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.


When [Tribe] broke up in ’98, I said, “Someone needs to do a documentary on A Tribe Called Quest.” So when they did a show in 2006, they hadn’t performed in a while, and it was just a great show. I was backstage, and there are all these actors backstage. Everybody’s waiting for them to come out, and I said it at that moment: “I want to do a documentary on A Tribe Called Quest.” I said it to Leonardo DiCaprio, and he was like, “You should do it.”

TR: What were some of the major challenges you came up against when you were making your documentary?

MR: The editing was the biggest artistic challenge, the scariest part. We shot so much footage, and when you accumulate it all, it’s like, “All right, now you’re a director, big shot.” That was frightening because there’s so many different ways to tell the story, and what I was imagining would be the story, some of that was in there and wound up in the final cut.

But all this other interpersonal stuff that I think separates the movie from being just a “behind the scenes” or “how they did it” kind of doc, for me, was gold. But then I was like, how do you interweave everything? How do you tell the whole story? For the hard-core fans, who you can have shorthand with, but then also my mom, who just knows “Can I Kick It?” I had to try to integrate all that stuff, because the one thing about Tribe music, the word that was used a lot by different people I interviewed, was “inclusiveness.”

TR: Do you think any of Q-Tip’s concerns about the finished documentary come from the limited portion on J Dilla (famed producer and friend of Q-Tip who died in 2006) in the final cut?

MR: It wasn’t the Dilla stuff. I don’t think anybody, including myself, thought the movie was going to be as revealing and as emotional as it was. And I think [Q-Tip’s] hesitation was based on that. I know he loves the movie. And this Sundance bump in the road was disappointing, but I love [the group].

Going forward, I think we’re all going to be on the same page. The only thing that was disappointing was they weren’t all here [at Sundance]. But there’s going to be the next film festival and the next premiere, and I can pretty much guarantee they’ll be here, be at the next one.

You know, [Q-Tip is] a perfectionist … so imagine what I’m dealing with. It was kind of like, “Yo! This is the f—in’ movie. I’m directing the movie about you guys, but I’m directing it.” And that’s really what it got down to. Nobody is going to be totally comfortable with a documentary about themselves.

TR: It’s like The Black Book, with Jay-Z and Dream Hampton. She worked for years on his autobiography, only for him to see it and decide not to release it.

MR: Exactly! But it’s the same f—in’ thing, you know? The Rolling Stones pulled out of [a backstage documentary] that the photographer Robert Frank did. If someone was making a documentary about me, I’d feel the same way Q-Tip felt and the way all the guys felt. He’s the one that’s gotten the [press], but they were all kind of freaked out and concerned and protective. I think they were like, “People are going to think this. Or people are going to see that.”

At the end of the day — and this is something I’m proud of about the movie — you walk away saying, “I want to go get The Low End Theory and listen to that sh–.”

Jef Tate, a contributor to The Root, is editor-in-chief of Words. Beats. Life: The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture.

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