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“The playlist came through the door.”
This is how Stretch and Bobbito’s radio show on community station KCRW back in the day became the place where New York hip hop found its feet, and beat, in the early 90s. It’s the stuff of legends for those of us who didn’t grow up in the city (especially for those of us from across the seas!) for the part it played in bringing the best emcees to the fore, names that are now well etched into the history of hip hop. Instead of just playing pre-recorded and already-mixed tracks, Stretch and Bobbito became known for featuring the best upcoming talent – artists who’d walk into their studio on the Columbia campus, in the middle of the night, to drop verses on the spot, technical difficulties and bad jokes only adding to the energy of the sessions.
The doc Stretch & Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives is a love-letter to all of that. I watched it last night at the Samsung Pop-up in the Meatpacking District, thanks to Giant Step. Directed by Bobbito aka Bobbito Garcia, aka DJ Cucumber Slice, with music supervision by Stretch Armstrong, it’s an unabashed tribute to the role the radio show played, giving a behind-the-scenes look at how it came together, who it featured and what its legacy is today. Bobbito’s directing style is wholehearted – his enthusiasm evident in the “Proud Mom!” and “Proud Dad!” monikers attached to interviews with the pair’s parents, and in his noting when verses were dropped “off-the-head” and “not yet recorded.” It also captures part of the reason the duo achieved what they did. Their singular passion for the scene and the art form came together to be greater as a whole, and it was contagious. It still is. And while some may have heard it on their radio or on tape recordings, this doc gives us look at where that energy came from.
Of course, there are the big names who found a footing in the show… There’s Method Man and Nas and a so-young Busta Rhymes and Biggie and Jay Z and Fat Joe and El-P and Pharoahe Monch and, and, and – the list is a long one of those who came to string words together in the early hours of the morning, and have them carried out on airwaves across New York City. If you could fiddle the radio dial to just the right spot to find the “island”, that is.
That’s one of the things I really liked about this doccie – it relays the spirit of radio, a spirit that is all but lost today. Seeing tape decks and hearing kids talk about how they’d record the show (by pressing play and record at the same time – remember those days!) and hope the sound of tape reaching the end and stopping would be enough to wake them up to change sides in the early hours of the morning, when the show would air, is a delight. And Busta, talking about the great lengths he would go to to care for his tapes and then sell them like a boss, an even bigger one. 
While the show was dominated by males, the doc does speak to women who were part of the scene at the time and touches on the misogyny experienced by them, and how they wouldn’t stand for it. Even if your name was ODB. Or especially if, I should say.
There are many great anecdotes shared but I liked hearing Pharoahe describe the feeling he got from being on the show, knowing the city was listening in, and how different that was to being on stage or in a recording studio. This doc captures not just a vital part of hip hop history but a vital part of how we used to communicate. Long live radio!
Stretch & Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives played at a variety of film festivals last year, and is available on Vimeo.

Hello from New York – where, just because we got so excited about Spring’s arrival, snow has now fallen on the ground. #wtf

Nas is preparing to open the TriBeCa Film Festival with a performance after the premiere of the documentary about his debut album, Illmatic, celebrating its 20th anniversary. Before seeing the doccie, called Time is Illmatic, take a listen to this great interview with the rapper by BBC Radio 1’s Zane Lowe.

* Aloe Blacc, the voice behind Avicci’s huge Wake Me Up single is riding from strength to strength. While his current single, The Man is getting loads of airplay, he’s also just added his voice to the Coca Cola World Cup song, giving it some much-needed soul.  Turns out one of the producers on his debut album, Lift Your Spirit, produced the Coke track The World is Ours, enabling the connection for Blacc to record one of the 20 versions that exists of the song.

* Two-time Tony Award winner and theatre darling Sutton Foster heading back to TV. She’ll be in a new half hour comedy, about a newly-single mother who pretends to be almost half her age to land a job, acting alongside Hilary Duff. The show, called Younger, comes from Darren Star, who also gifted us with Sex and the City, Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place, so hopefully it does better than Foster’s cancelled Bunheads show.

* After missing out on an Oscar again, Leonardo DiCaprio is getting back to work – he’s due to start filming his newest movie in September. This time, he’s teaming up with another Oscar-nominated director Babel and Biutiful‘s Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Reverant, a movie based on a novel about an animal trapper who is abandoned in the wild by his friends and left for dead following a brutal grizzly bear attack. Maybe this one will be DiCaprio’s next Oscar shot?

