Hip-Hop Junkie: Actor Michael Rapaport Wants to Film a Documentary on The Roots
Michael Rapaport remembers the first time he ever heard about Tupac Shakur—and it wasn't on the radio or the big screen.
“I was friends with Jada Pinkett before [Tupac] even put out any music,” the actor tells XXL. “And she kept telling me, ‘My friend Tupac, he's gonna be a star. He's gonna rap and he's gonna be an actor.' At the time, no one had done that. And I was like, ‘Get the fuck outta here... What the fuck is a Tupac?’ And then obviously he came out with Digital Underground and the rest is history.”
A hip-hop fanatic, Rapaport quickly became a fan of 'Pac's. And today, the actor who starred in the 1995 film Higher Learning opposite Ice Cube and Busta Rhymes has taken it upon himself to serve as a vocal guardian of the artform and its history. Last Wednesday (March 7), Rapaport launched into one of his now-signature social media rants against Lil Xan after the rap neophyte became the latest artist to express disinterest in Tupac Shakur (he called the legend's music "boring").
"Tupac is more interesting than anything this fuckin' kid will ever accomplish in his life," Rapaport says. "It's like, these guys have taken the four main things of hip-hop—graffiti, breakdancing, DJ and rapping—they're not interested in any of them."
Coming of age in New York City in the 1980s, Rapaport was raised on hip-hop in its inception, witnessing pioneers like KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane and Rakim as they built their legacies. He'd later document the music himself when directed the 2011 documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. And these days, he continues to discuss some of his favorite people, places and things that hip-hop has to offer on his I Am Rapaport stereo podcast.
Rapaport phoned XXL from the California set of Netflix's Atypical to address new school rappers disrespecting hip-hop icons, recall his fondest Tupac memories and hint at the next legendary hip-hop group he may capture in a documentary.
XXL: What made you come to Tupac's defense after Lil Xan called his music boring?
Michael Rapaport: I didn't need to defend Tupac from Lil Xan. Obviously Tupac's work and everything that he's accomplished and what he means to people doesn't need defending. The thing about Lil Xan that bothered me is that, only in hip-hop is that kind of talk accepted. You would never hear Cam Newton saying, "I never watched Joe Montana." You would never hear Lonzo Ball saying something like, "Well, I've heard of Magic Johnson, but his game wasn't interesting." You would never hear a young jazz pianist say, "Well, Miles Davis..." You wouldn't hear that in any genre—art or sports. But in hip-hop you have these young, zero-talented... they might have a cool look and have garnered a lot of Instagram followers by doing dumb shit and have their face tattoos and all this bullshit, but have literally zero talent.
I believe that's why—the mumble rap thing—the reason why they're mumbling is because they're not saying anything. Kendrick Lamar doesn't mumble. J. Cole doesn't mumble. The young rappers that have something to say—they don't mumble. The reason why these fuckin' guys mumble is because they're trying to hide the fact that what they're saying is trash.
When you hear these kids saying, "I've never listened to a Wu-Tang record," or "I've never heard Biggie," that's not something to be proud of. That's nothing to brag about. That's something you should keep to your fuckin' self. People have said to me, "Well, [Xan is] entitled to his opinion," and I'm entitled to my opinion about his fuckin' opinion.
And it's not like I wish any harm—I know he's a kid. But I'm an adult, and that's the way the world works. The adults are supposed to educate the kids, and the Waka Flockas and everybody who spoke out about the Lil Xan thing, that's what we're supposed to do. You are a fuckin' kid, and you obviously don’t know what the fuck your talking about. In terms of protecting the integrity of this music, it bothered me and that was my reaction.
To play devil's advocate, there are surely older music fans who didn't care for Tupac's music either.
I don't understand how you can not like his music. There's such a huge collection—there's something for everybody. You know what I mean? It might not be your favorite, but he didn't even say he didn't like it; [he said it] was uninteresting. If you don't like the music, it's very much interesting, at least.
If the world came to an end, 300 years from now, when they pick up music like Tupac, Gang Starr, fuckin' James Brown, it'll need no explanation. The shit will be funky. If the next version of cavemen re-discover the true blue hip-hop, the true blue funk and the essence of everything that was derived from hip-hop, there will need no explanation. That's a fact. You put James Brown on 300 years, your head's gonna bob. These kids have a false sense of what's popping and what's not popping. I don't give a fuck that you've got a chain that fuckin' you know, spins and twirls—who gives a fuck? You're not dope. You fuckin' scribble scrabble tattoos all over your fuckin' face—you look ridiculous.
You made an appearance in Poetic Justice. Did you interact with Tupac at all on set?
I met Tupac a bunch of times. My little scene in Poetic Justice was with him. I spent the afternoon shooting that. I met him passing a few times. Always cool. I was a fan of his music, but when I saw him in Juice, I was really, really impressed. I thought his performance was like Robert De Niro in Mean Streets or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. I was like, "This guy is really fuckin' good."
