Q&A: Tears, laughter from Michael Rapaport, Phife on 'Beats, Rhymes and Life' documentary
Laughter and tears: that sums up A Tribe Called Quest documentary “Beats, Rhymes and Life” on the whole. But that’s also what came of direcetor (and actor) Michael Rapaport’s Q&A – with Tribesman Phife Dawg -- after the film’s premiere at Sundance on Saturday (Jan. 23).
In a full house, the two dissected their motivations for delving into the project – Rapaport putting himself on the line in his directorial debut, Phife with a holy host of backstorys on the rise and fall of the veteran hip-hop troupe.
Rapaport essentially wanted to know what would come of ATCQ’s legacy post-breakup, but even Phife doesn’t know what to think of the future. Speaking with friends, industry and press, the rapper spoke on his reaction of the film, but most strikingly on the absence of cohorts Jarobi, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and longtime best-friend and sometime enemy Q-Tip. And broke down in tears with his down on the lectern.
The statement from the missing three on the documentary is as follows:
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.
And below is the complete transcript of the post-movie chat. Check out news on Phife’s next career move, Rapaport’s love of hip-hop and a little into why the hell A Tribe Called Quest ever broke up.
On working with Madlib and Peanut Butter Wolf for the soundtrack and score…
Michael Rapaport: I had no one else in mind. I always wanted Madlip to do it from the beginning, that was my first choice. And Wolf. I wanted someone was was an offspring of a Tribe Called Quest and somebody who was definitely, you could feel the inspiration… the same essence.
He’s not here. He’s really hard to get a hold of. But when he comes he shows up with the goods
What prompted him to start a documentary on ATCQ…
MR: I decided to do the documentary, I came up with the idea… I saw Tribe performing in 2006 at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles and it was just a beautiful show. And backstage it was this famous person and that famous person… everybody was just so happy. it reminded me of those old rock ‘n’ roll photos that you see of Jimi Hendrix screwing around with Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan. It was this joyous thing.
A really famous actor offhanded Leonardo diCaprio (laughter_ and I said to him I want to make a documentary about Tribe Called Quest. And he’s like, “You should do it.”
So I started approaching the guys one by one and here we are now.
On the change in producing hip-hop records from ATCQ’s time to hip-hop being made today…
Phife: Before I answer that question, I want you guys to know, I’m not that bad of a guy [pointing at screen]. (Laughter) It is real life and I’m glad that Mike was able to bring it to y’all in such a great way.
There’s a generation gap, obviously. I don’t wanna badmouth or bash anybody, but I blame it on a lot of labels. I blame it on a lot of radio stations. Radio stations almost dictate to you what’s hot. And a lot of things that are really really hot you can tell people take time and put their all into doin’ it, like your Gangstarrs… rest in peace, Guru – nowadays, I don’t blame it on the artist so much because they’re only gonna do what you allow them to do. There’s a lot of laziness goin on, but the radio stations and labels – they accept it.
We need to bring some good music back like Marsha Ambrosius. And Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. People who really bounce to the beat of their own drum and have no problem pushing the envelope, not being afraid to try new things.
I mean, why do you think that Outkast is so successful? They never had a problem being themselves, they made their own name. Kanye [West], Tribe Called Quest – if I say so myself.
But it’s not to knock the rappers that are out there right now. I just wish they would do their homework. Recognize realize what it takes to have longevity in this game. Because you could be No. 1 with a bullet on Billboard today [Jan.] 22nd, and next Tuesday, Eminem could drop an album, and nobody will be checkin’ for yo’ ass. That’s just how fickle hip-hop is.
Now, country music, Randy Travis and Garth Brooks they can sing “I left my heart in Arizona, Minnesota,” wherever, and they’re selling 10 million plus every time out. We don’t have it like that. We have to be creative. We have to keep it going creatively. So, that’s the difference – it’s unfortunate – but I’m praying we will get our stuff together.
What were your motivations for doing the film…
MR: I mean, my motivation for doing the film was… if you grew up a first generation hip-hop lover, A Tribe Called Quest was our Rolling Stones, our Beatles, our Led Zeppelin. The same way like people growing up around the Beatles, like my mom who was at Shea Stadium when they first came to New York. Tribe Called Quest meant that much to us.
