When a trailer leaked last December of the long-awaited A Tribe Called Quest Documentary, it was titled Beats Rhymes & Fights. The final version, which will hit theatres July 8, carries the much tamer title, Beats, Rhymes And Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. Unfortunately the first title might have been more appropriate given the ugly public back-and-fourth that director Michael Rapaport, who’s also acted in films like Higher Learning, Beautiful Girls, and Hitch, has been engaged in with the group over everything from creative differences to whether or not they deserved a producer credit on the film. Q-Tip even took to Twitter at one point to state that he doesn’t support the film.
Recently ATCQ conducted an extensive interview with MTV in which they took Rapaport to task for everything from not respecting their edit requests to not paying for their travel accomodations for the Sundance Film Festival screening to a damning email they mistakenly received where one of the movie’s producers says “we'll fuck them on everything else” when referring to the group. Given that Rapaport is known to be a huge Tribe fan, it was only right that Complex got him on the phone to explain his side of the story.
Interview By Toshitaka Kondo (@ToshitakaKondo)
You basically spoke to every key player for this documentary. Was there anyone that you didn’t get to interview that you wanted to?
The biggest person that I did not get to interview because she was so busy and we just missed each other in passing was Queen Latifah. I’ve known her for a while and obviously she knows the group and has a relationship with the group, and it was just a scheduling thing. It was definitely disappointing because she is the Queen and her presence is immense.
A humorous moment in the film was when Prince Paul talked about not being invited to be on the Midnight Marauders cover. You ever find out exactly why?
That's a good question. I don't know why he was not invited to the Midnight Marauders cover shoot. He did not give an answer or a reason why, he just did not make it on to the cover, which I felt was a funny little sidebar in the movie, ‘cause everybody was on that cover. He made light about it, but you have to ask Q-tip.
I know in the documentary the members of Tribe talk about how Jarobi was the spirit of ATCQ, but it’s still not really fully explained what he does.
From what I got from all the information and interviews that I've had, I think that, like Q-Tip said in the movie, Jarobi is the spirit of ATCQ. He grew up with them, and I know at one point he did do tracks for Low End Theory and then around the same time while they were making Low End Theory, he left the group, but he's always sort of been around.
I know he is still close with all of them, and you can tell that from the film. His relationship with Phife is really something special. They're like family, so I think at some point he was definitely gonna rap, I just think none of the stuff made it to albums and he had other things he wanted to do with his life. He has a career as a chef and I think that Jarobi was sort of reluctant with the idea of being a star.
Even though he left, it didn’t seem like it was beef, so why were his verses taken off The Low End Theory?
That's a Q-Tip question. I don't have a real answer as to why the verses were taken off. I think that when you are in a partnership with people that you are really truly friends with, it can be challenging, because when you mix business with personal, sometimes there can be little hiccups.
Do you have any idea what songs Jarobi actually had verses on? Did you get to hear any of them ever?
That is a good question. Phife says in the movie he had verses on things. I heard an outtake where a lot of people were on, I think it was “Rap Promoter.” A lot of people did make the eventual song, but Jarobi could flow and beatbox when beatboxing was an essential thing. If you are a Tribe fan and ask members of Tribe, Jarobi is A Tribe Called Quest.
In the documentary, one thing that I thought was interesting was how it doesn’t really go into how on Beats, Rhymes and Life all of a sudden Consequence was all over the album and J Dilla got brought into the production fold. Did they ever talk about any of that stuff?
They talked about Consequence and the J Dilla stuff. It was so sort of complicated and J Dilla meant so much to fans it was something that I ended up skimming over in the film because it felt like to go into Consequence and J Dilla and give it the time it deserves, you know J Dilla deserves his own movie. If it’s not a story about the four guys, a lot of stuff had to get cut out of the movie because there's so many different things.
Busta Ryhmes is in the movie, but I had a ten-minute sequence on Busta Rhymes and a six-minute sequence on Large Professor. I wanted to do more stuff on the Jungle Brothers, but at a certain point it’s like you have 90 minutes to tell the story and there's four guys and there's a lot of screen time I'm taking up. Definitely you have to make choices in the editing room to what is important to the story, or the story that I am trying to tell.
Could some of that stuff be on the DVD as extras?
Oh yeah, definitely, cause J Dilla and Large Professor were essential to Tribe. Consequence was important to Beats, Rhymes and Life, which I think is an underrated album. That Beats, Rhymes and Life period was definitely sort of the beginning of the end of the group. That will be for super Tribe heads, but there is a lot of stuff that we shot that exists. Consequence gave a great interview.