The time I spent around him, it wasn't a lot but I was just always a huge fan of his and I was very impressed with the way he talked publicly, the way he did his interviews. He talked shit—I was inspired by that.
It was devastating to lose him so fuckin' young. Him and Biggie. I don't have to explain what he meant. But I got a couple of pictures with him that I cherish. I remember the moments, I remember wanting to get the picture with him. Even though we were peers working together, I knew he was special. I think everybody knew. There's just some people that just have it—Leonardo DiCaprio, Quentin Tarantino. He had electricity about him.
It's dope to hear that Tupac was looked at as sort of an icon even before he died.
I was right there when Snoop Dogg met Tupac—it was the wrap party for the movie Poetic Justice. I just happened to be there and they were battling a little bit. It’s just one of those things, while you’re seeing it, you know you’re seeing something interesting, because Snoop had just come out and Tupac was in the middle of his run. And it was just something I never forgot.
They wind up meeting, clicking and, Tupac rolled Snoop his first joint that same night, which I didn’t see. But there’s also a picture that same night—a picture of me, Tupac, Ice Cube and John Singleton. I’m on the left side of the picture. Originally, the three of them were supposed to take a picture, but I’m like, “I’m getting in this muthafuckin picture.” I'm right to Tupac’s left—I just I knew he was special.
What was your favorite Tupac song?
That’s tough. One of my favorite Tupac songs is “Pain,” which was only on the Above The Rim soundtrack—I believe it was only on cassette. I love that song. It’s hard to find. It’s not on any of the downloading services. He says a lyric on ["Str8 Ballin'"]: “You fuckin’ with the realest muthafucka ever born.” And it was always something about that lyric that spoke to me. When I was young and heavy into my shit talk... that shit got me hyped up.
Who were your favorite rappers growing up?
KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim—those are my first three favorites. Obviously Sugar Hill Gang. “Rapper’s Delight” was a game changer. Just-Ice, Roxanne Shante and Biz Markie—the whole Juice Crew. Kool G Rap was big. I grew up in New York in a time where it was evolving and changing every fuckin’ week on the radio and in the streets. I got a front row seat to some good moments, and it informed who I am today.
Who are younger rappers that you think are killing it today?
J. Cole is really good. Kendrick Lamar is really good. You know who I love? Young M.A. I just had her on my I Am Rapaport Podcast. I love, love, love everything about her: her flow, the way she rhymes offbeat. In this day and age of all this women’s movement and empowerment, this is a girl who’s really living it and doing it and not preaching. When we look back at 2018 culturally, she will be one of the first people in this women’s movement that is looked upon as a game-changing personality and artist. I wish her so much success.
She’s been kind of quiet, musically. Do you think she'll release a new project this year?
She will. She’s careful with her words. When she rhymes, she cares about her words. And like a real true artist, if you’re not just mumbling through words and you care about every word, it’s gonna take a little bit longer. I think that’s what’s up with her—she cares about what the fuck she’s doing and I think she’s gonna live up to the hype and expectations.
You directed the 2011 documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. Are you ever going to make another rap documentary?
The Tribe doc was very challenging. Obviously, I’m so proud of it, with the passing of Phife. We had our bumps in the road making it, but I love those guys. I love Ali, I love Q-Tip and I love Jarobi, and I’m glad that we got it done, if for nothing else, to share the legacy of the group.
I would love to do another documentary. I think there should be more of them. I don’t have any plans. Making a documentary has to come from an organic place. You have to be compelled to do it. There’s so many great stories, so many groups that could be explored. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious 5. A Geto Boys documentary would be sick because their whole culture—that Houston stuff, that time in the '80s—hasn’t been explored. And they were so groundbreaking. I would do it if everything lined up. I have a vision to do a documentary about The Roots. I’ve lightly discussed that with those guys.
You’ve spoken with The Roots about making a documentary?
Yeah, I’ve had conversations [with] Questlove, I know I’ve said it to Black Thought. It’s just a matter of... they’re a moving entity. They’re busy. I tend to get busy. We’d just have to lock and load and just say, “We’re doing it.” Then start. When you’re making a documentary, you cant really think it through too much—you’re going to get overwhelmed by the bigness of it. You just gotta be like, “You down? Let’s go.”
If you could collab with any rappers on a dream track, who would be on it?
There’s so many, man. I’d like to get a Premier beat and get Busta Rhymes, KRS-One, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Andre 3000, Big Daddy Kane, Scarface, Chuck D. I have a dream—I would love to hear a song with KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane and Rakim [and] call it “Three Kings." That’s my dream song, the three of them over something so fuckin’ dope. The obligatory top five list changes, but those three are always on my list.
See New Music Releases for March 2018