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Rapaport Brings “Beats, Rhymes” to Life

17 Oct, 2011 By: Ashley Ratcliff

The first-time director talks the past, present and possible future of the celebrated hip-hop foursome, A Tribe Called Quest

For fans of hip-hop music, the disbanding of legendary group A Tribe Called Quest in 1998 represented the end of an era.

Actor Michael Rapaport (Higher Learning, “Boston Public”) set out to celebrate and explore the past, present and possible future of the New York quartet in his directorial debut, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest.

“I really wanted to document them they way that a lot of the great rock ‘n’ roll groups of the past and present had been documented because they mean that much to me and the fans,” Rapaport said.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment releases the documentary about Q-Tip (Kamaal Fareed), Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White Oct. 18 on DVD ($30.99) and Blu-ray Disc ($35.99).

A hip-hop enthusiast, Rapaport got hooked on A Tribe Called Quest because their music, for him, represented a new style — a jazz-infused sound with innovative word play.

“What made me fall in love with the music was the sound, the message, the samples, and there was just this vibe that they created that … had a sense of emotion,” he said. “I just think you were able to relate to them and what they were talking about.”

Some aficionados suggest hip-hop hasn’t been the same since Tribe released Beats, Rhymes & Life in 1996.

“Music as a whole has definitely changed — for the better and for worse,” Rapaport said. “But I think that that golden era of hip-hop is definitely something that we’ll never see again.”

Singing the praises of Tribe in the film are a slew of musicians who are just as passionate about the group as Rapaport, including Black Thought and Questlove of The Roots, The Beastie Boys, Pharrell, Pete Rock, Common, Busta Rhymes, De La Soul and others.

With about 100 hours of footage taped during two and a half years, several of the anecdotes cut from the final project are unveiled in featurettes, deleted scenes, and extended and alternate scenes. Rapaport also has a commentary.

“One of the easier parts of the process was getting people to talk about A Tribe Called Quest because they’ve influenced a lot of other artists,” Rapaport said. “It really became more of a challenge to cut down and figure out what’s best to use in the actual film.”

While other artists’ remembrances are positive, the group itself has been anything but that at times. Jarobi’s involvement in Tribe has been minimal since leaving the group after its first album. Phife’s struggle with Type-1 diabetes posed another set of challenges, and the members’ relationships deteriorated amid record business frustrations.

The group briefly reunited, beginning at the 2004 Rock the Bells festival, but tensions — highlighted in Beats, Rhymes & Life — soon brought Tribe as a collective to a halt.

Further turmoil ensued when the film was shown at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, with certain members vocally criticizing the film and subsequently demanding they be credited as producers of the documentary.

Still, that doesn’t take away from Rapaport’s sense of accomplishment with his first film as a director.

“At the end of the day, I didn’t make the movie for the group — I made the movie about the group,” Rapaport said. “I’m happy that I got an opportunity to do that …

“I’m still a fan of their music, and I wish them luck with the rest of their time together as A Tribe Called Quest,” he added.

Tribe’s last and ironically titled album, The Love Movement, was released in 1998, and the group still has one album left on their original 1989 contract with Jive Records. Rapaport (and several other commentators) remains doubtful that Tribe will successfully record another album.

“I don’t think that they get along, at the end of the day. I don’t think they could pull it together enough,” he said.

Rapaport added that should the group record again, “I think it would be received so well. I think it would be great for hip-hop and the fans, and I just think that it would be great for music in general.”

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