Joker turned filmmaker Michael Rapaport on A Tribe Called Quest, Twitter, streaming

michael rapaport juliette lewis red bull eats rhymes  life the travels of a tribe called quest
Debra Koffler/Sony

Michael Rapaport is not a comedian. He just talks like one.

The 46-year-old hip-hop head and seasoned actor has branched into directing since his 2011 documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life about legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. This April he steps behind the camera again to capture Academy Award winning actress Juliette Lewis’s pursuit of her music career after years of acting success in the upcoming documentary Hard Lovin’ Woman.

The title is taken from Lewis’s 2009 debut album Terra Incognita, and the documentary of the same name features her work with The Licks, which broke up in 2009 after six years of work together. The group reunited in 2015, the same year Rapaport began directing the documentary. The documentary will premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival on April 15 with a global release through streaming service Red Bull TV on April 23.

“There’s no money to be made in selling music anymore.”

Rapaport spoke with Digital Trends on Monday, a day before word spread that Malik Taylor, the Tribe Called Quest rapper known as Phife Dawg, had died at 45 from complications resulting from diabetes. Rapaport discussed the parallels between the music and film industries, his Twitter addiction, wanting to do a documentary on The Roots, and how he landed a spot on Woody Allen’s upcoming, first-ever TV show for Amazon.

Digital Trends: Hard Lovin’ Woman follows actress Juliette Lewis as she pursues her love of music. What made you want to document this?

Michael Rapaport: I’ve been friends with her for about 15 years. Maybe even longer than that. I was a fan of hers before I was a friend, and I’ve always admired her as an actress. I was always impressed by seeing her perform as a musician. I think she’s an iconic actress. I’ve been obsessed by the way she performs on stage. Her performances are incredible. They’re sort of breathtaking. It’s a real, true expression of who she is as a person and as an artist.

The music industry and the film industry have paralleled each other in their struggles to adapt to streaming. What parallels did you see between making it as a musician and making it as an actor?

The music business is a really interesting, scary place. I think it’s evolving for the better. The artists are figuring out ways to make money, in a nutshell. They’re getting a handle on the streaming business. I think, unfortunately, a lot of musicians are going to be touring for the rest of their lives to pay bills. There’s no money to be made in selling music anymore.

With film and television, the same thing is going on, but it’s so profitable. But they’re still working out the kinks with all the downloading and streaming. Binge watching instead of watching it weekly. It’s an exciting time and a little concerning to the people who make money off of it. The actors, the producers, the networks. I think everybody’s a little concerned about it. But I think people are trying to figure it out.

The documentary will premier at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 15 and will launch globally on Red Bull TV on April 23. Why go through Red Bull TV as opposed to theaters or traditional TV?

[Hard Lovin’ Woman] is a short, it’s only 30 minutes. So the best platform is going to be something like streaming. Red Bull has been real supportive and they’re branching out in expanding what they do with Red Bull TV. These opportunities to tell these stories with these musicians is always going to be something that has an audience, and I think, for me, it was a pleasure working with them. They were very open and trusting. That makes it easier to work with.

I’ve been a fan of your acting for years. But the first time I saw that you were venturing into directing was for the 2011 documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life about A Tribe Called Quest. How does that compare to filming Juliette Lewis?

The Tribe movie was my first documentary. With Tribe, it’s a group, so I was telling the story of four people. [With Hard Lovin’ Woman] it’s easier, because I’m only telling the story of one person. My perspective and her perspective. With Tribe, I learned a lot from that experience as a filmmaker, as a producer, and I think I’ve grown. I don’t get as nervous as I used to. I got very overwhelmed making the Tribe Called Quest movie. With experience, that goes away a little bit. A LITTLE bit. You still have pressure and I put pressure on myself. But I trust in myself and I trust in the process a bit more.

On Twitter you recently posted a picture of yourself with legendary rappers Black Thought from The Roots and Talib Kweli, and suggested the two do a collaboration. What are some future music documentaries you would love to do?

I would love to do something on The Roots. Every time I see them I bug them about it. I really would love to do something on them. I think they have a great story. They are very unique. They’ve been around a long time and I just feel like there’s a lot there. There’s plenty of people I would like to explore. Obviously, my love tends to be towards hip hop and soul. I would have loved to do something on Bobby Womack. I still love him, he passed away. Gamble and Huff is somebody I have always been curious about. There’s a handful of people I sort of think about doing something on. But The Roots would be something I’m definitely interested in.

“I would love to do [a documentary] on The Roots. Every time I see them I bug them about it.”

Today (March 21) is the 10th anniversary of Twitter. 

Today’s the 10th anniversary of Twitter? Hmm, I didn’t know that. I have to send out a tweet. Something creative.

When did you join Twitter and how has it changed your career?

I joined it about five years ago [January 2011]. I first joined it as a platform to help promote the Tribe Called Quest film, Beats, Rhymes & Life. Little did I know, it would become a f**king addiction of mine. I think it’s a great forum to express yourself. I think it’s a fun place. I think it’s a great forum to get news and information. Obviously, there’s the good and the bad of it. I think it’s very addictive, you have to really self-monitor yourself.

Some comedians try out jokes on Twitter to see which ones stick with an audience. Do you ever do that?

I’m not a comedian. I like to talk sh*t. I’m not a stand-up comedian. So, I really have no stake in it. I understand how it can be a forum to feel things out.

You’ve been around the music industry for decades and even have pictures with Tupac. What are some technologies that exist now, like Instagram, that you wish were around during that time?

It didn’t have to be Instagram or Twitter, but I wish I took more pictures. I wish I took more pictures when I was here or there, when I saw this person or that person. You know, you meet somebody the first time and you ask “can I take a picture?” There’s good and bad to it. I definitely think back to times in my life like “I wish I took a photo of that. I wish I videotaped that.” Then there’s also a lot of value in memories. I hate going to concerts and seeing people on their phone. I really don’t like that.

Some comedians ban cellphones at their shows. 

I totally get it. I would do the same thing.

If I could make a digital invention, I would make a thing where when you go into a venue your phone can’t work and you have to go outside to make it work. I get it, you’re performing and everyone has their phone up or is on their phone. But it’s very impersonal. Live performances are supposed to be totally personal.

News broke last week that you would be joining the cast of Woody Allen’s upcoming TV series for Amazon. It’s his first ever TV series. How did that come about?

It came about pretty easy and I’ve been fortunate to work with him twice for Mighty Aphrodite and Small Time Crooks. To be honest, it was a “where and when” situation. That’s all I said, where and when. Where is it and when do I show up.  I didn’t even ask any questions. He’s a real pleasure to work with. He creates an environment where you feel comfortable wanting to do your best. He’s just so iconic. So talented as a writer and director. Really can’t compare him to anybody in terms of his body of work. I’m looking forward to being a part of history. Everything he does is history.


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