In the film we definitely see the tension between Phife and Q-Tip, especially when they almost get into a physical altercation backstage at a stop of Rock The Bells, but it’s never really explained why they broke up. What do you think happened from your perspective?
I think that the group broke up because from my perspective they created something with those first three albums that was like lightening in a bottle. It was so special and it captured the hearts of people that listened to it. It still does and I think going forward the business was changing. The first three albums were very sample-heavy so the rules and budgets for sampling got increasingly bigger so I think that was an issue.
I think that the group was getting more and more frustrated with their deal with the record label. I think that with Q-Tip and Phife, the group’s relationships had started to run its course. I think that it was kind of like a crime when someone is like, “I want to try to do something different. I want to do a solo album.” It’s looked at almost like you are cheating on a lover and Q-Tip is a tremendous artist and his sort of wanting to push his artistry, it wouldn't take long. Phife wanted to do a solo album and those guys have been friends since they were four years old. So for them, you're in this group, now you're stars, you're rich, and it was like who’s better? Who’s running the group? Who’s the man?
Those things came into play in the group and I think that it just ran its course. I feel that the one thing that I could appreciate about ATCQ in regards to the breakup is that they weren't trying to duplicate People's Instinctive Travels. You can never capture that again. They moved on and were always trying to evolve as artists so I think they were just like, “Let’s just leave it. We did this and this was great and it's time to move forward.” Of course as a fan you want more, but I think that their functional relationships within ATCQ became dysfunctional.
Click next to read why Rapaport thinks ATCQ doesn’t deserve producer credit for the movie
There’s a poignant scene in the movie where Dave from De La Soul basically says he’s glad that it’s Tribe’s last show because they’ve been fighting so much.
I fought for that scene and that comment from Dave from De La Soul to be in the cut and people on my team were like, “Why do you want this? The sound is bad.” De La Soul was as close to ATCQ as anybody is and Dave, that’s the only thing I have him in the movie saying and it was the most poignant... not poignant, but the truth.
That was the reality and I think he was speaking for everybody close to the group by saying, “You know what, if you’re not gonna do it and enjoy doing it, stop doing it.” I knew that that was gonna make any cut of the movie that I was gonna hand in.
At that moment at that show in Seattle, which was the last show of the tour, it did feel like that. Getting through that tour and being around it filming it, it was hard to be around. It was upsetting to be around and for somebody like Dave and the De La guys, it was definitely more upsetting to them than it was for me cause I was just a guy with the camera.
It didn’t just start in 2008, it’s been going on for a long time. So, I was very adamant about keeping that in the movie and I’m glad you picked up on it because it was like a truth dart when he said it. You see Pos’ reaction. His reaction is like, “Oh shit did he just say that?”
There’s another scene where Q-Tip is saying he produced the first three albums, but let the whole group get credit. Early on it seemed like the perception was Ali Shaheed Muhammad was producing everything.
Q-Tip definitely says a bunch of times, not only with myself, but in other interviews that he produced the first three albums. He makes it clear that he produced all the music. So, it is what it is.
There’s been some confusion about what exactly Nas’ role was in the making of this documentary.
Nas was involved. He was kind of just supporting me, supporting the film and overseeing it from a distance. There was not kind of an official involvement, it's kind of been misinterpreted.
When you say oversee someone do you mean that he was involved in edits or anything like that?
Nah, [Nas] hasn't even seen the finished cut. He was on tour with them in 2008 when I was shooting them, so he was just around. He has not seen the movie yet. I can’t wait for him to see it.
Were you and him working together on the film from the beginning?
I've talked to Q-Tip and mentioned doing a documentary about A Tribe Called Quest since they broke up in ‘98 because I always felt in hip-hop they were similar to the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and The Doors. I was always a big fan of those documentaries and Tribe meant that to me, so I stared talking just almost in jest in ‘99, 2000. I always just wanted the group to do more things because I was unsatisfied, and when they broke up, it was disappointing. It was heartbreaking for the fans.
So in 2006, they did a show at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles and it was the first time that I had seen them perform and right there after the show I said to them, “Yo somebody should do a documentary about A Tribe Called Quest.” I can’t remember if it was Q-Tip or Phife, but one of them said "You should do it.”
I got the idea then and it never really came together and then in 2008 they started touring again and I started thinking about doing it again and I ran into Nas and he was like, “That would be a great idea, we should work together on it.” That was sort of the whole Nas stuff. He wasn't a producer, he was just really supportive of me, which I really appreciate.
