throwback with legendary 90s nyc radio dj stretch armstrong

Having introduced the world to the likes of Wu-Tang, Eminem and Nas, Stretch is back with co-host Bobbito Garcia fifteen years on, making podcasts with Dave Chapelle and Erykah Badu. i-D rifles through the archive of the man who launched a thousand...

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Jul 20 2017, 11:10am

Stretch Armstrong (Adrian Bartos to some mates) was a familiar figure in 1990s hip-hop -- not making it, but making names out of the people who were. As programmer and presenter on the late night Stretch Armstrong Show with Bobbito, the New Yorkers were the big bud and little bud of radio; the tastemakers to impress, the gatekeepers to the coolest scene, and ultimately hip-hop legends. Unlikely, yes, but the duo had (have) such a deep love of music, that it just worked. Through their offbeat humour, they introduced the world to the likes of Nas, Biggie, Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang, MF Doom and Eminem -- before going on to start record labels, have a go at writing, producing, and eventually having a critically-acclaimed film made about them in 2015, Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives.

Fifteen years after their show ended, Stretch and Bobbito finally reunited for what many view as their long overdue foray into the realm of podcasts. NPR's What's Good With Stretch and Bobbito ("your source for untold stories and uncovered truths") launched with a killer first episode in which they chat long and winding careers with the utterly hilarious Dave Chappelle and take a surprise call from neo-soul icon Erykah Badu.

This Sunday night, Stretch will venture all the way over and up to the Palm House at Sefton Park for the Liverpool International Music Festival. There, he'll appear on a diverse line-up featuring So Solid Crew, Shola Ama, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and indie teen dream turned NETFLIX wrestler/actress, Kate Nash. Stretch will be DJing a set dedicated to the halcyon hip-hop days of New York City club life, inspired by the book he recently co-authored, No Sleep: NYC Nightlife Flyers 1988-1999. It does what it says on the tin -- chronicling the club nights of the city that never sleeps through the flyers of a pre-Facebook event era, alongside fun stories from promoters, DJs and club kids from the heart of the scene.

1) "Me in my bedroom at my parents' apartment in 1989. When they say 'bedroom DJ', this is what they mean. Note the three turntables, extra wide mixer, and incredible hair." Photo courtesy of Chris Stewart. 

2) "One of the first parties I promoted and DJd at was called Flavor at Big City Diner on the West Side of Manhattan in the 40s. Grandmaster Caz and Almighty Kay Gee from Cold Crush would come by and get on the mic. As a newbie, that was tremendous for me."

3) "In 1990, I asked Bobbito Garcia, whom I had just met at Def Jam where he worked, to join me on Thursday nights on 89.9FM-WKCR, the radio station at Columbia University where I transferred to after really disliking the University of Virginia. Pictured here is me, Bobbito and legendary producer Sam Sever, who made records and beats for Mantronix, Run-DMC and many others. We are in master control in what, at the time, was probably the oldest radio station in operation in NYC. The equipment was very old -- older than we were -- and temperamental."

4) "Legendary club BLDG aka The Building kept a membership book that was basically a binder of polaroids. I was pretty psyched to be included."

5) "Another shot of me at WKCR from our Thursday night show." Photo courtesy of Bobbito

6) "Back at the WKCR studios. I spent nearly every Thursday there, from 1am to 5am, from 1990 to 1998." Photo courtesy of Kim Harris.

7) "In 1992, Funkmaster Flex was filling in for DJs on both WBLS and Kiss-FM, and was making a name for himself. He had a birthday celebration in Newark, NJ and asked me to guest DJ. The hood in Newark was really another world. My man Nick Quested, my homegirl Claw Money and I trekked out there in my Jeep, got to the club and saw a queue of hundreds of people, all dressed in bubble goose down coats and 8 Ball jackets. Inside, I felt like a fish out of water. Despite being only half an hour away, we were in another world. In this photo, I seem happy, but man, I was happy to get out of there. Newark was ill."

8) "DJ Riz, Kid Capri and me at Rock Steady Anniversary. Both of these guys are masters, two of the best to ever touch turntables. Riz doesn't get enough credit, though anyone that's ever heard him is immediately converted into a fan. I was happy that Kid Capri was down to pose for a photo with me, though by the time this flick was taken, in the summer of '92, my radio show had become a staple of New York's hip-hop scene."

9) "Here is another shot of me and Bobbito, looking confident after solidifying our role as one the key tastemakers/gatekeepers in hip-hop in the 90s, period."

10) "My vision eventually worsened and I needed glasses, probably a result of all those nights reading labels in dark clubs. My record collection ballooned, as well. This was taken at my place on east 91st Street in an apartment that was large enough with high enough ceilings to house the results of my vinyl addiction."

11) "Also in my apartment -- the studio. A number of late nights were spent in this room with Redman, Capone-N-Noreage, Mobb Deep, Tragedy, Juju of the Beatnuts, and MF Doom, who recorded about 20 tracks here. I was using ADAT and Session 8 which gave me 8 tracks on whatever Mac I was using in 1995."

12) "My first television appearance was on The Arsenio Hall Show as a sit-in DJ. Fat Joe happened to be in town doing a promo run for his first single Flow Joe, an underground record produced by the Beatnuts for Relativity Records. I invited Joe to come to Arsenio, which was a popular show within the "urban" community in the early 90s. Joe and his crew came, but what he didn't know was that I told Arsenio back stage that Fat Joe, a new artist from NYC, was in the audience. Arsenio surprised the crap out of Joe when he invited him onstage to perform Flow Joe, which the house band easily figured out how to play. Fat Joe the Gangster rhymed with a massive smile on his face. I remember thinking how ironic it was to see him spitting tough guy rhymes while smiling like a kid on Christmas morning. After that national television debut, Joe didn't see any point in finishing his college radio tour, plus he wanted to come back to the Bronx and see everyone in his hood give him props for splashing Arsenio, especially those that told him that pursuing a career in rap was a waste of time."

Experience No Sleep by Stretch Armstrong & Evan Auerbach here. Head to Liverpool International Music Festival to see Stretch DJ on 23 July. 

Credits


Text Frankie Dunn