Gary Thompson: Rapaport's Quest: 'Rhymes' and rage

Posted: July 21, 2011

MICHAEL RAPAPORT has received some terrific reviews for his new documentary about A Tribe Called Quest, but not from all the guys in Tribe.

Phife Dawg has praised the film, "Beat Rhymes & Life," but Quest frontman Q-Tip has attacked it, and called Rapaport many unflattering names. Other members have boycotted screenings.

"At this point, dealing with the group and the stuff that happened with Q-Tip, I don't really give a s--- because I didn't make the movie for them," Rapaport said.

And do you know how you can tell how much he doesn't give a s---? He goes on to passionately address the issue for another 15 minutes, without stopping for air.

"And you know, it's stupid, because I came into this with the utmost respect for them as artists, and [they] don't want to give the same respect for me as an artist. [They] want me to make a watered-down version of reality, and we all know what the reality is at this point."

The reality is that "Beat Rhymes" just won the audience award at the L.A. Film festival, and is polling about 90 percent positive on aggregator review sites.

Why? Audiences and critics see something that hypersensitive band members do not - a fascinating inside look at creative men making music, with the friction and fallout that accompany worthwhile endeavors.

Q-Tip and some of the principals don't like having their feuds exposed. There is footage of a backstage breakup at a 2008 reunion event, but it's fairly standard pressures-of-the-road stuff, and won't curl the hair of rock or rap fans.

"The fans, they read some of these blogs and they're like . . . what the f--- are they doing in the movie that they don't want me to see?"

"Beat Rhymes & Life" starts with a tour flare-up, then backtracks to the band's formative years, its maturation and its status as an influential part of the Golden Age of hip-hop, identified in the movie as early- to mid-1990s. Many hip-hop stars testify to the group's influence and ability.

The band members discuss their music and each other.

"They were very open and honest individually when I approached them, when I shot," Rapaport said. "But then, the movie comes out, and you want to say I'm an a------ or I'm not being fair or I'm deceptive, and I'm like, this is b-------. All that stuff, it's all about controlling and manipulating and taking hostage of a movie. But I didn't make this movie for them. I made it about them."

As the movie piles up awards and raves, the band members have softened their stance. Most boycotted the "Beats" premiere at Sundance, but Ali Shaheed Muhammad recently showed up at the movie's Tribeca East Coast premiere.

Maybe this complements the theme of reconciliation shown in the film. "Beats Rhymes" shows how the members rallied around Phife Dawg when he got sick a few years ago, and the film depicts the feeling of enduring bonds among lifelong friends.

"The stereotypes of hip-hop artists are broken in this movie, much as their music broke stereotypes," Rapaport said. "Most of what you see in hip-hop is machismo. What you rarely see, even in [dramatic] films, are depictions of black men who are open and honest about what good friends they are, about how they really are brothers."

And brothers, he points out, sometimes fight.

"I think what they were concerned about is that they know their music is beloved and they are aware that their message is very positive. And they feel that people will look at them in this film and think they are full of s---. But people don't see it that way."

Send email to thompsg@phillynews.com.

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