In a recent interview members of Tribe made it seem like initially they didn’t even know you’d be involved.
You talking about that little bullshit MTV interview they did? I can't say what their perception is, but I can tell you what the reality of it is, you know.
Q-Tip has spoken about not being happy about the timing of the trailer leaking to the Internet and the fact that it was titled Beats, Rhymes and Fights initially?
Yeah, I’ll tell you exactly what happened with that. A trailer that was made probably two months into shooting and we shot for two and a half years, got leaked from somebody that came forward and admitted that they stole it off a web browser. Beats, Rhymes and Fights was the original title that I thought would be good and Tribe said they didn’t like that title.
I think it became a little bit too scandalous and then it kind of made it seem like that’s what it was and I agree it wasn’t the best title for the movie. I think it’s a funny play on words. But I said, “Fine, no problem.” That trailer wound up getting stolen off the Internet. It wasn’t put out there by me. It was put out there literally by a hacker dude who we tracked down. We did a really good job of getting it taken off. None of my team put it up there.
When Q-Tip wants to make a documentary based on the making of this documentary he can make The Low End Smear Me and then when we got into all this controversy we can call it Beat, Rhymes and Lawsuits or People’s Instinctive Travels in the Past to the Courthouse.
One of the big complaints Tribe had was getting the second cut of the film back and not being listed as producers.
Yeah, well, producers usually produce something. Q-Tip in my opinion has gone out of his way to make this as difficult a process as possible. They never asked about being producers until the 29th hour when my final cut was handed in. Then they said, and this is the exact truth, "We won’t sign off on the final cut until we are given producer credits and our managers are given producer credits."
Now, my real opinion on why they shouldn’t be given producer credits is number one, they didn’t produce shit for the movie. Number two, why would you want to take a producer credit on something you didn’t produce? Number three, yes, it could potentially seem like a reality show or propaganda if you get a producer credit on something that is about you. I said, “If I keep this scene in there or that scene in there it’s a better story. It’s a better articulated, well-rounded story.” They said, “You’re gonna have to bite the bullet on this one. We don’t want that scene in there..”
There was a handful of scenes that they had problems with, but there’s really two scenes that I took out. Well there’s one scene that I took out that didn’t affect the story. It vilified Q-Tip more than he felt comfortable with... I don’t wanna say what the scene is, but if you’re a producer you should support the director and they didn’t support me. And, I’ll just the say that for the three of them. At the end of the day they didn’t support me and they’re still not supporting me.
Phife has been supportive. Phife never told me to take out anything. The reality of it is after I screened the rough, rugged, and raw cut for Jarobi, he turned to me and said, ‘Don’t change shit.’ When I screened Ali the rough cut his biggest thing was there's not enough him in the movie. That’s a fact. We sat down. We had coffee and talked about it and his biggest thing was there was not enough Ali Shaheed Muhammed in the movie.
Q-Tip had a lot of different thoughts and feelings and a lot of them were to improve the film. They weren’t just ego-driven. He gave me a lot of ideas and thoughts and some of which I agreed with and some of which I didn’t, but he definitely had a point of view on how to improve the film. But ultimately he asked me to remove certain things for personal reasons because he didn’t want to be portrayed in a bad way. And the reality is that I would never put out footage that would really portray Tip in a bad way. I respect Q-Tip. I’m not a bad, mean-spirited person.
I respect A Tribe Called Quest. I wouldn’t have made a movie about the group to defame them or defame him personally. Their music has meant a lot to me and I know how much their music has meant to the fans, but I told him, “What you’re thinking makes you look like an asshole, if you ask people who see the movie they won’t even be able to remember the details of the scene.”
That was my whole thing, it was like, “Yo, you guys are looking at it and voicing your opinion because you don’t understand all the shorthand and that day this happened and that day this happened. I need to explain this.” We’re not doing a Ken Burns 12-hour documentary on A Tribe Called Quest. You have to trust the audience. They’re not looking at it as detailed as you guys are and that was sort of my take on it.
They definitely busted my balls and are continuing to bust my balls. A lot of people have seen the movie at this point and there’s one out of maybe a 100 that ever said that any of them looked bad. Basically people have walked away saying, “I wish they could get along and make more music.” I’m just trying to make a movie that gave the group dignity, celebrates the group and I think at the end of the day I did that. It just shouldn’t be so much of a pain in my ass.
