Michael Rapaport on Controversial Hip-Hop Doc

Actor-director Michael Rapaport's new documentary on hip-hop greats A Tribe Called Quest might not be loved by the whole group, but he's proud of the story he told.


This article was originally published in February after the film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s premiering in theaters across the country July 2011.

Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is actor-director Michael Rapaport’s directorial debut, and it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 22 amid some controversy. Much of the public pettifoggery began when Tribe group member Q-Tip took to his Twitter timeline to express his opposition to the film. “I am not in support of the A Tribe Called Quest documentary,” he wrote. “The filmmaker should respect the band to the point of honoring the few requests that was made [about] the piece.”

Q-Tip later appeared on Elliot Wilson’s Sirius XM morning show on Shade 45 and clarified his earlier statement, saying, “Our goal is to let this [film] come out. ‘Cause it’s landmark and it’s great. But we’re not going to let it come out just any old way.”

Despite Q-Tip’s protests, group member Phife Dawg attended the premiere and participated in a Q&A session after the Sundance screening. In an interview, Rapaport told The Root that he never wanted “to make [Q-Tip] feel uncomfortable or [any of A Tribe Called Quest] uncomfortable,” but that he wanted to “tell the story in the most honest way and try to articulate what [he] was trying to articulate as the director.”

Rapaport, who noted that he was still in contact with Q-Tip despite their disagreement, also chatted with The Root about his love of hip-hop, how the film came about and what he hopes the band’s involvement with the film will be moving forward.

The Root: How does being from New York City affect the way you engage with hip-hop culture?

Michael Rapaport: My father was a program manager of a radio station in New York called WKTU Disco 92. That was in the ’70s. He started getting promotional copies of rap albums, so he brought them home to me, and that’s when I first started hearing hip-hop. So I was exposed to it just by these records my father would bring home to me: the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. And it’s been kind of the sound track to my whole life — not as much anymore, but definitely from [the age of] 10, all the way through being a young man.

TR: At what point during your acting career did you decide that directing was something you wanted to pursue?

MR: I’d say about 10 years ago, when I was, like, 30. I’d done a lot of work with a lot of great directors: Woody Allen, Spike Lee, John Singleton, Nick Gomez. I just started learning more about the medium, started asking more questions about filmmaking. And I started thinking [about] wanting to do more than just act.

To tie it into the Tribe film, I’ve known Q-Tip for a little bit. We’d see each other in New York, he knew I was an actor and I just loved him. He was a star. He was the Prince of New York. The first time I met Q-Tip was on the streets in New York in, like, ’93. I was on Sixth Avenue near Houston [Street], and I saw him. He was with some chick, some bad chick. ‘Cause Tip was always with some bad chick. Always.