we started the film.

So why was there such a public disagreement after so much time, and so close to the film’s completion?

That’s a good question. Miscommunication, or lack of communication. We all have each other’s phone numbers and emails; we’ve been in constant communication pretty much for the last two years.

Honestly, I just got a Twitter account yesterday. I don’t blog. I try to stay off email as much as I can. I think it’s gotten this public because that’s the nature of 2011. The only way things like this get public is because you decide to take them public. The only reason things end up on Twitter is because you decide to put them on Twitter.

Has the group seen the final edit of the film?

Yes, they’ve all seen it.

What’s been the main point of contention?

I don’t think there’s been one sticking point. All four of them have seen the movie, and each one of them have different thoughts, opinions, and concerns. Collectively, I haven’t gotten one opinion from A Tribe Called Quest. I’ve gotten opinions from each one of them individually. I’ve actually never been in a room with all four of them together. Two of the four, and three of the four, but never all together.

I love A Tribe Called Quest. I’ve gotten to know them each individually and I love and respect each of them. Four different opinions from four different people has been the most challenging thing to deal with.

Ultimately, that’s what the film is all about. That’s exactly why I’m not sure they’ll ever make another record together. That dynamic bled over to the film process itself.

We’re you surprised by what you learned about their relationships while shooting the film?

Well, you have this impression of A Tribe Called Quest, and Tip and Phife, you know? But they’re human beings. They’re a family. Those two have known each other since they were literally babies, four or five years old. So anytime you have a relationship like that and you’re married to this thing like A Tribe Called Quest, you’re going to get tired of each other.

So yeah, at first I was like, “Whoa.” But in the perspective of a group or a relationship or a friendship – and then when you mix the business relationship with personal friendship for as many years as they’ve been a group, and as many years they’ve been friends – you’re going to have ups and downs.

I related to it because I’ve had my own personal problems, and that really pushed me through the making of the film. I related to the dynamic between the friends, and the fractured relationship that has come. I didn’t want to place blame on any one of them – it’s not my place to do that. And it doesn’t even go that deep. I kept the film within the confines of A Tribe Called Quest. Anytime that it went beyond the group and into personal stuff, I didn’t want anything to do with that. And those scenes were never even shown to the group. But they do exist.

For Tribe fans, what’s going to be the most surprising or controversial moment in the film?

The thing that concerns me most – as a filmmaker and a businessperson – is that this Twitter stuff makes people think that when they see the film there’s going to be all this crazy shit in it. Whatever version people see of this film – the Sundance edit, the theatrical cut, the DVD director’s version – there’s nothing in there that’s embarrassing, humiliating or unflattering to the group. All the online talk sets up an expectation for all this craziness, but there’s nothing crazy in the movie. This isn’t like “Some Kind of Monster” or reality television. And it’s not a movie just about their relationships – it’s about their music and influence, and that whole time period in hip-hop. It’s not going to be too much information, you know?

Did you make any changes to the film after the disagreement went public in December?

I listened: I respect them, and I wanted to make them comfortable. But the film that’s premiering tonight I stand by 100%. I feel proud of it and don’t feel compromised. These are really smart guys. Q-Tip really understands film. Their notes and thoughts and input helped to make the film better.

Are any of them at Sundance with you?

Phife’s here now. Ali is in Europe. We’ll wait and see who else comes. They’re all producers on the film, and I hope that they’re here for this celebration of the group. The movie is a celebration of A Tribe Called Quest and the movie is, I think, very positive and hopeful about the group’s future.

UPDATE: (via Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi):

Thanks to our fans for their support through the years and for the enthusiasm around the documentary. We hope that the film’s perspective conveys our love of hip-hop culture. We could not attend Sundance, but we want to express our love and appreciation for the support that we have received in advance of the film’s premiere tonight. We hope that it is well received. Thank you.


Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest premieres at the Sundance film festival tonight.

Click Here