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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Michael Rapaport moves behind the camera to chronicle hip-hop favorites A Tribe Called Quest

If you was to ask Michael Rapaport where he was from, he would simply reply and might say "I am from Brownsville, Brooklyn." Read this article written by Jacob E. Osterhout as he talks about Michael Rapaport's role in his new documentary talking the break up of his favorite Hip Hop group, A Tribe Called Quest.

Michael Rapaport's 'Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest' just opened.
(Courtesy of Jacob E. Osterhout of the NY Daily News)

In a perfect world, Michael Rapaport would bike to Astoria every day to eat an overstuffed sandwich from Sal, Kris & Charlie's Deli.

But the world isn't perfect.

In fact, on this particularly sunny New York day, the 41-year-old actor — his films include and Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite" and "Small Time Crooks" — has such a bad stomachache, he doesn't even bother to unwrap his sandwich.

Instead, he downs two ginger ales and stares longingly at his order — a sandwich full of five meats, three cheeses, four veggies, dressing, mustard and mayo, aptly named "The Bomb."

"I'm not hungry right now, but I promise you that by the end of the day that sandwich will be eaten," he says with a thick New York accent. "It's perfection. It would be criminal to let the best sandwich in this city go to waste."

Just as it would have been criminal to keep Rapaport's directorial debut, "Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest," from being released on the big screen, which almost happened.

The film, which opened Friday, chronicles the 1998 breakup of one of Rapaport's favorite hip-hop groups, Queens-based A Tribe Called Quest. Despite the director's adoration of his subject, the leader of A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip, refused to approve the film before its debut because of creative differences.

"It was brutal making this documentary," says Rapaport. "I wouldn't change it for anything but it took everything out of me. I always knew, though, that I was going to finish making the movie, and once we got accepted to Sundance, there was no stopping me from screening the film there, even if I had to do it out of the trunk of my car."

Rapaport learned this get-it-done-at-all-costs attitude and developed his love of hip hop growing up on the upper East Side during the '80s.

"I got kicked out of a lot of schools when I was a kid because I was so disruptive," he says. "All I cared about was basketball, girls, sleeping and hip hop. I would travel out to the Howard Projects in Brownsville to play ball with my best friend and I was exposed to things I never would have experienced on the East Side of Manhattan."

He would also venture downtown to check out the hip-hop shows, even as a teenager.

"I remember being in Latin Quarters, that club where Plaxico shot himself, and this guy next to me pulled a sword out of his jacket," says Rapaport. "So I decided to get out of there, but I had checked my coat. Big mistake. As I'm waiting for my coat, someone gets out of a car and fires four gunshots into the club. I dove into the corner and just curled up into the fetal position."

Eventually, Rapaport moved to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career, and his voice caught people's attention.

"Everyone would bring up my accent and I would get defensive," he says. "But I embraced it because that's what New Yorkers do. We say, 'f— you,' and keep talking like we talk."

Now a father of two, Rapaport is most uncomfortable when talking about his sons living in California.

"They think they're New Yorkers but they were born and raised in Los Angeles," he says. "But they understand the importance of New York City in their lives and they know what this place means to me."

But what exactly does New York mean to Rapaport?

He takes a last swig from his bottle of ginger ale and extends his arms.

"New York is about all sorts of regular people living together, like here in Astoria," he says. "Man, I miss walking around this city and just discovering the day as it goes along. Somewhere out in Queens or the Bronx or Brooklyn there's the next A Tribe Called Quest, who will represent New York the way they did.

"And, who knows? Maybe you'll be able to direct the documentary on them someday."

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