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