‘Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives’ filmmakers – In Conversation

Hi Film Folk,

Today we have another In Conversation – this time with the musical, filmmaking minds behind documentary Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives – Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia!
 


 

So your documentary – Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives – follows a time in your life in the 90s where you were running a radio show on WKCR that hosted huge rappers before they were signed – Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, Wu-Tang Clan, DMX and The Fugees.

Tell us a bit about how you ended up hosting those people.

We were doing what we were doing for love and as friends, but it eventually turned into something that exceeded anything we imagined.  Either we fell into something or something fell into us, that’s how it felt.

Our show was a meritocracy; if you were dope you had a spot.  Early on a lot of these artists we hadn’t even heard of. We had a network of friends that had good taste, like Maddie at The Source. If they were gonna bring anyone through they were gonna be official, that’s how Biggie came through. DMX came up I think through E Kim, who was Percy P’s DJ, but he didn’t blow up until many many years later. He came through in 91 but “Where’s my Dogs at” didn’t come out until 95 or 97.  

The commercial aspect didn’t really play a role at all. The only thing about having an artist become a star would probably mean it would be unlikely that they would return. Nas came back after Illmatic, Ol’ Dirty kept coming back and Wu Tang, but it didn’t really matter because there was always the next batch of MCs coming up so there was never any vacant spots. 

It was partially selfish; to be in a studio and have the world’s greatest MCs in your studio spitting new material for your show, it was a lot of fun. We had front row seats to history. To also know this was getting broadcast out was very exciting, that was powerful and felt incredible. Knowing we were the ones making that happen and often giving voice to people who might otherwise be voiceless. 

I’m talking on two levels, as MCs who might not have a shot on radio anywhere else until we gave them a shot, which then made other people go “oh Stretch and Bob co-signed these guys, ok they’re official we’ll have them on”.  But also just in terms of giving a voice to young men and women that often came from disadvantageous backgrounds in terms of money, education and what not. So that was also very powerful, giving them voice. 

More than anything it was fun, and when it stopped being fun that’s when I didn’t want to do it anymore.








So the film – this wasn’t your first foray into filmmaking. Bobbito’s directed before right?

Stretch: Bobbito co-directed “Doin’ it in the Park” with Kevin Couliau, a young filmmaker from Paris who shares Bobbito’s love of Basketball.  That’s how Bob learnt how to make a film. This was his second film, and he’s actually in production for his third at the moment.

 
 

So was it a case of you had loads of footage lying around and thought “hey we’ll make something”?

Stretch: Not really. There were two or three people that sporadically came up to WKCR with video cameras. One was a cousin of mine and the other was Jason Lampkin who worked and continues to work for Spike Lee.  He wanted to do a film about Bobbito and then it turned into a film about Stretch and Bob, but in the end it never happened. But we knew the footage existed, and there was some other footage that we didn’t know existed that came about. 

After Bob did “Doin’ it in the Park” he said to himself he would never make another movie again, it’s just too difficult and disruptive. He had just had his first child and the idea of making another film just wasn’t happening. Then Omar Acosta – who is one of the producers, a New Yorker and Latino from the upper West Side – said he wanted to produce a Stretch and Bob documentary and wanted Bob to direct it. 

At first Bob was like “Nah, I’m Good don’t worry about it”, but Omar was persistent and sent Bob another email saying that he used to listen to the show, his mother had taught it at Columbia, that he was a New Yorker. He also sent through his resume showing all of his talents from editing to animation, cinematography to what not. 

Bob saw that and was like “Woah, this is all working in our favour”. The fact he listened to the show was like “That’s it, we can do this.” A day or two later we all met at Gold Crest and I think two days after that we started shooting our first interviews.

 

 
 

How long did it take to get together and when did you do the interviews?

Stretch: It took 17 months from the first meeting to delivering the edit. We were busting ass. Bob really gave all of himself to the film. It was something to see. I would come in, do whatever I had to do and go home, or I would be at home editing music and sending it back but Bob was there all the time. He learnt Final Cut so he could continue to work there after the editor had gone home. 

The Interviews continued around the whole film. When we would get an interview by an artist who had something really compelling to say or was more well know, then we would punch him in. We didn’t get Nas, Eminem or Jay Z until maybe the last month, that was really down to the wire. Jay Z for most of the time seemed like it was never going to happen. I mean to think we have Nas, Em and Jay, that’s just nuts. 

 




 

And how did you go about distribution?

Stretch: Saboteur is the documentary wing of Gold Crest.  They have spearheaded all the sales. We did our first deal with Vimeo and our second with Showtime in the U.S., and then of course we did our UK deal. I wasn’t really involved in the day-to-day negotiations of how that works but I know Saboteur handled all the sales.

Our first meeting was at Gold Crest, They handled Bob’s first film and it only made sense for this film to be there cause Nick Quested was our roommate when we started the radio show.

 


 

The film is full of cool animations. How and why did you go about that?

Stretch: We had a number of visual artists help out on the film. Of the seminal moments that we put in the film, in terms of archival, we didn’t have footage.  We don’t have footage of Big L and Jay Z, we don’t have footage of Nas and we don’t have footage of Biggie, that’s all just audio. 

So we filmed artists making art. So weather its José Impala paining whilst listening to Jay Z and Big L, this kind of abstract calligraphy which seems to compliment Jay-Z so well, or Lee Quinones from WildStyle writing up the lyrics to Nas’ freestyle. We did this a number of times. We had Haze writing those big block letters from OC. We took licence and figured out a way to keep the visuals as compelling as the music. 

I think people walk away from the film feeling like we have so much archival footage that we actually don’t have.   There are some funny caricatures of Busta, I think all the artists got little comic versions of themselves, but we didn’t want to animate the freestyle sections. We felt like that would be a distraction from what this was, serious lyricists.  We didn’t want to turn this into a cartoon.

 
 

The rappers you hosted have gone on to make a collected $300m (£245m) in record sales. Is there a quality those artists shared that made them so good at what they do and go on to have successful careers?
Bobbito: Jay was super cocky the first time he came to our show. I didn’t understand why. He didn’t have an album deal at the time, but it’s almost like he knew he was going to blow up. Like he forecasted his own future then made it happen.
 
Jay, Em, Nas, but also Big L, Mad Skillz, Cage, O.C., Monch and too long of a list of MCs I can mention that didn’t sell millions of records like the aforementioned all were ULTRA focused when they came to our show. It was all about lyrics. Sure they’d joke around with us, but once the mic was open and whatever beat Stretch had selected was on, it was like it was game seven of the NBA Finals for these artists.

 

is available on DVD and digital download release NOW.
 
 
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