At one point during the MTV interview, Tribe claimed you only offered them $5,000 total to fly and lodge all of the Tribe members and their managers for the whole week and that’s why they didn’t attend The Sundance Film Festival.
That’s bullshit. We had tickets booked, flights booked and they didn’t go to Sundance because they didn’t want to go Sundance. Q-Tip didn’t want to go to Sundance because he didn’t wanna go to Sundance, period. Phife went to Sundance. Ali didn’t go to Sundance because he had a tour in Europe and that was months before so we knew he wasn’t coming to Sundance.
Look, it’s like you wanna be producers? Be producers. All the other producers flew themselves to Sundance. Your manager who wants a producer credit, she’s a producer too, now. I flew myself to Sundance. I put myself up and so did my editor and six or seven of the other producers who actually worked for two and a half years putting this movie together.
So you either wanna be a producer or you wanna be the talent. What do you want to be? I would have done anything to have them at Sundance and I would do anything to have them everywhere and all that $5,000 shit? Bullshit. Garbage.
The screening was on a Saturday. Q-Tip wanted to fly in Saturday at two pm, stay for the screening and leave that same night. He only wanted a hotel for one day so he could chill for a minute, go to the screening, do some press and bounce. He never even talked about staying there a week.
The wackest, most peculiar thing about that bullshit MTV interview they did was when they said, “We love the movie. We think it’s an amazing movie. We want people to go see it.” Well, if you want people to go see it what the fuck are you doing on MTV trying to disrespect me and the movie? You’re embarrassing and shitting on yourself by even going up there and doing that.
Here’s another piece of reality I wanted to tell you, they have the rights to the soundtrack to this movie. They have control over it. They can do what they want. There’s not gonna be a soundtrack because they can’t get their shit together enough to do a soundtrack and they chose not to do a soundtrack. And also, when you put out a documentary in theatres like this one on July 8, when you do one original song it can be submitted for an Oscar nomination.
I told them that Sony Pictures Classics would love nothing more than for A Tribe Called Quest to make one original song that could potentially be submitted for an Oscar nomination. What better way to cap off the documentary that you’re producing than to make one original song that’s submitted for an Oscar nomination. And, the chances of them making a great song are higher than not. That’s not gonna happen either and that’s all because of dysfunction within the group. Q-Tip said it’s not happening.
But also, before all that there was all kinds of, “Oh, I’m gonna do this” and “I’m with this,” and that didn’t happen either. And, “Oh, we’re big in France. Let’s go to Cannes film festival and do a show there.” If A Tribe Called Quest did a show in conjunction with this documentary they’d make more money than anybody who’s worked for the last two and half years making this film.
Everybody that I’ve gotten together has worked for nothing. No one’s made one cent. I’ve put my own money into this movie, getting it done. None of that has happened yet and the way things are going it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. And, it’s their loss because If they did a show, I have no stake in it and I’m comfortable if at the end of the day I have to promote the movie by myself. They did all the work. It’s about them. It’s not about me anyway.
Click next to read Rapaport's explanation of the infamous email sent to Q-Tip by accident
There was a controversial e-mail that Q-Tip read during the MTV interview from one of the producers of the movie saying, ‘"First off let's close the Billing Block and put it on the poster so they can't get on that. Then we'll fuck them on everything else."
Yeah, I’ll explain that to you too. Because on December 19 after my team, my editor, my producers, my VP had spent two and a half years putting this movie together they said, “We’ll sign off on the movie if we get producer credit and our managers get producer credit.” This is the first time it was ever brought up. I sent out an email saying, “This is why I don’t think you guys should be producers because of a, b, and c. I don’t think it puts the film in the best light.”
One of my other producers said, “Fuck them.. blah blah blah” what Q-Tip read in the e-mail and accidentally hit reply all. His sentiment was the same sentiment I had. “Fuck them! You didn’t produce this movie.” And that’s it and that’s what that was.
Well it doesn’t say “Fuck them” in the e-mail, it says, “Then we’ll fuck them on everything else.”
Yeah, we’ll fuck them on everything else in regards to them being producers. I mean, I can’t read his mind as what he meant by “Fuck them on everything else.” But, the bottom line is A Tribe Called Quest shares in 50% of all the profits of the movie. That’s a signed agreement so there was no fucking them on everything else. We have an agreement.