When they broke up in 1998 in that scene at Tramps [in Seattle] in that last show, I remember saying to my friend, “I feel like my parents are getting divorced.” It was that upsetting to the fans.
When I would see the guys around town, and Chris Lighty and their manager – I would ask, “Is A Tribe Called Quest gonna make more music? Is A Tribe Called Quest gonna make more music?” And in hip-hop, the life span is short. You have great hip-hop artists who have been killed, who are in jail, the artform is still evolving. For me it was almost criminal that they would make music and they were all functioning. So my reason for making the movie, my initial question was, “Is A Tribe Called Quest make more music?” I don’t know the answer to that, I’ll let Phife answer that… But that’s what I wanted to get out of it. They’re alive and kicking and the people still want ‘em, so I hope it can still happen. I wanted to answer that and explore what they did and influence people and I wanted to understand why they broke up and if there was gonna be any more.
Phife: To be honest, I was totally caught off-guard when Ali called me one day – a day before the Rock the Bells show in L.A. – and Ali gave me a heads up that Mike was gonna call me about this so-called documentary. And Mike called me like two minutes after Ali because [Mike] doesn’t play.
I say, “Yo, it sounds cool,” and I’m thinking “Behind the Music”-ish and “Driven.” You know those shows, and I love those shows. But for me? I don’t mind being in Lil Wayne and Pink’s business, but put Tribe’s business out there? We were in a funny place… but I asked Mike, “How real can I keep it? It’s kinda messy right now, man. I don’t if this shit be done.
I said, “Ali agreed?” “Yeah.” “Jarobi agreed?” “Yeah.” “Last but not least, Q-Tip the Abstract Poetic agreed?” and he’s like “Yeah.” So I was like, alright, I’m all in…
I knew at the end of the day there were gonna be bumps in the road just like any group. But I’m just so happy to be here, witnessing. I wish….
I wish the rest of them were here, man. Cause they don’t understand like, I listen to you guys’ responses throughout the movie. Q-Tip just has no idea how many people love him. He up there crackin’ jokes, talkin’ about the “Can I Kick It?” beat drums... You guys were dyin’ laughter.
He don’t see that shit. He’s so concerned with, “Yo man, I don’t know, I don’t know…” Just like I said on screen: On Monday, he’s with it, the rest of the week you don’t know what’s gonna happen. I just wish we was all here to see how much love you guys showed this movie. They gonna see it. They won’t see the love.
I love my dudes, man. No matter what we went through. We’re 40 years of age – I don’t look it, I don’t think [laughter]… This is the time to reap the benefits, to really enjoy… you know how many people would love to be in our place? We been doin’ this shit since 1989 professionally, man. I wanna like to thank Barry Weiss for signing us… a lot of artists, they always go through things with their label… We’ve been through our trials and tribulations with Jive Records. But they gave us a chance, and we’re still eating off of that, off of 1989. If they didn’t believe in us, Michael wouldn’t have been able to do this movie.
I just want them to be here – maybe they’ll be at Tribeca. But I just want to thank y’all…
I’m working on a new album now, “Songs in the Key of Phife, Volume 1: Cheryl’s Big Son”… I lost my grandmother this past June, so I’m dedicated that to her and my mom…
How hard was the editing process, with so many angles… [Edit: from Questlove of The Roots, no less…]
MR: Yeah, it was only 95 minutes.
The editing process was brutal. When I got into the editing room, that’s when I was like, “Oh shit. You’re just a dumbass actor. What the fuck are you doing?” There was concert footage and two or three cameras at one concert. And interviews. And, Ahmir from the Roots, you could have a whole movie of you on Tribe Called Quest. There was people we cut out of the movie, like great star people…
At the end of the day, I had to go back to the guys, as great as the sidebars were. Busta Rhymes could’ve had his own five minute thing, or Large Prfesssor… or J Dilla. But at the end of the day. To put it in a nutshell, it was excruciating. I was a ridiculous process being in the editing room, sleeping in there, farting in there. We really worked hard. We carved out some of the best stuff.