* Jessica Fletcher is now a Dame! London-born, US-raised veteran actress Angela Lansbury received the honour from Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle on Tuesday. The 88-year-old actress is currently starring on the West End in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.

[Pic courtesy: TriBeCa Film Festival]



It was a cool concept on paper – as J.Cole explained, he wanted people, mostly fans, to be able to enjoy his second album, without the pressure of talking to others or having them talk over his new tracks, as is the case at most listening session parties. So walking into the SVA Theatre, we were handed rental Beats by Dre headphones, took our seats, and waited for others to download the LISNR app, through which to hear the live stream of Born Sinner. Other cities like Chicago and LA would be joining in too – in this truly digital-yet-physical-event.

Only it wasn’t as simple as that.


The execution was a little problematic, and it took much longer to make sure everyone had the app and it worked on their cellphones. After an hour and 45 minutes, J.Cole himself appears to tell one “long story cut short” that he said was important to talk about – the genesis of the much-anticipated song Let Nas Down.

He takes some time to tell the story, but it’s worth it because he’s so animated and his impersonations of Jay -Z reacting to the songs he’d bring him in the search for a single to lead his debut album Cole World: The Sideline Story are uncannily on point.

“I’m a rapper’s rapper,” he says, after an intro that sums up the Cole basics, which includes a reminder of how he hustled his way to become the first artist to sign to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label in 2009. “You all gotta understand I watch them all…Every night Jay was performing on tour I would watch. When I’d see him do Big Pimpin’ I’d think, I need me one of those! A single like that.”


Cole, aka Jermaine, talks about his quest to create a single that would get the Jay-Z stamp of approval, and the pressure he felt to come out with something new after all the hype of his first album: “I’d been talking to the press about a new album since 2011!” he exclaims. But the lead-up is to the excitement he felt about creating Work Out, the song that earned Nas’ disappointment.

“You never seen a n****** so happy,” he says, about how he felt upon making the top-selling single. “I beat the game. I knew it. I learnt everything through the game and beat it. I knew it was going to be a slow-burner. But I knew once Work Out caught on, it would be big.” He says it broke his heart to hear Nas speak lowly of the song, telling producer No ID he expected better from the rising rapper. “I was hurt,” says Cole. “Why he gonna say that? He’s not going to box me in like they box him in!” he continues, before softening to explain: “My heart sunk and I got defensive. I idolize that dude. I had his raps written on my wall.”

When he finishes talking there’s only a small amount of time left to hear the actual album before I have to leave for another engagement. Luckily, I brought my own headphones and, returning the Beats, I walk out of the theatre onto the street just as Let Nas Down plays on the app…

Love live the idols / may they never be your rivals

Born Sinners releases on June 18.



* Sir Elton John is attending the International Aids Conference in Washington, where he’s met with, among others, South Africa’s deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe. Debra Messing has also been doing her part to decrease the stigma around the issue.

* In the ongoing Jackson Family drama, Katherine Jackson has been temporarily stripped of custody of Michael’s kids, and Tito’s son TJ now has temporary custody of them. Understandably she’s upset, and looking to get back permanent custody.

* In a gossip bombshell of note, Kristen Stewart confirmed she had an affair with her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders, after pictures of the two of them were published in US Weekly. We’re not one for gossip in these here parts, but it remains to be seen what impact this will have on R-Patz/K-Stew fans at the box office. Oh, and these Twitter comments are funny!

* Nas explains how he went from “life’s a bitch” to Life is Good.

* The Man Booker Prize Longlist is out. The shortlist coming in September.

* The official trailer for Ang Lee’s forthcoming Life of Pi movie has been released. It looks epic!



* Green Day will release a pair of documentaries about how the threesome came to be, to coincide with their upcoming 3 album releases.

* The Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire, just got infinitely more exciting with the news that Philip Seymour Hoffman has been cast as Plutarch Heavensbee.

* Nas and DJ Green Lantern previewed A Queens Story in Paris.

* He may not actually be considered for the role, but Adam Lambert would love to be a judge on American Idol.

* No Doubt are teasing us with this video, ahead of their new single release in a few weeks’ time and long-awaited album coming in