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Wu Tang Clan

“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 Weekend! Looking forward to celebrating the second week of Summer Streets in NYC…

* Fresh from reuniting and performing on the Daily Show, Wu Tang Clan have released their new single, Ron O’Neal from the forthcoming album A Better Tomorrow. The song, named after the actor from Super Fly, is the second single off the album, but it’s the first one that’s been released since RZA and Raekwon declared a truce of sorts in order to go ahead and get the album out. It’s due out in November, but the group is still working on that one-of-a-kind performance album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, too.

* Rihanna and Eminem kicked off their co-headlining tour, Monster, in Pasedena on Thursday night, during which the pair performed a mix of their own songs, the singles they’ve recorded together, and a cover of B.o.B and Hayley from Paramore’s Airplanes. I would have liked to have heard that track as done by the two of them. According to USA Today, Em delivered the more energetic set out of the two.

*It’s hard not to get choked up watching the trailer for the Stephen Hawking movie, The Theory of Everything. Eddie Redmayne plays the respected scientist, who developed motor neuron disease, and Felicity Jones plays his committed and steadfast wife, Jane. The film is out in November. (And while we’re at it, the trailer for the hopefully heartwarming sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, featuring Richard Gere, is also out.)

* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles releases on the big screen in the US this weekend. Directed by South African born, LA-based Jonathan Liebesman, the film has been getting some rather scathing reviews, but it’s still expected to bring in a decent amount of mula for its opening weekend. Such is the summer blockbuster.

* On a much smaller scale, James Cameron‘s latest project is also out this weekend. The Oscar-winning director is the subject of DeepSea Challenge, which chronicles his expedition to become the first solo man to reach the deepest part of the ocean. His passion for the subject is contagious, and it’s great to see how his passion for the sea has developed alongside his movie-making career.

* It has the potential to be a genius move – Wu Tang Clan are planning to release just one copy of a secret album that’s been recorded with producer and extended family member Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh. The idea is to tour the one-of-a-kind album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, which will be housed in a box designed by British-Moroccan artist Yahya, and then sell it for a one-of-a-kind price. For the rest of us plebs, there’ll be the group’s 20th anniversary album, A Better Tomorrow, which will be available this July.

* Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum are our new heroes in the upcoming film from the siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski, who last gave us Cloud Atlas. This time, Jupiter Ascending is an original story from the duo – still, of course, along the science fiction side of things. It comes out in July.

* CinemaCon has been taking place in Vegas, where the studios have been showing sneak preview footage of films coming out in the next couple of months, like 50 Shades of Gray, Spider-Man 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and more have been shown. Former Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences head, the late Tom Sherak, was also remembered at a tribute dinner.

* Oprah has announced she’ll be hitting the road – the TV tycoon will take her The Life You Want tour from  Atlanta to 7 more locations around the US. Having seen her speak a few times live, it’s pretty hard to walk away uninspired from an Oprah A-Ha moment.

* A letter by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee, in which the To Kill a Mockingbird writer explains why she never gives interviews, will go under the hammer in Los Angeles today. (Good reason, but it doesn’t stop some of us from trying…)


* The BBC has yet to decide if it will censor its Radio 1 chart countdown on Sunday by not playing the song Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead, from The Wizard of Oz, which has been climbing up the charts following the death of Margaret Thatcher, as a result of a push by anti-Thatcher campaigners.

* It’s being hailed as the “best family musical in years” – one that still manages to leave audiences on the edge of their seats, a la Homeland – the debut of the British production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda has won over American critics on Broadway. The West End show broke records last year, winning 7 Olivier Awards, and is up for more honours this year.

* It’s hard to ignore Psy when he took over the internet, earning more than a billion views for Gangnam Style video. As tensions over North Korea’s nuclear capacities rise, the South Korean entertainer has released his new single, Gentelman – with an online concert to follow this weekend. Naturally.

* In more exciting music news, Wu Tang Clan’s new album will be titled A Better Tomorrow. The group will be playing a pair of 20th anniversary shows in the UK, and the album is due out in July. In the meantime, Ghostface Killah’s epic hip-hoperatic album with film composer Adrian Younge is a must-listen.

* *Oscar/Grammy/BAFTA/SAG/Golden Globe-winning actorJamie Foxx will add another award to his mantlepiece this weekend. According to the once music-video-showing channel, Foxx will be given the MTV Generation award at the MTV Movie Awards in LA this weekend, where he’s also up for 4 trophies.