Q&A: Michael Rapaport’s Quest for “Beats, Rhymes & Life”

Q&A: Michael Rapaport’s Quest for “Beats, Rhymes & Life”

The filmmaker discusses the movie, the drama and the film you won’t be seeing in theaters.

Published July 5, 2011

When actor turned director Michael Rapaport, a self-professed longtime A Tribe Called Quest fan, set out to make a documentary on the prolific hip hop group, the result, Beats Life & Rhymes, was supposed to be the perfect cinematic love letter to his favorite group. But what has erupted in the press since the film has been praised everywhere from Sundance to Tribeca to the Los Angeles Film Festivals has been a war of words between Q-Tip and Rapaport via Twitter, MTV and the press over the film’s content, overall scope and final cuts.


BET.com caught up with Rapaport to discuss what went wrong, his relationship with Q-Tip and some of the scenes you won’t be seeing when the movie opens.



After seeing the film, I thought you did an entertaining and well-balanced job of painting a vivid portrait of Q-Tip, Phife, Jarobi and Ali, all while charting the group’s rise to fame and the dissention within the quartet. So why don't you think Q-Tip is supporting the movie?

I honestly have no idea why Q-Tip [is not supporting this movie]. I don’t care. I’m not sticking out my hand anymore. I will always respect him, I will always respect ATCQ and there’s nothing defaming or embarrassing or mean-spirited about this movie. And I kept to that throughout all the bullsh-- that I’ve dealt with. My intentions have been pure.



Last year I saw an early trailer of the film with the working title Beats Rhymes & Fights that kind of hyped some of the dissention between Q-Tip and Phife that you caught on film. Did that have something to do with Q-Tip’s initial prejudice against the documentary?

No not at all. That was the original title I presented to the band but they didn’t like it. And that was the end of it. It wasn’t any big deal. That trailer was made five months into shooting the film but was leaked and pirated. It was only made for us filmmakers to show to potential investors.



But then there was that infamous email one of your producers’ accidently cc’ed Q-Tip on where a member of your team talked about “clos[ing] the billing block [for credits]” and “f---[ing] them [ATCQ] on everything else.”

That [previous film title] compounded with the email from the producer didn’t create Q-Tip’s ill will. Things went awry when Q-Tip saw the movie. And he told me this to my face when he saw the movie, “I don’t have a problem with you; I have a problem with what them dudes [the members of ATCQ]  said. You did a great job Mike.” He said that to me at a screening with Consequence, some of his friends and a handful of other people. That’s exactly what he told me at a rough cut of the film.


I also heard that Q-Tip was unhappy with the film because there were cuts that he wanted that were not made. Which scenes did he want cut out?

Q-Tip felt like the film was unbalanced and he felt that it should be more about the music. I felt there was enough stuff about the music and I wasn’t making ‘a how they did the music’ film. That’s not a movie, that’s a DVD extra. But there’s one scene that Q-Tip wanted cut out and it’s not in the movie. He felt it made him look like piece of sh__, but it was unedited and uncontrived.  And I’ll tell you what it is if you put it in your article.



Sure, do tell. If you’re sharing, I’m puttting it in.

There is a scene in the rough cut of the movie when Jarobi says to Phife the day Phife is having surgery, “Did you hear from Q-Tip?” And Phife said, “Nope. I haven’t heard from him.” And Jarobi says on camera, “I hung up the phone, I called Q-Tip and said, 'You need to call that dude, regardless of what you guys are going thru because if something happens you’re gonna regret it for the rest of your life.'” And that’s the exact scene he wanted out of the movie.



I guess it will make more sense to folks after they’ve seen the film, but wow, that kind of changes the emotion of that scene.

It makes you go, “Damn.” But I didn’t mind taking the scene out because it didn’t push the story along. And essentially Q-Tip was right because having that scene out saves his ass. And it makes for a better movie. So that scene got taken out and that’s the scene he had the most problem with. Q-Tip is flawed just like I’m flawed, like Phife is flawed. None of us are perfect.



Didn’t you make other cuts to the film that you never discussed with the group?

The tenuous relationship that’s articulated in the film, there’s a lot more of that and I never showed Q-Tip or any of them. It was never my intention to make him feel uncomfortable or humiliate him. Nor was I making this to be any kind of smear thing. And that’s why the film coming out in theaters didn’t do that.   But that stuff was shot and there are lots of different people who had lots of different thoughts. And those comments by people very close to him do exist. A lot of people were very candid with me about a lot of different things. Mike G, Africa from The Jungle Brothers, Dres from Black Sheep, De La Soul every single person has their opinion about that time, Native Tongues, dealing with A Tribe Called Quest and all that stuff. But I didn’t indulge it.



So are those scenes eventually going to end up as extras on the DVD of the film?

Some of it we may put on a DVD but not out of spite. Stuff that you can see why it got cut out and is informative. But stuff that was below the belt? When I was getting it, was like “Damn that’s crazy, I’m not putting this in the film.” There was no way because I didn’t want that stuff in the movie. I made the movie out of love; A Tribe Called Quest is love.



Maybe when the group agreed to a documentary they envisioned it being a different film than having someone document the ups and downs and good and bad days of their lives.

I don’t think that anyone of us expected the movie to be as emotionally charged as it was. A lot of those scenes were just me filming and were not by choice or design. I think ATCQ thought it would be an overview of the music, the history and the golden era of hip-hop. So instinctively I could tell [shooting the documentary] was going to be more complicated than I had imagined on all different levels.



Well let’s bring it back to the version of the film you wanted to make and that’s coming out in theaters. What did you learn about the group as a fan that you didn’t know before making this movie?

I didn’t know that Q-Tip made all the music for the first three albums, and that he produced the music. And I didn’t know the nature and length of time that Q-Tip and Phife have known each other. I didn’t know they knew each other since they were two years old. I didn’t realize they had that history and it was as intense relationship as it was.



It's been widely reported that Q-Tip actually likes the movie (that’s what he told you and what he also told Phife) and has encouraged fans to see it. So can’t this creative riff be mended? It’s a great documentary and all is well.  Isn’t this other stuff much ado about nothing at this point?

Q-Tip hasn’t seen the movie with an audience not once; he hasn’t been to any of the screenings. I would want to try to talk things through with him. I’m open to that. But I think that this business relationship we have that’s based on something that’s very personal to him got messy. It’s been frustrating. I haven’t spoken to him or talked to him in awhile.  But I’ve reached out and I’ve tried to mend my relationship with him and I’m sort of done seeking that out. I'm a parent, I’ve got kids and I’ve got a career. I don’t have enough energy or time for that. But I really wish for his own piece of mind that he would see this with a audience so he'll see what the fans think. They love the movie and he comes off great.



Beats, Rhymes & Life opens in limited release on July 8th.



(Photo: Valerie Macon/ Getty)

Written by Ronke Idowu Reeves


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