I'm a late '80s baby and I feel fortunate to be part of a generation that actually had to put time, thought and some strategy into consuming music – and, specifically rap, before the era of the Internet.
These days my CDs are locked in a storage box, and the cassette tapes that I used to record songs from Hot 97 in junior high school are long gone. But to be honest, there’s always a part of me that feels like I missed out on some of the most organic and iconic moments in hip-hop culture, simply because I was too young (and also in the process of immigrating to Brooklyn).
Stretch and Bobbito’s legendary '90s hip-hop radio show has been one of those gaping holes in my hip-hop education.
I've heard plenty of stories about it, but it's just not the same as experiencing it first-hand. That will obviously never happen, but I finally came close while watching their new documentary, "Stretch And Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives."
It was the first time I could truly understand just how impactful the show was for the rap community, and for a slew of then up-and-coming artists -- Jay Z, Eminem, Nas, the Notorious B.I.G. -- who are now certified legends.
Hearing Stretch Armstrong (Adrian Bartos) and Bobbito Garcia (Robert Garcia) joke about having Jay Z wait patiently in the lobby for 30 minutes before coming in to freestyle made me snort -- just thinking about the odds of hearing Hov freestyle anywhere now, or having him wait for anything.
Learning that a young Eminem thought he'd officially "made it" when he got his chance to appear on the show, or that Biggie was there passionately defending his crown...this is as important as any piece of American literature that I studied in school.
I'd known that the show was based on the Columbia University campus during its prime years (before briefly moving to Hot 97), but it was still astounding to see just how grassroots the radio station was -- the brainchild of two unlikely friends who were equally passionate about hip-hop culture -- and to realize that for all the time and effort they poured into it, the monetary reward didn't even match up.
The documentary, directed by Bobbito Garcia himself, was packed with cameos from rappers gushing about how they spent their days looking forward to the show's weekly airing, and that was by far my favorite part. To see these guys -- at this point, jaded and sometimes sick of reminiscing -- lighting up and laughing gleefully like kids was pretty surreal. Busta Rhymes joking about hustling cassette tapes of the show at school? Gold.
I was also immensely impressed by the fact that they took time to address the role of females in this boys club. As a female rap writer now I still sometimes feel uncomfortable in a room filled with rappers and their million-man entourages, and I couldn't imagine having to deal with Method Man and the entire Wu-Tang Clan calling me a "bitch" because I wouldn't let them through the front doors (shout out to Mimi Valdés for keeping her cool).
The mood shifted as we got closer to the end of the documentary, with Stretch admitting that his heart just wasn't into the music anymore, but all good things must come to an end, right? Although it was sad -- and left a lot of fans pissed -- it was comforting on some level to know that you could be so deeply involved in shaping rap culture at one point, and eventually make the decision to hang it up and move on, and be at peace with that.
"Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives" reminded me why I love my career and this culture, and I can only hope to be nearly as impactful as they were.