Perhaps it’s only fitting that a documentary about rap—easily the music industry’s leading genre for the amount of artist-vs.-artist beef it inspires—would generate a beef of its own.
“I didn’t expect Q-Tip to be completely comfortable with everything in the documentary,” says director Michael Rapaport about the Tribe frontman who expressed disapproval about his documentary, “Beats, Rhymes, and Live: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.” “I didn’t want it to play out the way it’s played out publicly.
“The worst part about it is that it came off a little classless on both of our sides.”
Class may not always be standard in the rap world, but A Tribe Called Quest isn’t your average rap act. The group’s second and third albums, 1991’s “The Low End Theory” and 1993’s “Midnight Marauders,” are justly regarded as influential classics that combine clever, socially conscious lyrics with laid-back beats that often sample from jazz.
Rapaport’s documentary, however, isn’t just an excuse for people like Common to talk about Tribe’s importance; the film charts the breakdown of the friendship between MCs Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, which effectively derailed the group’s career. Tribe hasn’t made an album since 1998’s “The Love Movement,” even though members still have one album left on their Jive contract.
At the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, basketball-loving New York natives Rapaport (more famously known as an actor in such projects as “Higher Learning,” “Friends”), and Phife (real name: Malik Taylor), discussed making a movie about a group you love, Chicago hip-hop and more. Rapaport, 41, hasn’t talked to Q-Tip recently, but Phife talks to him all the time.
“Everything is cool as far as [our] friendship,” says 40–year-old Phife, wearing an “I (Heart) Haters” T-shirt that he says inspires him to always be on his A-game. “That’s back on the right track. But Q-Tip is going to be Q-Tip at the end of the day. If he feels a certain way and he’s adamant about it, you’re gonna know. And he just doesn’t want anything to disrespect the brand.”
Phife, how many times did Michael stop filming so he could rap alongside you guys?
Phife: No, he was rapping while he was filming.
Michael Rapaport: There were a couple times where I’m filming the shows and the camera’s like this [bobs up and down], and the camera was shaking because the first day I couldn’t believe it.
Why did you want to make this movie?
MR: I mean, why not? It’s A Tribe Called Quest. As far as I’m concerned, they’re as important as the Beatles, as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the Ramones. They mean that much to fans of hip-hop. They mean that much to popular culture. What they did is just as important. Some would even say more relevant today, and you can see their influence in everybody from Drake to the Black Eyed Peas to Common and Outkast.
You’ve called Tribe your favorite group. What did you do to separate the fan from the filmmaker?
MR: At first I was like really really overwhelmed with excitement. When I was on stage shooting them and realized that I started making a movie about them, I was excited and nervous. But once we got down to the nitty gritty and business of making the movie I tried to be as objective and respectful and as focused … to get the story across in the way that I felt was the way to do it.
As the conflict is developing, how much of a sense is there that you want Tribe to make more music and you don’t want to stir something up that could have a damaging impact on them?
MR: I did feel that at times, [but] I didn’t think it was my fault what was going on. I thought maybe this movie, if it was good, would maybe kinda inspire them to make more music. And it’s not the way it’s turned out yet. But I didn’t ever feel like me being around it was instigating anything. There was a lot going on within the group. There was obviously a lot going on with Phife personally with his health, which probably added to some of the stuff that was going on within the group, and it was just the happenstance of documentary filmmaking. It wasn’t premeditated; it wasn’t planned. It wasn’t like they called me, “Yo, we’re going on this tour, Phife isn’t feeling good, Q-Tip has a solo album coming out, we want you to capture this.” If anything when we were shooting during the tour it was completely the opposite of that, ’cause a couple times the group was kinda like, “Yo, we’re shutting this [bleep] down.” I was able to convince ’em to keep going.
MR: Just kinda keep showing up and keep being around and talking. And talking ‘em off the ledge and saying how important I thought it was to keep going and we already started and we have to keep going and it’s important to keep going and we’re making a movie and we just gotta keep going. But I was like, “What the [bleep]?” a couple times. I had some conversations and I was like, “What the [bleep]?” I really was like, “What the [bleep]?”
