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.