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Cassette Tapes On Deck: Stretch, Bobbito and the Decline of Hip-Hop Radio

If there was one show that set the bar, and arguably still stands as a benchmark for hip-hop radio, it’s the duo of Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito.

They always say hip-hop doesn’t live on the radio, but that wasn’t always a true statement. In it’s younger, and arguably better days, hip-hop was very much on the airwaves. I’m also not talking about notable stations like (NYC’s) Kiss that had the likes of Red Alert spinning iconic sets – I’m talking the college circuit. College radio shows were once a breeding ground for the rawest, uncut hip-hop. Where it’s mainstream counterparts jammed the most commercially notable records (like actual vinyl) of the day, college radio shows played the shit that mattered.

No matter where you grew up, there was a local college station that had a show – in my case, It was the Peaceful Journey (on CKCU in Ottawa), with Mikey Wisdom and DJ Ducats. No matter what I was doing, I was home at Fridays at 12am with a cassette tape ready to record all the newest shit so that I could show off at school the following Monday – after meditating on it all weekend (of course). What the internet and much networking over the years have shown me is that this experience is anything but unique. Many a hip-hop head tuned into their respective “Peaceful Journey” with a blank Memorex ready to rock.

If there was one show that set the bar, and arguably still stands as a benchmark for hip-hop radio, it’s the duo of Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito. Their show was broadcasted on Columbia University’s WKCR-FM for four hours every early Thursday morning from 1990 to 1998 and was also broadcasted on Hot 97 from 1996 to 1999. They played combinations of vinyl, cassettes and, on occasion, ADAT reels – dropping intense exclusives and breaking the likes of Biggie, OC, Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, Mobb Deep, Brand Nubian, DITC, Big L, Wu-Tang Clan and Busta Rhymes. They even rocked with local cats from my city like Thrust and Choclair. The duo’s chemistry, their iconic freestyles, (now) unbelievably mind-blowing demo tapes, online antics and ridiculous mixes had heads filling up tapes and walking around like zombies at work on Fridays. The show was named best radio show of all-time by The Source Magazine – well deserved if you ask me!

Their iconic episodes became a hot topic online, and heads were feverishly trying to piece together episodes from their old recordings. Any of the cats who actual give a shit know the struggle – digitizing tapes is a long, thankless process; however an incredible team of die-hards on the Philaflava forum worked together to chronicle the show’s full timeline and systematically piece together rips. The culmination of years of work can be heard here. They’ve amassed what plays out as an evolution of golden era hip-hop. There’s everything from classic freestyles by Percee P and Big L (with Children Of The Corn), to classic interviews and promotions for iconic albums that you grew up on. Also great guests DJ’s like Funkmaster Flex and Lord Sear were often heard on the mic, and on the mix. It’s probably the best collection of (hip-hop) music you’ll ever hear. If you will, it’s probably the most effective way I can imagine summing up the best years Hip-Hop had before things got so, you know, commercial and shit.

The internet is a blessing and a curse. It made primitive concepts like taping songs off the radio, or recording music videos, obsolete. What’s the point? Can you just download it right? But that was the beauty of it – it was harder to get. You either bought it or lost hours of sleep. It had value. It wasn’t as disposable. Can you imagine recording a song off of anything nowadays – for that matter, can you imagine being dedicated enough to tune in at an inconvenient time to catch your fave anything? PVR’s and social media has you covered.

In this context, the new one-of-a-kind Wu Tang Album seems like a great idea. Bringing some value back to music…some genuine excitement to get your hands on a physical product. My own “fly on the wall” search for the lost Stretch and Bobbito episodes, even though digital, took me back to hot summer evenings sitting by my boom box trying to get a snippet of that hot shit.

Long live the late night cassette tape warriors – and be sure to look out for their upcoming Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito documentary!

Riley About Author

Riley here — father, artist, videographer, professional writer and SERIOUS hip-hop head. I'm a member of the Universal Zulu Nation, and I think everything is better on vinyl. Add me on Twitter! @specialdesigns