Tribe once said that Laura would never [bleep] Urkel. How much responsibility do you take for the fact that she never did?
MR: Wait, which song was that on?
Phife: “Motivators.” I mean, you know, it was a TV show. We was just joking around, being silly, cliché, silly, whatever you want to call it. But, yeah, we all knew she wasn’t going to [bleep] him. No disrespect to Jaleel White.
What goes through your head when you think about Chicago hip-hop?
Phife: Oh, man, Da Brat, Common, ’Ye, Crucial Conflict. They had their own lane pretty much. What I really appreciate about it is when we first came here, ‘cause Jive used to have offices in Chicago, and when we first came here to perform one time, Chicago was all about house music so they was looking at us like, “What the [bleep]?” And then to see it grow into this hip-hop jungle as well, I can’t be mad. This is one of my favorite cities absolutely. Twista. They get busy out here, for real.
If you had a day to do anything you wanted here, what would you do?
MR: [Bleep], might go to the Yankees/Wrigglers game tomorrow.
PHife: Or take a tour of Wrigley Field, United Center.
MR: Shoot around with Derrick Rose.
Phife: And Soldier Field, matter of fact.
MR: Chase girls with Joakim Noah. Hang out with Dick Butkus.
Phife: Work out with Derrick Rose. He’s quick.
MR: And what’s that steak place, the famous restaurant? Gibson’s is crazy. I’ve always been fascinated with this city.
Phife: The No. 1 thing, I promise you, the No. 1 thing, to not only eat Garrett’s but own that [bleep].
MR: What’s Garrett’s, the hot dogs?
Phife: Popcorn. My wife will kill me if I don’t bring some [of that home].
Who’s the better ball player between you?
MR: We’re both retired.
MR: But he knows more than me. This guy is like an encyclopedia.
Phife: I can still shoot. But like R. Kelly said, “My mind is telling me yes, but my body’s like—eh!—stop it.”
At your peak, who was better?
MR: [Bleep], I don’t know. I never saw … he was a point guard.
Phife: He’s a tall dude, so I couldn’t do what he did, he probably can’t do what I did. Power forward, point guard.
What was your reaction to the NBA finals?
PHife: We’re elated.
MR: I wanted Chicago to beat Miami, but I’m glad Dallas could do it.
Phife: I’m glad JKidd and Dirk got their first title. Especially JKidd ‘cause he’s been doing it for a while, he’s been one of the best point guards since I’ve been watching basketball on the regular. I’m happy for him.
How are you guys going to satisfy that last album on the contract? What’s coming up?
Phife: I have no idea. Honestly. I don’t know if that’s ever going to be done, but hopefully it will.
Is there a date by which you have to do it?
MR: Oh, no.
Phife: No, ‘cause we’ve been [waiting] on this album for 13 years, so there’s definitely no date. [Laughs]
If Rapaport was a rapper, what his name should be: “I think Mike Rap.” (Phife) “Mike Rap would have to be it. I do have a good name for rapping, I just can’t do it.”
Who will win a championship next: Bulls or Knicks? “Bulls. Sorry.” (MR) “The Bulls have a better point guard than the Knicks, so I give them the edge right there. But if we can get like a Chris Paul or somebody like that, cats is in trouble.” (Phife)
On Derrick Rose: “Let me break down him for a quick second. Derrick Rose in a nutshell, he has the speed of Jason Kidd, the vision of Magic Johnson, the strength and scoring ability of Oscar Robertson but the hops of a Jordan.” (Phife)
On playing in the NBA All-Star celebrity game: “I have fun when I do it. I don’t mind being the foil, and for me I don’t take it seriously at all. Some people think it’s a real game. I’d be foolish to take it too seriously because then you would look bad. Because you take this real seriously and you ain’t [bleep]? So I just have fun and I’m so excited to be there. The last time I’m on the court with Chris Mullin and Scottie Pippen. I mean, how can you really take yourself seriously? I was like, ‘This is crazy. Chris Mullin is shooting that jump shot, I’m throwing a pass up to Scottie Pippen for a deep three.’ How could you take yourself serious?” (MR)
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