Stretch & Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives
Hip hop was something you lived in the Nineties. And then you move on to make a documentary about it.
KRS-ONE once said “Rap is something you Do, Hip Hop is something you Live.” I’ve always understood that as: the whole culture of Hip Hop is everywhere, in the way we dress, talk, dance, drink, eat, in movies, music, art, even in politics. Along with Graffiti, DJing and Breakdancing, Rap or emceeing is one of the pillars of this hip-hop culture - yet on the other hand, it’s the most important commercially viable aspect of hip hop, the one thing the corporate world could sell to consumers as a product. Of course, giving the nature of the corporate beast, every aspect of hip hop is now subject to a Garage Sale, and the success of an hip hop artist is often defined by how many units he/she sold. There’s always been a fine line between selling out and getting your shine on, and that dichotomy has forever (foreva-eva?) been present in hip hop, with artists questioning or glorifying the material wealth they made thanks to their craft. The House of Hip Hop was built with many different bricks: for every underground rapper that released one classic 12inch and then went back to his day-job, there’s a Puffy shamelessly building an empire on street beats with sugar-coated rhymes (but who still has Biggie on his team). Two sides of the same coin it is, then.
That being said, you can easily sell and market a rap (in song or album format), but what about a wild freestyle session recorded on a crummy cassette tape? Maybe the rap song is total commercial crap doodoo, and the badly recorded freestyle an important piece of hip hop history — so are they both genuine expressions of hip hop, or what? And more importantly, shouldn’t we try to preserve some of that cultural heritage for future generations?
In many heads’ humble opinions, hip hop was at its peak in the mid-nineties (’93-’94!), yet it’s still quite rare - especially given the enormous global effect of this little subculture created somewhere in the ghetto’s of New York and beyond - to find well-researched, historical documents that pay homage to that particular period. A time when the music was at its apex and the styles, beats and rhymes were still so Fresh you could look over your shoulder to see where they were coming from. God knows I’m still waiting on that “Midnight Marauders” Reissue with some extra liner notes!
But now, praise the Gawds, there’s “Radio That Changed Lives”, the documentary. From the early Nineties onwards, Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia invited the crème de la crème of the hip hop underground (Nas, Biggie, Wu-Tang and Big Pun, but also more “obscure” MC’s such as Jay-Z, Eminem, Fat Joe or The Fugees) to their weekly radioshow, “The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show”. Some of their guests went on to become superstars, legends, Gods. All of them had to have skillz or they wouldn’t get passed the downstairs lobby. And somehow most of them checked in their ego at the door and didn’t mind being poked at for fun.
On October 23rd, All Eyes On brought Stretch & Bobbito to Rotterdam’s HipHopHuis/BIRD! for the Dutch premiere of the documentary “Radio That Changed Lives” — what follows is a short impression of the Q&A between the host (Andrew Makkinga), the audience and the two radio pioneers.
If you want more, go here or cop that movie, it will make you smile and relive days of yore when fun was hip and hop was in effect.
Oh and check out this week’s episode of 72 Soul presents Fresh Hip Hop & Future Beats for some Stretch & Bobbito freestyles by Mobb Deep, Lord Finesse, Souls of Mischief & Kurious.
Q: How come all these rappers, tough guys, some of them straight gangsters… of whom we have all these images on television, became almost like little children when they were on your show?
Stretch: Marc Ecko said it perfectly, he said: you guys were an invitation to be yourself. And that extended to the artists as well...
Q: How are you guys involved in the (New York) Hip Hop scene now, if at all?
Bobbito: I wouldn’t say I’m an active participant, not even passive… I really don’t spend too much time listening to rap music. That said I’m a member of Rock Steady Crew, we do our anniversary every year that draws people from all over the world, from all facets of the culture, so in that respect, I pay homage… But I’m not active like the way I was in the Nineties when I was doing unsigned artist showcases and writing and managing or consulting artists. Those are days long passed. Fond of ’em, but I don’t miss them.
Q: Can you remember how many episodes were released on tape, and how many were pressed?
Bobbito: Fat Beats Distribution are releasing our archives now, they got a great response: most of the tapes sold out in two days. We didn’t realise that people were selling our tapes until we started going on the road. We got to Tokyo, Manhattan Records, and there were like a hundred tapes behind the counter! Why weren’t we doing that? But we tracked down who was bootlegging our tapes, shook ’em down (laughs) and got some money off them. And then eventually we started distributing tapes through Fat Beats, but that didn’t happen untill ’96 or ’97, and in ’98 we parted ways..
Q: Stretch, in the movie you talk about the moment when the music started disappointing you, and when the show broke off, you must have had a new journey through music. What type of music did you start listening to, or following?
Stretch: When I was still doing WKCR, we alternated week to week, and that became kind of a pointless excercise for me, but I kept doing Hot97, and there I still managed to play enough music that was good enough for me to make it worth my while. And when we got off the radio in 2001, that coincided with a period in New York when there was this whole indie dance ressurgence, with groups like The Rapture, LCD, DFA… So there was a lot of interesting underground music in New York City in the early 2000’s, and for me, being part of an underground scene that’s emerging is exciting, so I think I wanted to be part of that again, I really missed being in the trenches and discovering groups, and I couldn’t play those records on the radio, but I could play them in clubs and be passionate about them on my own time and in my own space. Some people thought I was crazy, but I was just being musically honest.
Q: What do you think it is about your friendship that you were capable of doing this together for so long?
Stretch: We love each other. (audience laughs and applauds)
Bobbito: If you know you have somebody, and you can laugh at just silly things… on the road, making the film, waiting for the train, doing interviews… Stretch and I, we laugh… a lot. The bottom line is, it’s just fun. Why wouldn’t you wanna have fun?
Stretch: I thought it was deeper than that, but I guess not. (laughs)
Bobbito: I’ll hang with you for 25 years, just make me laugh. (laughs)
Q: What are you guys passionate about today?
Bobbito: I enjoy making films, quite honestly. This is my second film, and film is an interesting medium. Stretch and I did a powerful radioshow, as powerful as can be… I’ve authored a book, I’ve designed sneakers, I’ve done tours… But there’s no other medium that I can think of that is as “get under your skin, never forget it for the rest of your life” as film. It touches people on so many levels. I don’t know if I’ll make another film, but I’m very passionate about what we just did, and I look forward to me and Strech promoting this for the next five, fifteen years, being on the road, sharing the stories, educating the people about our history, which is part of a larger history.