Director: Bobbito Garcia
Screenplay: Bobbito Garcia
Producers: Omar Acosta, Bobbito Garcia, Stretch Armstrong
Starring: Bobbito Garcia, Stretch Armstrong, Nas, Jay Z, Busta Rhymes, Rosie Perez, KRS One, Fat Joe, Common, Angie Martinez
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 95 mins
If you ever wanted to understand the reason for the phenomenal popularity of hip hop and rap music, then this documentary sheds some light on a key part of the transition of hip hop culture, from the New York underground scene, into the global musical powerhouse it has become. It is portrayed primarily from the point of view of two friends, super fans and uber geeks who went on to create what the Source Magazine referred to as the “Best hip hop radio show of all time”.
In the 1990s, if you were a true Hip-Hop head (or aficionado, for the uninitiated) the only way to remain on top of the action was to tune in to Columbia University’s WKCR radio station on 89.9 (aka 89TEC9), for the hard-to-find rap show hosted by Adrian “Stretch Armstrong” Bartos and Bobby “bobbito” Garcia on Thursday nights from 1AM – 5AM.
You get the picture, this was a die-hard show by die-hard DJs for die-hard fans and hungry, young artistes trying to make a name for themselves. This show was religiously recorded off-air by ‘heads’ that knew the score. Key hip-hop legends and next generation rap A-listers all listened, learned and honed their craft from the show, and this documentary does a fantastic job unwrapping a treasure trove of memories, historical encounters and forgotten yet significant moments in the evolution of this art form.
The film exposes just how much the show was respected by eminent hip-hop DJs (e.g. Clark Kent and DJ Premier), as well as music company execs, PR agents, and ‘dope’ young artistes, all clamouring to ‘show and prove’ by getting on the mike to ‘spit’ freestyle on the show. Furthermore, because the show embraced all hot artistes, (signed or unsigned – didn’t matter), it became a powerful source of music discovery and curated content for fans and newbies alike. On the flip side, it also provides an unflinching look at hip-hop’s misogynistic tendencies, with the few females that worked on the show describing their experiences and observations on the crass behaviours of some artistes.
Overall, the biggest achievement of the show, in my opinion, was the fact that they were instrumental in breaking some of the biggest names in hip-hop. They premiered a roster of artistes that have since sold over $300 Million and counting, including the likes of: Jay Z, Big L, Nas, Fugees, Wu Tang Clan, Eminem and The Notorious B.I.G. The latter was involved in a demo battle which he apparently lost against another act called Bronx Zu, however, and on a subsequent freestyle session on the show, the 16 year old Notorious B.I.G showed why he would go on to become the legendary MC he was up until his untimely death. Another memorable event was an epic freestyle session by Big L and Jay Z which has since gone down in the annals of significant moments in New York hip-hop. These and other amazing sessions were recorded by faithful heads and some resurfaced as part of this documentary, much to the astonishment of some of the stars interviewed during recording of the film.
To say that the radio show touched only the hip-hop super-fans would be a gross under-estimation of the impact it had in general. The documentary included interviews by soldiers in desert storm, homeless folk, prisoners on lock down, graffiti artistes and urban fashion designers who were all affected and influenced by the Stretch Armstrong Show. And it was so called because, as Bobbito put it, “In hip hop the DJ is the most important component”, hence it was titled as “The Stretch Armstrong show, hosted by Bobbito”.
Finally, according to the film, the demise of the show coincided with the move by the duo to New York’s mainstream Hot 97 radio station, which in addition to a day time slot demanded a slicker, more polished and commercial friendly rota which didn’t go down well with hard core hiphop fans. Furthermore, this was during the transition of hip hop into the commercially packaged product it has become today, plus the fact that many of the acts were now able to reach their audience directly over the Internet, and did not necessarily need radio as their primary launchpad into public consciousness.
Although inevitable and sad, the breakup of the duo and their show did not diminish from their great accomplishment, and their 2010 reunion proved an amazing success, paying tribute to two friends that seized a moment in time and a shared passion for the music to make their mark on the history of hip-hop. It was and still is, in my opinion, the best hip-hop radio show of all time, so if you love hip-hop, and I mean the real hip-hop, then this is probably one of the best documentaries on the topic.