July 7, 2011
Let's make Phife Dawg some money
I can tell you exactly what I'll be doing tomorrow when the office closes: heading to 42nd St to watch Michael Rapaport's A Tribe Called Quest documentary Beats Rhymes & Life [official site]. I bet a lot of other people are going to do that, too, for the following reasons: it's the maybe the only feature-length documentary about a single hip-hop group; it's about one of the greatest groups ever; and the drama surrounding the movie and the group's vocal lack of support for it have just about eclipsed the movie itself.
The arguing about the movie seems to be mostly over at this point, especially since both Phife Dawg and Ali Shaheed Muhammad attended the screening at Tribeca and Ali said he was "representing Q-Tip" and that they were all happy with the finished version. Good thing for director Michael Rapaport, the world's biggest Tribe fan, who at times sounded like he was coming unhinged trying to get this movie out. In a letter to Landmark Theatres, he writes, "I didn't realize the movie was going to be as interpersonal as it turned out!" which I think is code for "I love these guys, but working with them has been a total f'ing nightmare!"
Here's what I think the drama was really about: 1) money and 2) Q-Tip's ego.
First, the money. Michael Rapaport initially promised the band 50% of net profits, which sounds pretty good, but then Q-Tip wanted the band to be credited as producers, too. Then some idiot producer, in a classic example of a cc screw-up, sent an email suggesting that they rush the movie poster into print without the band listed as producers, "then we'll fuck them on everything else." And Q-Tip was copied on it. So they freaked out (understandably), Michael Rapaport relented, and they got their producer credit (see full credits here.) Plus, drama and ticket sales have a dependably direct relationship.
Second, Q-Tip. I don't have any insider knowledge of the dynamics of the band members, but I think Q-Tip and Phife Dawg had a relationship reminiscent of other great two-headed groups that ultimately blew apart. Lennon-McCartney. Strummer-Jones. André-Big Boi. A tactfully written Slate piece on the movie describes the basis of their rift as "the simple fact that Q-Tip has always been the group's star despite Phife's abundant talent."
Here's my prediction about how the two of them come off in the movie: Q-Tip will seem like a consummate front man, and a little bit of an egomaniac who needs to have total control over his image, and Phife will seem like a funny, beleaguered, sympathetic guy who's been through hell. He really has had it rough: Phife has diabetes and apparently goes through a lot of medical difficulties in the movie. The band's 2008 reunion tour largely happened to help him pay his medical bills.
So let's get him some cash money! Maybe he's never had a cavity, but Phife needs his dialysis.
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