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Watch the Tunes: Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives

On June 17, 2016


image1There is an absurdly vast selection of music movies and documentaries available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and on and on and on. But it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worth your 100 minutes. Watch the Tunes will help you pick what music doc is worth your Netflix and Chill time every weekend. This week’s edition covers Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives, which is streaming over on Showtime.

Hip hop has a long and storied history of hyped up braggadocio, but believe me when I tell you that the title of this week’s Watch The Tunes entry, Stretch And Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives, is no joke. In fact, you may end up thinking that it’s downright humble by the time that the credits start rolling. I listed this doc on my run down of “2015’s Best Music Documentaries” back in December when it was only available for rent on Vimeo, and now that it’s finally out there streaming on Showtime, the story can finally be told in full.


It’s entirely possible that you’re hearing the names DJ Stretch Armstrong and Robert "Bobbito" Garcia for the first time right now, but those two are a crucial part of hip-hop history you might have missed if you didn’t live within the reach of New York’s WKCR 89.9FM. The late-night radio show they co-hosted out of Columbia University’s rinky dink radio station from 1990 to 1998 was legendary for introducing up and coming rappers years before they broke into the mainstream. Every Thursday they stuffed music, freestyles, comedy, and listener call-ins, and more into four wild hours. Stretch would spin records, Bobbito shot the shit as the host, they’d have guests flipping verses they’d written down that day or going off the dome with freestyles, and callers shouting out their neighborhoods. It was perfect in every way. Grab just about any of the hundreds of complete shows floating around out there on YouTube and you will immediately be transported just about as close to the soul of hip hop as is humanly possible.

Radio That Changed Lives goes a really long way to solidifying the duo’s status as the tastemakers they were. It’s incredibly slick and well produced, with various graffiti handstyle interstitials. The volume of archival audio and video footage here is insane and would be required viewing even if it was just released on its own.

One of the most unexpected joys of Radio That Changed Lives is watching rappers like Nas, Fat Joe, and Jay-Z listen back to verses they put down over two decades ago. It’s like showing someone a picture of themselves at a birthday party that they had totally forgotten about. That kind of oddly intimate moment happens all the time in the film and it never gets old. Late in Radio That Changed Lives there’s a card that pops up informing the viewer that “The total record sales for all the artists that premiered on their show exceed 300 million” and while that may be true in a technical sense, it’s totally beside the point. These were rappers who would go on to define a generation of a whole medium, and they all spent time kicking bar after bar over beats spun live in studio.  Being invited on the Stretch & Bobbito Show wasn’t just an honor but it was also where you went to hone your craft and pay dues.

It’s wild to think that there was a time when Biggie could’ve lost to a group calling themselves The Bronx Zu rappin over some warmed up daisy-age loops, but it happened and ended up resulting in one of the most memorable moments in the film:


It’s not just that the number of memorable moments captured on their show over the years on their show are innumerable, but it’s also how casually they seemed to go down. Nas stops by with an unmastered copy of Illmatic on a cassette before it’s released. Large Professor bringing in his drum machine and laying down beats live for folks to drop rhymes over?. Lauryn Hill freestyling off the dome. Ol’ Dirty Bastard getting offered a record contract from legendary A&R dude Dante Ross hearing an appearance. Each one was pretty much just another Thursday on The Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito Radio Show.

Like all good things, it came to an end before the turn of the millennium. Stretch and Bobbito’s relationship had been falling apart in slow-motion with Stretch sometimes just not showing up at all for shows. It wasn’t the most dignified ending, but it was honest in its own way. They eventually patched things up and in 2013 had a reunion show in their old late-night spot on WKCR, right back where they started. Not long after that, they would end up collaborating on this incredibly fun and energetic documentary with Bobbito directing and Stretch acting as, what else, music supervisor. Radio That Changed Lives is a uniquely sublime hip-hop time capsule that you should not miss.

Profile Picture of Chris Lay
Chris Lay

Chris Lay is a freelance writer, archivist, and record store clerk living in Madison, WI. The very first CD he bought for himself was the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack when he was twelve and things only got better from there.

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