The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show, a radio program ironically set up to preserve or actually recreate the set of 1987 and the feeling-out of this new hip hop music and elemental lifestyle, was the proving ground for the Golden Age of hip hop through the 90s and a definitive movement that almost died when they parted ways and temporarily deadened indie hip hop airwaves in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut in 1998. That actual day I heard the news of the ultimate demise I felt the need to branch out to other musical outlets, but I’m forever grateful to the natural genius’ of Stretch (Adrian Bartos) Armstrong, Bobbito (Kool Bob Love, The Barber) Garcia, and the intrinsic comedic cool of Lord Sear for building my foundation of obsession with music that pulls no punches or hides behind a heaping pile of bullshit. To me the epitome of that circa the mid to late 90s was SP1200 sampled loops, over a programmed gritty drum beat, with plainly sharp-witted, street savior poetry that was equal parts Walt Whitman and Maya Angelou, to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and really all those in between.
The show that made me the go-to family member t0 dial in the hard to find radio transmit or hold the aluminum foil rabbit ears to watch Steampipe Alley on WWOR at 10am on Saturday morns and gave me the courage and fueled the fire for this strange back packer, head phone obsessed lifestyle I’d fell in love with has finally been immortalized into a full length documentary film, Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed The World. That’s truth…my whole ‘world’ revolved around Stretch and Bob and later the CM Famalam Radio Program carried the torch after the break up in 1998 amongst others but that’s about where I fell off and on to other lusts sonically too.
We filed through our tapes that we set the alarm clock for 12:50am on Thurday night’s sleep, but technically early Friday morning if you follow my compute, to set up for the 1am lift off of the ‘Stretch and Bob Show’ right after the dance hall reggae show (that ruled supreme too, buck buck), to put together my own mixtape to feed to other underground hip hop fiends in the central New Jersey area via TDK tapes and my trusty pair of Technic 1200s (one ‘limited edition’ black, one silver) and Vestax PMC 05, my broken headphone I used as a mic to host, and a need to spread this music in my soul.
Like Stretch himself can attest, people fall in and out of love with genres of music, or perhaps in and out of obsession. I’m certainly guilty of this but I’ll never ever forget where I came from. The beautiful thing being there’s nothing like a ‘Stretch and Bob’ anniversary show to put you back on the boom bap methadone line. “If you weren’t on Stretch and Bobbito, it wasn’t official” says Preemo aka DJ Premier of legendary duo Gang Starr. Stretch and Bobbito were tastemakers for hip hop before most folks even heard their first poetic offerings over break beats. They literally championed the now household names of a new culture when it was more than frowned upon. Hip hop was deemed dangerous and taboo much like blues and jazz before it. Hey America, maybe it wasn’t the music you were scared of as much of the color of the skin of a vast majority of the artists, perhaps a fear of melanin? Thank God for those who soldier on for a belief and a love.
What bounced off the tiny WKCR 89.9 airwaves for the following 8 years after their introduction in 1990, while both working at Def Jam Records, and a love for hip hop and laughing fueled the spark for a long thought idea of Armstrong’s to have a hip hop radio show at Columbia University, where he was soon to begin continuing his schooling for college. Stretch and Bob soon where steering the ship on Thursdays/Fridays from 1am-5am on WKCR filing in unsigned talent the likes of Nas, Biggie Smalls, Common Sense, Tupac, Jay Z, the almighty DJ Premier, Souls Of Mischief, Fat Joe and the whole DITC crew, Wu Tang-that’s off the top of my head alone off of memory. What came through was a crew of like-minded weirdos obsessed with this primitive form of minimalist beats and heady lyrics, the grittier the better, the smarter the lyrics and ability the freestyle off the top of their heads being the highest honor and respectability.
The uncensored love of hip hop culture fueled the engine, not so much as a form of music but a way of life reflecting 5 elements: emceeing, deejaying, graffiti writing, and of course the break dancers. Bobbito Garcia was and is the living embodiment of this culture, like a fall down funny, but much more handsome hip hop Yoda. A champion b-boy and Rock Steady Crew member, touted deejay as Cucumber Slice, street hoop addict, and world music afficianado to boot. He’s hosted a slew of tv shows and bits on all of the above as well as maintaining as a street anointed spokesman for hip hop culture and basketball as a whole. Also the founder and owner of the now defunct Fondle ‘Em Records, home to some of the best hip hop on wax from MF Doom, Cage, Mhz, J-Treds, and Kool Keith to shout out a few.
Stretch grew up on the cusp of the Upper West Side and Spanish Harlem, NYC and was a quick study to the amalgam of culture and music seeping through the street manholes like steam on a typical Midtown winter day. A product of established Polish parents and an undying love for hip hop and its elements, it seemed an elemental match made in heaven to gel Stretch and Bob together with the idea of busting out new talent, signed or unsigned, written or freestyled, the doors were open to any emcee wanting to catch wreck over an instrumental live on the WKCR radio waves.
The marriage of a lanky white dude and a witty come boisterous Puerto Rican kid from NYC was born. Soon added was the hilarity of Lord Sear and his at times drunken banter and a penchant for a good rag fest between friends, like the legendary insult fest he had with Big Pun that will literally leave your sides, front, and back, for that matter, hurting from the giggles. It was what Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest called a weekly “Rapapalooza”. And once Stretch came out of his shell after being coerced to step up his articulacy game at least ‘on-air’ the three headed, hip hop comedic trip was consummated. There was nothing like it and there will never be, collaboratively unifying the world through plastic and vinyl, a world wide web of magnetic tape years before the interwebs.
Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed The World is a heavy dose of the medicine we need as a culture now in America. The unlikely mix of a white kid, a latino, and a black latino shuffling in talent black, white, Asian, neon green, Indian (dots and feathers!), rainbow, and even hot pink. A shitty studio filled with the love of music and culture as the communicating ground. Seeing no colors obviously or biases, if you had skills in either beats or raps, you were in. Peep that America, if it can happen in the basement of a church in New York City why can’t it happen nationwide. The documentary is a glimpse into the duo that spawned more household name hip hop acts than you’ll be able to digest. The first show to premier a track from Nas’ quintessential Illmatic record, play a Wu Tang record, and the first time a Brooklyn rapper called Jay Z made a superhuman attempt to clown my favorite emcee of all time, Harlem’s Big L in probably the greatest freestyle battle to date. A tape that holds the same weight today as it did in 1991 and is found by someone new everyday with millions of YouTube hits growing by the day.
The movie is phenomenal and the nostalgia I’m relishing in personally is priceless. These are special people who did a special thing with absolutely no monetary units as inspiration. A mantra I know well and just one more reason I love Stretch and Bob, one that took 25 years to dawn on me but shines through like an ‘Eclipse’ to me today. And best of all, Stretch and Bobbito are reunited for a weekly show on Samsung 837 NYC on Washington Street that started nearly a month ago spanning all genres of music from all over the globe. They’re set to maintain this show at least until the end of July. If there’s truly a God, it will be a constant weekly fixture for years to come. It’s like the adult version of Stretch and Bob, which rules because unfortunately I find myself in the ‘adult’ category these days. There’s so much more to this head-nodding story and it’s one that’s worth your attention, catch the flick yesterday…Fat Beats forever.
Originally published at Glide Magazine 7/19/16