In the 1990s, DJs Stretch Armstrong (Adrian Bartos) and Bobbito (Robert) Garcia introduced listeners to future stars like Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Eminem, and Nas on their show on Columbia University’s WKCR. “At that point in time, your show was the most important show in the world,” Nas said in a 2015 Kickstarter campaign that Stretch and Bobbito ran to fund a documentary about the history of their show. “You guys opened the door in New York for us, the next generation, to come through.” (The Kickstarter was successful, raising $65,305 from 749 backers; you can now watch the resulting documentary on Netflix.)
Stretch and Bobbito’s show ended in 1998, but the pair are coming back to the air again, kind of, with an interview podcast on NPR that will begin this July. “We’re talking art, music, politics, and sports, and everything in between. It’s a crazy journey we’ve taken from doing a radio show on a radio station in 1990 with a console from the 60s that had dustballs in it…and now NPR!” Stretch said in a YouTube clip introducing the podcast Monday.
NPR’s audience has long skewed whiter and older than the general American public, so you might not think of a ’90s hip-hop reunion as a natural project for the network. But NPR has made a number of efforts to reach out to more diverse communities specifically through music programming; NPR said it expects there will be collaborations between this podcast and NPR’s Alt.Latino and Code Switch, as well as segments on All Songs Considered, World Cafe, and NPR’s newsmagazines.
In 2015, writing about a previous NPR hip-hop podcast for the Atlanta alt-weekly Creative Loafing, Rodney Carmichael quoted then-NPR Music editor Frannie Kelley on how NPR thought about hip hop:
“It’s not that there is an active resistance,” Kelley says. But the historical lack of hip-hop coverage on NPR speaks volumes…
“The conversations about covering hip-hop in front of a mainstream audience are stuck 20 years [in the past],” Kelley adds. “They’re identical. They’re really boring. And you know what, they’re also really hurtful and bruising to go through…”
Kelley left NPR last fall, but around the same time NPR posted a full-time staff writer position in charge of hip-hop coverage. That job went to none other than Rodney Carmichael.