Director (and hard working actor) Michael Rapaport premiered his documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest to a pumped audience at the Temple Theatre on Saturday night, followed by an emotional Q&A. Rapaport brought up Phife Dawg, a member of the pioneering hip-hop group, and shared the mic with him.
Rapaport made sure to acknowledge all the film’s producers, insisting he did not make the film alone. “It’s our film,” he pointed out. Rapaport decided to make the documentary after a Tribe concert in 2006. Backstage was slammed with big stars, he recalled, reminding him of old shows of Hendrix and Joplin and other notables mingling. He told a big Photo: Eric Tsouactor (he noted under his breath, for a laugh, that it was Leonardo DiCaprio) that he wanted to make a documentary about Tribe. Leo said, “You should do that.”
Rapaport said that for the first generation of hip-hop lovers like himself, A Tribe Called Quest are the Rolling Stones or the Beatles of their scene. He felt like his parents were divorcing when Tribe broke up. His first question while filming was whether they would make more music. “The life span [of hip-hop artists] is short,” Rapaport said. “You have great hip-hop artists who were killed. You have great hip-hop artists that went to jail. The art form is still evolving. I thought it was criminal that [Tribe] wouldn’t make music but they are all still functioning.”
Rapaport called the editing process “brutal.” When he got into the editing room, he thought, “Oh shit. You’re just a dumbass actor. What are you doing?” Overwhelmed with tons of concert footage from multiple cameras and many interviews with subjects who had tons of revealing stories, he decided to stick with the guys in the band and relied heavily on his editor Lenny Mesina, who was standing in the theatre at the premiere.
Asked about the current state of hip-hop, Phife Dawg says there is a generation gap. A Tribe Called Quest started out professionally in 1989. Current labels and radio stations let artists be lazy and not try new things. “We have to be creative,” and not just put out one hit and be happy. Someone else will come along next week and wipe all that out, if rappers don’t work hard on their longevity, he said.
Photo: Eric Tsou
“I want to let you guys know, I’m not that bad of a guy!” Phife noted. “It is real life, and I’m glad Mr. Rapaport was able to bring it to you in such a great way.”
Rapaport approached all the band members separately. Phife Dawg said he was caught off guard by the amount of attention Rapaport gave him. “I was thinking Behind the Music-ish or Driven… I love all those shows. I don’t mind being in Lil’ Wayne and Pink’s business, but for me to put Tribe’s business out there?” which got a big audience laugh. “We were in a funny place, forcing shows and stuff. I asked Mike, ‘How real can I keep it? It’s kind of messy right now.'” But all the other bands members had already agreed. Phife was on board. He knew there would be bumps in the road.
“But I’m so happy to be here,” Phife continued. “I just wish…” He had to stop and collect his emotions. “I wish the rest of them were here, man,” he said about his fellow band members. “Q-Tip has no idea how many people love him. When he was up there cracking jokes, saying ‘Yo, I almost pissed my pants,’ you guys were dying with laughter. He don’t see that. I just wish they were all here to witness how much love you guys showed this movie.” He thanked the labels and the fans that gave them a chance as well.
“I don’t mind getting all the love,” Phife said, as he was the only band member present. “But I love my dudes, everything we went through – good, bad, indifferent. We are 40 years of age. This is the time to reap the benefits and to enjoy – you know how many people would love to be in our place?”