One of the most acclaimed documentary films of the year, and decidedly a Playlist team favorite, “Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,” Michael Rapaport’s directorial debut, has had a stellar reception from audiences and critics. A thorough, honest and emotionally piercing look at the history and troubles of the legendary A Tribe Called Quest, the documentary is an outstanding achievement that captures a crucial piece of hip-hop history. When we saw the film at the Tribeca Film Festival this past spring, we called it “utterly engaging, completely infectious enough to bring out a sense of giddyness in you, raw and thrilling.” When Q-Tip, arguably the leader of the group, criticized the documentary on Twitter, we tracked the beef in an extensive article and a few weeks later would sit down with Rapaport for an interview that illuminated his feelings on the criticisms and more.
Now that the DVD is available in stores and for rent — and seriously, if you haven’t seen it, get on it right now — Michael Rapaport continues to promote the film, and we recently caught up with him to look back on the making of the movie and whether or not he’s got another hip hop documentary in him.
Now that the film is available on DVD, has there been any notable reaction from casual ATCQ fans?
The response from fans has been very eclectic, from people who are obviously Tribe fans to people who’ve never heard of Tribe. The most flattering thing that people have said to me is, “Thank you for making the movie,” which is real flattering to me, as a compliment, it’s been an interesting group of people who’ve seen the movie so far.
Have you been in touch with Q-Tip recently? Phife? What about the rest of the group?
I think they were surprised that people responded to it in such a way…Phife has said the response has been positive and overwhelming for him too, the other three guys I haven’t spoken to. I haven’t spoken to Q-Tip, no. I’m pretty sure, unless he saw it on his own, Q-Tip has not seen the movie with an audience, because he wasn’t at any of the public screenings, any of the film festivals, which is a shame.
What has the audience response to the film meant to you?
The audience response is so much different than your own personal response when you’re seeing a nice chunk of your life being documented on film, it’s hard to stay objective when you’re seeing that. But I think if you see a film with an audience, there’s a lot of humor in there, there’s a lot of emotion, even with a smaller crowd, there’s been a lot of reactions, which is fun to watch.
Your film has been acclaimed time and time again as a great “hip-hop documentary” – why do you think that is? What makes a hip-hop documentary?
For me it’s just a music documentary about hip-hop, but I think that everything is categorized these days, so I think that’s where that comes from, but for me it’s just a music documentary.
You’ve said you have enough material on the Jungle Brothers and Native Tongues movements to cut together a sizable documentary. Any plans to do that?
I’m taking a Native Tongues break. I’ve really exhausted that right now, for me, getting out the stuff for the DVD, we did the best we could with the time. I refer to it as a short film about the Native Tongues, but I am on a hip-hop documentary break.
What about an extended cut of “Beats, Rhymes and Life,” incorporating some of the interviews (Mos Def, Ludacris) that didn’t make it into the doc?
I would love to do that, once I get a little break and a little perspective on things, I’ll definitely do that. There’s some incredible footage we have, we shot A Tribe Called Quest in the studio rehearsing for three days, some of that footage is in the movie, but for me that could be a short within itself too. They were rehearsing, going over songs I’ve never seen them perform, and freestyling. We really shot a lot of stuff, great interviews, it takes time to put it out in a way that is entertaining and informative. You don’t want to just plop it out.
This is your directorial debut, and a real labor of love. Is directing something you’ve been working towards or a recent desire?
It’s something I’ve been building to. I’ve been wanting to direct for the last 10-12 years, and finally was able to pull something together with the Tribe film. I’m always going to be an actor but I’d love to get to a point someday when I’m an actor/director.
“Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest” is now available on DVD, BluRay and digitally.