In an industry dominated by larger-than-life personalities, sometimes with egos to match, even a touch of false modesty is refreshing. But for first-time feature director Michael Rapaport — known for his acting turns in “True Romance” (1993) and TV’s “Boston Public” — humility is no act.
After a decade spent seeking the right opportunity to get behind the camera, the native New Yorker and self-proclaimed “hard-core fan” of the seminal hip-hop trio (and sometimes quartet) A Tribe Called Quest saw the stars align in 2008 when Tribe reunited for an abbreviated summer tour.
His mission? To document the band’s traveling road show and, after five albums released over 13 increasingly tumultuous years, pay tribute to its legacy. The result is “Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest,” a new documentary out Friday that’s both a celebration of the group’s heyday and a chronicle of the differences that tore it apart.
Rapaport acknowledged his desire to cast Tribe in as reverential a light as filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker (“Don’t Look Back”) and Martin Scorsese (“The Last Waltz”) once shone on Bob Dylan and The Band, respectively. His fear, he said, was letting down his heroes — and himself.
“I knew we had a great story, so the only failure in telling that story could be my own,” Rapaport said. “I didn’t want to make a bad movie or a glorified DVD extra. And I didn’t want to embarrass myself, much less the group.”
According to Tribe co-founder and Oakland resident Phife Dawg — born Malik Taylor — Rapaport can put his anxieties to rest.
“He aced that thing,” Phife, 40, said. “Like the bar exam or something.”
Unfortunately, not everyone agreed.
Unhappy with his portrayal in the film, unofficial Tribe frontman Q-Tip (born Kamaal Fareed) demanded edits of his own, along with producer credits for the band. Rapaport, defending his film’s integrity, reluctantly agreed to the latter, but refused to concede editing rights. Predictably, a Twitter war ensued.
Now a truce has been reached. Though Phife doesn’t try to sugarcoat the controversy, he offered a few words of explanation.
“Q-Tip guards the Tribe brand with his life,” Phife said. “He didn’t like the way he was depicted, but the funny thing is he came off just fine. And he hasn’t even seen the final product yet. It’s unfortunate, this misunderstanding, but I think when he sees the movie, he’ll wonder why he was trippin’ in the first place. This is a time to be celebrating.”