AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And we're going to speak next with two new additions to the NPR family. Pioneering New York City hip-hop radio DJ Stretch Armstrong - hey there, Stretch.
ADRIAN BARTOS, BYLINE: Are we doing this right now?
CORNISH: We're doing it right now.
BARTOS: I thought you said we're going to be. OK.
BARTOS: Take two.
CORNISH: We're going to speak next with two new additions to the NPR family. Pioneering New York City hip-hop radio DJ Stretch Armstrong - how you doing there, Stretch?
CORNISH: And Bobbito Garcia. Welcome to the studio.
ROBERT GARCIA, BYLINE: Hola.
CORNISH: In the '90s, their radio show on Columbia University's WKCR 89.9 helped introduce the voices of some of the most well-known artists in hip-hop today - Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, Nas, Eminem, the Fugees. And, Bobby, I heard this crazy stat from you about the unsigned artists that debuted on your show.
GARCIA: Yeah, well, Stretch and I were on the air from 1990 to 1998. And in that eight-year time span, 300 unsigned artists came through our doors and hopped on the mic. And to date in 2017 they collectively have sold an excess of 300 million records, which is...
CORNISH: And counting, right?
GARCIA: Yeah. So it's a figure that we came upon while creating the film "Stretch And Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives," a documentary that's on Netflix and Showtime, and in doing research for some of the stats. We had no idea back in the '90s that we had that profound of an effect on not just the artists, but also the industry and also the listening audience. So it's kind of a crazy number.
CORNISH: Yeah. I mean, you guys have joked about it being weird that you're on NPR, but there has to be a moment when you realize you are professional interviewers. Stretch?
CORNISH: Come on.
BARTOS: That would be stretching it.
CORNISH: A little bit. A little bit.
BARTOS: Well, I mean, we've grown up quite a bit. If you were to only know us from the '90s, I would think that maybe you'd think twice about putting Stretch and Bob in anything NPR related.
BARTOS: We were on from 1 to 5 in the morning.
BARTOS: It was unscripted, completely spontaneous. Humor was a huge part of the show. A lot of the humor was in the gutter. There...
GARCIA: And loopy as well because we were just so tired (laughter).
BARTOS: We - exactly. For - and for the first few years of the show I'd play music until 5 a.m. And, you know, we were in our early 20s. The - doing the show was still somewhat novel to us. So you were just - you just had this energy. We were so thrilled to be on the radio.
Once we became kind of jaded and - not jaded, but we got used to it, by 4 a.m. I would be too exhausted to concentrate on mixing records, so we would start taking phone calls at 4 a.m. And literally we would take live, uncensored with no delay phone calls from 4 to 5. That became known as Crunchtime. And that was pretty...
BARTOS: It was bizarre.
GARCIA: It was straight bizarre.
BARTOS: The humor was often surreal. So it's very different from what we're doing (laughter) now.
CORNISH: That's true. That's true. We should say the new show you're doing with NPR is called What's Good with Stretch & Bobbito. And how did you approach who you wanted to talk to? Because one of the things I notice is it's not just about music, but you mention both culture and identity. What about those two ideas did you want to explore?
GARCIA: I think the public is expecting us to do a hip-hop show. And Stretch and I, we have a very vast array of friends, communities that we're a part of and movements that we support. And what we want to do with What's Good is to open that up to not just the urban lifestyle that we supported and really lifted in the '90s, but now, like, to open that up to art and politics and authors and chefs and musicians, of course, as well.
And we've really worked hard with the NPR staff to cultivate who should be our guests. And during those interviews, pointed discussions that are still very loose because it's - we are who we are and we can't - we don't want to lose that. But at the same time, we want to get to a narrative that's compelling for the audience as well.
CORNISH: And you get people to open up, I think, in such a warm way. And one of your early guests is Dave Chappelle, who's obviously back in the public eye. And he talked about his past growing up in Washington, D.C., including his first job.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
DAVE CHAPPELLE: I used to be an usher at Ford's Theater, where Lincoln got shot.
BARTOS: Oh, yeah?
GARCIA: Get out.
CHAPPELLE: Yeah. Yeah. And I quit - like, "Chappelle's Show," I just stopped going.
CHAPPELLE: And then the guy who called me up, he was like, yo, Dave, do you want to come get your check? And I'm like, yeah, I'm not falling for that.
CORNISH: It's funny because, Stretch, you actually DJed his "SNL" appearance afterparty.
CORNISH: So you know him a little bit. This is different from interviewing unsigned, unknown artists who are just trying to be on the come-up. I mean, how did you approach this interview and these kinds of figures?
BARTOS: Well, there actually is a similarity because there's a familiarity. So unsigned artists in the '90s, they would listen to us every week on the radio. And so there was this sort of mutual respect, mutual deference. And I think we've been blessed to have this foundation in our radio show that has sort of reverberated out through time where we can have a guest like Mahershala Ali who gave us this interview because of what we meant to him.
CORNISH: Right, Oscar winner and...
CORNISH: Right. And you asked him about being the first Muslim Oscar winner. And I was like, no one's asked him that yet. And like, what - how that informed his work.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MAHERSHALA ALI: At the end of the day we're all spirits having a physical experience. And so when I look at those characters, I have to connect to that person's spirit and go, OK, in this physical experience, what is this person being educated about? What are they working to? How are they trying to improve? And that really comes from my relationship with Islam because it just makes me really conscious of my action.
GARCIA: And surely not every guest that we're going to have we're going to have that type of rapport with. But we depend on research with our production team to figure out the questions that we want to get out. And we do our research to see what have they offered to other interviews previous, and then we try to go somewhere else. And then in the midst of the conversation, of course, you get that comfort zone, and then, you know, that's where we start to explore other territory that is just on the spot.
We also have a section of our show called Impression Session where Stretch and I, because we're DJs and we're music selectors, we provide our guests with a song to listen to and then we ask them to digest it and give their response. And that...
CORNISH: Which is still such an intimate thing, I feel like, sharing music with someone, just playing something and being like, what do you think of this?
BARTOS: Yeah, I'm much happier playing the music for someone than having the music being played for me.
CORNISH: Yeah, it's like putting yourself out there, right? You and your own tastes. And I think no matter how famous you get there's that...
BARTOS: Sure. Sure. Yeah.
CORNISH: ...Sort of vulnerable moment.
GARCIA: It is. And what it's provided is that people feel like they're hanging out with us in our living room. And then we've gotten some amazing responses. And the Impression Session will always be at the end of the show, so it's kind of like that - the Easter egg at the end, you know, for our podcast listeners that we hope that they stick with it the whole way.
BARTOS: It's the reward.
CORNISH: Adrian Bartos, aka Stretch Armstrong, and Robert Bobbito Garcia. They host the new NPR podcast, What's Good With Stretch & Bobbito. The first episode is out today. Guys, thanks so much for coming in.
GARCIA: Aw, thank you.
BARTOS: Thanks so much for having us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BARTOS: I was going to say at the intro, can you please mention my real name so that...
CORNISH: I will put your real name. It's still NPR.
BARTOS: So my relatives and everyone...
CORNISH: This one's for Adrian's mom.
BARTOS: ...All my family, friends know this is real (laughter).
GARCIA: I haven't been called Robert publicly in so long.
CORNISH: So you don't want the name.
GARCIA: I love the name Robert. But it's - you know, when I emerged as Bobbito it just had a little more flavor, you know?
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.