On Halloween-eve 2001, Farewell Fondle ‘Em dropped and signalled the end of an era. Fondle ‘Em, owned and operated by Bobbito Garcia (of Stretch Armstrong Show fame), dropped a series of vinyl-only gems between 1995 and 2001. A lot of artists and labels claim to be underground hip-hop [air quotation], but this was the real deal. Some of the rawest hip-hop ever pressed. Alongside a few other labels, like Rawkus, it helped to sketch out the blueprint of how the sub-genre should look and sound.
Stretch and Bobbito fans will understand the organic nature of the labels origins. The show – noted for breaking many legendary acts – was receiving demos from everyone and their mother. Whether or not they considered themselves as such at the time, they were curators who helped shape the golden era New York scene. A large portion of the dopeness they got their hands on came from unsigned acts. Bobbito saw the opportunity to provide an outlet and the rest was history. What started as kind of a joke, ended up a vastly curated catalogue of rare, and highly collectable, hip-hop artifacts that capture the sounds, sights and overall state of mind of the 90’s underground scene in the big apple.
Some of the more notable records (from my perspective) that dropped on the label were: MF DOOM’s classic debut Operation Doomsday, The Juggaknots’ Clear Blue Skies EP, Siah and Yeshua Dapo’s The Visualz EP and Kool Keith & Godfather Don’s Cenobites LP. The label also dropped LOTS of crazy 12″ joints, like the Cage’s Agent Orange. Another dope bonus: Bobbito himself dropped random bars all over the catalogue.
The label never dropped anything that wasn’t dope. Nothing but straight goods. In fact, many of the artists who started the label branched out to other indies (like Def Jux for example) and enjoyed careers after Bobbito closed the label’s doors. If you fancy yourself a hip-hop head – especially if you’re new to Fondle ‘Em – I urge you to explore the label’s catalogue. I’ve taken the liberty of compiling (the bulk of) it for you, because Hip-Hop.
Be sure to check for the Stretch & Bobbito Radio That Changed Lives documentary dropping this August, which will undoubtedly explore the label in more detail.