It’s signed by all four members of A Tribe Called Quest and the Beats, Rhymes and Fights LLC, which is my side. So, we all signed it. We agreed to it. Prior to the email thing Q-Tip had went on Twitter and said, “I don’t support the documentary.” He went on Elliott Wilson, that cornball’s show, and said, “Michael Rapaport is speeding. He’s a first-time director.” All kinds of things and then he back-peddled about saying, “I don’t support the movie.”
On that interview that’s when he anointed himself as a producer. He said that on live radio. That’s the first time the whole producer thing came about.
You had said you felt that Q-Tip was speaking for the group and in the MTV interview Ali said he was very upset about that because he said they all had edits that they wanted so it was a group thing. It was never a “Tip and you” thing.
Well, you know what, Phife is a very acceptable person. You should talk to Phife. Track down Phife and ask him what he thinks. Phife asked me to take one photograph out. He asked me to do it and then eventually said, “You know what? Keep it in.” Jarobi like I said, after he saw the screening, the rough, rugged, and raw shit said, “Do not change a thing.” Ali said I want more Ali Shaheed Muhammed and then Ali said he wanted one scene removed so his new girlfriend’s mom doesn’t see it. The most frustrating thing about it is everyone loves the movie and the group loves the movie. They said it in an interview, “We love the movie. You did a great job.” So, what’s the problem? You love it so much that you wanna have more ownership of it?
They were saying that their notes about making a more balanced portrayal of the dissension between Phife and Tip or the way the music was represented in the film weren’t taken into account by you.
Okay. I don’t care. I disagree and I’m the director. But, taking into account and doing what you are insisting I do are two different things. I took everything into account. Q-Tip is very, very smart. He’s very film savvy and film knowledgeable. I listened to all his thoughts. I’m not going to do everything that you asked me to do.
Some of his thoughts were corny. Some of his thoughts were really good. So, he had no bearing on what the final cut was in terms of the flow of the movie and all that stuff. It was really just about protecting his image. His whole thing was protecting his image. That’s why you can’t produce a documentary about yourself. You lose the perspective.
Well with all that’s happened now and all the back and forth, as a fan, has all this made it hard for you to listen to Tribe’s music?
Well obviously I appreciate the message way more than I get along with the messenger. The music will always be great. Will I ever do business with those guys again? Hell No! Not in any way, shape, or form.
It sounds like since you said you’ve been talking to them since 1999, you and Q-Tip had a relationship for a while before this?
Yeah, I’ve known Q-Tip for a while. I’ve known Q-Tip for like 12, 13 years. We’ve had dinners, hung out, had friends in common. We’re friendly.
So it most be really disappointing for it to turn into this then?
It’s disappointing because I know my intentions were and are very pure. I am doing a documentary about my favorite group and one of the things, the catalyst for making the movie is will there be more music? And why did you guys break up in the first place? This wasn’t a behind-the-scenes or making-of or DVD extra, I’m trying to make a movie that’s entertaining, fulfilling, and informative.
Those things are for real sort of geek fans, and all that stuff will be on DVDs, but at the end of the day it’s like my question throughout the whole movie is will A Tribe Called Quest make more music? And when I’m trying to answer those questions on film, the group is saying that “We want that scene out because we don’t like how we look.” I was willing to make compromises to protect them. Trust me, there is footage that exists that I never showed any of them that would blow their minds if they saw it and you know it’s gonna be buried away.
Footage that would blow their minds and not in a good way?
Yeah, you know people saying things about each other within the group. Ali saying certain things that he probably wouldn’t want Q-Tip to hear and this member saying things that this person and wouldn’t want you to know. People are real honest about stuff and they would be saying things and I would be going “Oh Shit!” But I know it would never make any version of any movie that I would show them because I wasn’t trying to do anything vindictive, I love the group.
Since everything started happening, obviously you speak with Phife because you were on the red carpet with him at Sundance, but have you spoken to anyone else from the group?
I spoke to Ali after his MTV interview. I have not seen the full thing, I just saw part one, it was kind of like a mini-series—but I spoke to him before he started saying that I was deceptive, and I spoke to him before I saw that stuff and I talked to Q-Tip through e-mails and text messages since the MTV interview.
So you guys are not on terrible terms because you guys are speaking still?
Our only reason for speaking at this point is about the movie. But I’m willing to like sweep all this shit under the rug cause inevitably it does not affect me. It does not affect my persona, I’m an actor. My persona is not as precious as A Tribe Called Quest’s persona. They’re sort of revered and there is such a mystic around them. I just don’t want them to play themselves out by trying to make me look bad.