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In the annals of college radio, few programs had a more substantial impact than The Stretch Armstrong Show, or, as it's more commonly known, "The Stretch & Bobbito Show." DJ Adrian "Stretch Armstrong" Bartos and Robert "Bobbito" Garcia's hip-hop broadcast, which aired 1 to 5 a.m. Friday mornings ("Thursday nights") on Columbia University's WKCR-FM from 1990 to 1998, gave Nas, the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Big Pun, DMX, and the late Big L some of their earliest exposure via in-studio freestyles recorded while all of them were still unsigned and somewhat anonymous. "That show was like a trampoline in some ways—it elevated a lot of artists that were never heard before," explains Bronx rapper Lord Finesse, a frequent guest. "If you didn't have a deal and you was on there and you was dope, word traveled. And if the word didn't travel, the tape damn sure traveled."
For the generation of hip-hop heads who came of age on Illmatic and The Infamous, the show—which will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a live onstage re-creation of itself at (le) poisson rouge next week—was as vital then as blogs like Nah Right are for today's rap fiends. The latest "Stretch & Bob" tape provided entrance into a far more exclusive club than any MP3, though. "You had to be able to listen [live], or be in good graces with someone who had taped the show and was kind enough to give you a dub," Bobbito says. "A lot of people have told me they didn't share the fact our show existed, because they wanted it to be their secret."
Armstrong (a gangly white Columbia sophomore who made a name for himself as a DJ at downtown clubs like Mars in the late '80s) and Garcia (a fast-talking Puerto Rican promotions rep working his way up the ladder at Def Jam) cemented a following within their first few weeks after featuring name-brand guests—for that time, at least—like Def Jef and MC Serch. A 16-year-old Nas appeared on Valentine's Day in 1991, kicking an early version of his breakout verse from Main Source's "Live at the Barbecue." "Our first couple of shows were probably most listened to by the incarcerated population of the Tri-State area, security guards, and cab drivers," Bobbito says. "We completely owe our first wave of promotion to them. . . . A lot of people didn't know what we looked like, though, which was hilarious. Whatever image we were, they thought 100 different varieties of something else."
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As the show—whose cast of characters also included "Walk Like a Duck" rapper Kurious and DJ/insult-comic hybrid Lord Sear—matured, it developed its own distinctive, self-referential brand of humor. Its final hour (dubbed "Krunchtime") typically devolved into a delirious, sleep-deprived version of a lunchroom snap session. "They're both New York kids of a certain age, and the people they were interacting with and promoting by way of spreading their music on the air were their contemporaries—people with the same reference points, be it the kind of cereal they ate as kids, the cartoons they dug growing up, or the kind of sneakers they wore," explains Sacha Jenkins, co-founder and editor of '90s-era rap magazine Ego Trip. "It wasn't old-ass men introducing some 17-year-old rapper."
In the years since the show's culmination, Bobbito (who continued to hold down that time slot with Lord Sear until 2002 as The CM Fam-A-Lam Show) has become a multimedia brand, founding playground-basketball magazine Bounce, penning sneaker-culture tome Where'd You Get Those?, spinning salsa at clubs worldwide, and even briefly conducting halftime interviews at Knicks games. Armstrong, who runs local dance label Plant Music with Dominique Keegan of electronic duo the Glass, is more likely to spin a loose mix of house, techno, and rock remixes than rap these days. Yet on October 21, 2010, just four days short of the 20th anniversary of their first show, the pair reconvened for a rapturously well-received (on rap blogs, at least) on-air reunion at their normal hour. (The occasion was bittersweet: It was the last night before DJ Sucio Smash's Squeeze Radio, which had succeeded The CM Fam-A-Lam Show in 2002, had to cede the slot due to new WKCR policy requiring hosts to be enrolled at Columbia, effectively ending a 20-year run of hip-hop radio at that time.)
At LPR, Stretch and Bob—and Lord Sear, now a linchpin of Eminem's Sirius XM channel, Shade 45—plan to replicate the format The Source called the best hip-hop show of all time in 1998, in a room with space for 800 people instead of eight. "People will get on the mic and rhyme, but no one is performing. . . . Everything will be in the flow of the party," Bobbito says. A significant number of staple guests from the WKCR days are expected, but, purposely, none have been announced. "You never knew who was going to be on, on Thursday night. You just tuned in."
The 'DJ Stretch and Bobbito Reunion Show' comes to (le) poisson rouge February 10