Talking to Stretch & Bobbito, the DJs Who Launched the Careers of Nas, Biggie, Big Pun and Jay Z

It’s easy to forget that not too long ago hip-hop wasn’t pop culture. There was no Hot 97, Power 105, BET, or anything of the sort that promoted the groundbreaking artists who were out there hustling with the help of a handful of trailblazing DJs and promoters. Pioneers like Nuyorican radio DJ Bobbito García, who, along with his partner-in-crime Stretch Armstrong, single-handedly introduced New York audiences to many of the rappers who would go on to define 90s hip hop. We’re talking Nas, Jay-Z, Biggie, Big Pun, Wu-Tang, Fat Joe, and even Eminem, who early in their careers stopped by to spit some bars and hustle their new releases on Bobbito and Stretch’s weekly late night college radio broadcast.

Since those early days as 20-year-old newbies improvising their way around a radio console, Bobbito and Stretch have rightfully earned their place in the pantheon of hip-hop’s OG innovators, and as the years have passed, Bobbito’s also gone on to become an award-winning documentary filmmaker. With his latest film, Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives, García finally brings together his past and his present to take a look back at the legacy of their revolutionary underground radio hour.

To mark the Urbanworld Film Festival premiere of Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives, the dynamic pair recently got back together for a lively Q&A session where their legendary chemistry was on full display. Here are some highlights from the chat.

“Those live moments that if you weren’t listening or you didn’t tape it, there was no Internet, you weren’t a part of it, so it became mythic and folkloric.”

On creative differences

Stretch: Back then everyone didn’t have iPhones and cameras and video, and that’s why I didn’t really care what I looked like on any Thursday night. And it’s difficult. It’s difficult to watch this ‘cause I really had a whole style that was perfect for radio, but once in a while there was a camera there. Horrible. It was me laying down in Hawaiian shorts on a dirty futon, and [Bobbito’s] putting it in the movie. (audience laughs) Do you have no aspirations to have this be seen by anybody? I don’t get it. So, there were a number of scenes which I did not want included.

Bobbito: We got to one point where I was saying to this guy Harry, “If me and Stretch part ways, it’ll be a great press story for our publicists.”

On the magic that made the show successful

Bobbito: The radio resonated with people so much. Because you know, Stretch could have talked about all the 12-inches that he world premiered in that time frame, but the thing that’s most shared amongst us, amongst our artists and our listeners, are those live moments that if you weren’t listening or you didn’t tape it, there was no Internet, you weren’t a part of it, so it became mythic and folkloric. And that’s what made our show ripple all these years. I’m proud, very proud of what we had.

“There was some social media posts by our fans and followers being like, ‘Yo! Jay, Nas, and Em should give you all $50 Gs each!’”

On gratitude

Bobbito: We did a Kickstarter campaign and we raised $65,000 to help release this film independently, and that was pretty cool. And there was some social media posts by our fans and followers being like, “Yo! Jay, Nas, and Em should give you all $50 Gs each!” But they don’t owe us anything. The show was done on a volunteer basis, a college radio station, so we’re just happy we could do a film and share with the people.

Stretch: We gave them a platform, but they made our shows incredible. They did a lot for us.

On the moment when you know you’re killin’ it

Bobbito: It was the ‘95 Rocksteady that Mad Skillz performed. Mad Skillz had come onto our show some months before and then he performed at Rocksteady in front of 5,000 people and did the verse that he had premiered on our show. And he had no video, wasn’t signed, no record, and he was doing what Jay-Z does at his concerts now: he was putting the mic to the crowd. And they were [following] verbatim, the whole verse. And that’s when it dawned on me. They haven’t had the chance to listen to his record or watch it on Video Music Box a thousand times. The only way they know this by heart is by taping our show. And that’s times 5,000. So that was the moment for me. It was like, “Oh, we’re doing okay.”

Photo: Jon Lopez
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On staying cool even when you’re not on the list for the after party

Bobbito: Apologies but today’s been a very long day so some of you are not on the guest list; I spaced on it or whatever. We dealt with a thousand of these today. Just support. Don’t give the woman at the door a hassle, just give ’em $5, give ’em $10, and keep it movin.’

Stretch: $5 or $10? Those are 1992 club prices. Come on. (audience laughs)

Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives opens at the BAM Rose Cinemas in Brooklyn on October 1 – October 8, 2015. The October 1 screening will be followed by a Q&A with Bobbito García and Stretch Armstrong alongside artist José Parlá, and moderated by Touré.