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A Tribe Called Quest: The 'Beats' go on with new doc

A Tribe Called Quest

A Tribe Called Quest Photo Credit: Handout

Of all the seminal hip-hop groups to emerge from New York, few have left anything close to the indelible imprint of A Tribe Called Quest.

The rhyme masters from Jamaica, Queens, recorded five albums comprising hits such as "Can I Kick it" between 1985 and 1998, and they are today considered pioneers of the hip-hop/jazz fusion style practiced by the Roots and others.

Veteran actor Michael Rapaport stepped behind the camera to film ATCQ and tell its story when Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White tumultuously reunited in 2006.

amNewYork spoke with the 41-year-old Queens native about "Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest," his directorial debut, which hits theaters on Friday.

Why was making this movie important to you?
I grew up in New York City in the '70s and the '80s, and hip-hop became a part of my life when I was nine years old. ... Just like kids today, God bless their souls, they adore Justin Bieber and the other s---, I was fortunate enough to be listening to a kind of music that was evolving day to day, week to week. It was a little tiny thing that started in the Bronx, spread out and, 30-something years later, it's an international part of the everyday vernacular.

As a fan rather than a filmmaker, was it hard to watch the group members fight so much?
Seeing the dissension in the group, and seeing the struggle that the group had as a group and as friends, it was frustrating; it was sad. I identified with it completely. I've had my own share of fractured relationships throughout my life, and I've struggled with that many, many, many times.

What was it about A Tribe Called Quest that made them resonate?
They had this organic chemistry within the group. It all starts with Q-Tip and Phife. Their chemistry as MCs, their voices, the difference in their energy - they just sounded different. Musically, the use of the samples, the jazz, the soul, the way they put it together ... the music has so much emotion.

Other than Phife, the Tribe's members, especially Q-Tip, have criticized the film. What do you make of that?
They said they support the movie, and then all of a sudden they went on MTV and sort of said a mishmash of a bunch of things. ... I know that I feel great about the movie. I'm proud of the movie. Fans have responded to the movie; [Q-Tip's] colleagues and peers have responded to the movie. I never intended to cause this strife, but I've done everything I can to try and make it go away, and now I'm celebrating the fact that I completed a movie. ... I can't really do any more.

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