Rapaport and Phife Dawg
Actor Michael Rapaport, whose face you might recognize from TV shows like Friends, Boston Public, and Prison Break (and whose tough-guy drawl your kids might know from video games like Grand Theft Auto and Scarface: The World is Yours), recalls with infectious enthusiasm the first time he heard A Tribe Called Quest. "It was on the radio in '87 or '88. I heard [front man] Q-Tip on the Jungle Brothers song promo, and I was like, "Oh shit, that's A Tribe Called Quest!....The flow was so playful and adolescent."
Rapaport, already a hip-hop fan, was an instant convert. He began following the group (hereafter abbreviated ATCQ) almost religiously as it took off over the next decade before disbanding in 1998. In 2008, presented with the chance to direct a documentary about the group, Rapaport leaped. The compelling result, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, which opens in select theaters July 8, is part homage to Rapaport's musical heroes and part dissection of the group's tumultuous dynamics.
But things got messy this past December, after the band received a copy of the final cut and Q-Tip tweeted: "I am not in support of the a tribe called quest documentary." Of Tribe's four members, only Phife Dawg showed up for the film's January premiere at Sundance. In March, the other three—Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi White—went on MTV to voice their displeasure over Rapaport's refusal to grant them producer credits and his disregard of their editorial input. For all the drama, Rapaport seemed nothing but upbeat as we sat down in a San Francisco hotel conference room to talk about growing up hip-hop, the rift with Q-Tip, and the type of music he won't let his kids listen to.
Mother Jones: Up until this point, you've only acted. What made you want to try your hand at directing?