Bobbito: Halftime

If you read the liner notes to any major Hip-Hop album from early ‘90s on, chances are you’ll see Bobbito’s name in the shout outs. If you a go to an New York street-ball event or Madison Square Garden halftime show, chances are, you’ll see Bobbito teasing the crowd with his mesmerizing handle. The same […]


you read the liner notes to any major Hip-Hop album from early ‘90s on, chances are you’ll see Bobbito’s name in the shout outs. If you a go to an New York street-ball event or Madison

Square Garden halftime show, chances are, you’ll see Bobbito teasing the crowd with his mesmerizing handle. The same is true if you’re doing a report on sneaker culture, where your primary source may be Bobbito Garcia’s Where’d You Get Those?. From the swoosh of the net to the swoosh of the Nike, Bobbito’s been an aficionado, independent of his rich rap heritage.

The 39 year-old former co-host of the legendary “DJ Stretch Armstrong and the Bobbito Show,” witnessed live performances from Nas, Big Pun, DMX, Mobb Deep and Jay-Z and a plethora of other lyrical presidents, Bobbito has been a stapled in Hip-Hop’s development. Having penned for many of its magazines for over 15 years, Bob was cashing checks signed by Dave Mays and Russell Simmons before Chris Brown was born.

The 1988 pro Puerto Rican hoopster now serves a Hip-Hop’s permanent sneaker guru via his ESPN2 show It’s The Shoes. Whether walking in style, running the court, or kicking it with stars in the pages of VIBE, Bobbito Garcia changed Hip-Hop forever, read how… How did you start playing basketball?

Bobbito: Basketball was really just part of the fabric of my family. My father, who played when he was young in Puerto Rico, was invited to try out for the Puerto Rican Pro-League before he had moved to the United States. My dad gave me a ball when I was seven years old. When I was in fourth grade, I made the six grade team. By age 14, 15, I started playing at Holcombe, Rucker, and citywide and all the tournaments in New York. After that, it’s been this long consistent continuous ride of just playing ball and getting a lot of enjoyment out of it. Is it true that you were under the tutelage of Earl “The Goat” in your younger days?

Bobbito: Well, yeah. Earl Manigault, nicknamed “the Goat” is a playground legend out of New York. He went to Ben Franklin High School and unfortunately, never realized his potential. Kareem Abdul Jabaar once called him the best, the best guard he had ever played with or against out of New York. Earl got hooked on heroine, he got hooked to a life of crime, wound up in jail, and when he came out, he started hanging out in the park at the Goat Park, which is right across the street from where I live. Earl was just a constant presence in all of our lives. It wasn’t just me. It was like anybody who went into that park was affected by Earl. He ran a tournament called, “Walk Away From Drugs”, which I played in, my brother played in it. You know, Earl, in his late 30’s was still running full courts with us and dunking. After heroine addiction, after like heart by-pass, after, you know, all these things that his body went through, he could still dunk on one of the rims and he was only 6’1. Damn.

Bobbito: That gives you an idea of how athletic he was in his prime. But essentially, he would hang out at night and sometimes, he would show me freak passes. It wasn’t so much like “hey, shoot a jumpshot like this,” it was more like Earl was like this mythical character in the park. All he had to do was give you a nod. He always liked my jumpshot. It was just like this unspoken relationship with a legend. And the legend liked me, the legend, noticed me. That was the relationship. It wasn’t like I went and had pizza with him. He was kinda like Yoda. Talk about your career as a writer. You founded Bounce magazine but it goes way back further than that…

Bobbito: Yeah. I was working at Def Jam since 1989 as a messenger and very quickly, with a lot of initiative and intuitive sense about Hip-Hop, I was able to climb up the ladder at Def Jam and start doing promotions. Through that, I met Dave Mays at WHRB, Harvard University’s radio station, who at that point in 1989, started a newsletter called The Source. The next year, they moved to New York, made it a real magazine and I was one of their early writers. I was doing reviews, concert reviews, 12 inch reviews, leading up to a landmark article called “Confessions of a Sneaker Addict,” which was their first article ever on anything outside of recording artists or albums. It was their first cultural piece. It was a big article for them because it was the first article ever written on sneaker culture in all of media period. It got a ton of response and a young publisher by the name of Dana Albarella, who at that point was working at St. Martin’s and who later went on to Regin Books/Harper Collins started her own book company called Testify. She had read my article all the way back then, really liked my writing, and really liked the subject matter. She approached me about writing a book, which I then titled, Where’d You Get Those?: New York Sneaker Culture from 1960-1987 which came out in 2003. It’ll be out in soft cover this year in the fall and eventually will be made into a documentary.

Before I wrote the book, I wrote a ton of freelance. I wrote for Rap Pages for like three years. I had a column called “The Barbershop”. I wrote for Slam Magazine early on, a lot of freelance articles. I wrote for VIBE Magazine starting in 1994, freelance, and then I started writing a column called “Sound Check” and miraculously, it’s lasted. It’s the only thing that’s lasted for VIBE all this time. After I wrote the book in 2003, I was approached by some friends of mine about starting a playground magazine called Bounce. I had so much fun writing about basketball in my book, I felt like doing a magazine would be the perfect segway. I was the editor from 2003 until this year. I still work with the magazine as a consultant. We really bring home the idea that there’s a ton of great ball players that aren’t getting the exposure and, you know, it’s similar to what Stretch and I with WKCR 89.9 FM where we just exposed a lot of great talent that people didn’t know about. Speaking of the DJ Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito show, How did it feel being around Mobb Deeps, Nas, and Big Pun when they were first getting their wings together?

Bobbito: People always ask me that. It didn’t feel any different than being around Ghetto Communicator or R.A. the Rugged Man, or Cage. It’s like, all those dudes came up and they were all on equal plains. They were all nice on the mic. They were all really energetic and none of us, Stretch, [Lord] Sear, or our listeners, ever knew what was going to happen with anyone. Fame could have happened to anyone. DMX the Great came up in 1990 – eight years later, he was DMX. Killa Cam and Murder Mase came up with Big L, and, five, six years later, they were Mase and Cam’ron. Big L just as well could have been that Platinum artist too. It’s like people ask me, “How was it?”. It was just like this innocent time. Mobb Deep came in when they were Poetical Prophets. They were unsigned hype in The Source. They didn’t even have a record yet. Same thing with Big Dog the Punisher. He came up with Fat Joe. We clearly saw that he was a nice MC. Two years later, he was Big Pun and selling platinum records. Same thing with Ason Unique [Ol’ Dirty Bastard] He came up with Rza, who at that point was Rakeem. Two years later they came back with “Protect Ya Neck” as Wu-Tang Clan, and re-wrote the history of Hip-Hop in 1993. There are so many artists that came through, who just blew up years later. The gratifying thing was when they remembered. Redman put us on his shout outs, Organized Konfusion put us on a shout out. The Fugees, if you look at The Score, the first people they shout out is Stretch and Bobbito. That album, The Score, sold how many copies, like ten million. You know, that was nice when people remembered us. Not everybody remembered us, but it’s all good. Out of all the things you do, writing, DJing, the ESPN show, playing basketball, you even had an acting gig in Summer of Sam,… if you could choose one profession, what would it be?

Bobbito: I wouldn’t choose one. I’ve sharply proven that people don’t have to stay in one lane. If anything, all the different lanes that I’ve been a part of have helped each other. As a DJ, it helps that I was dancer for years. Dancers look at me and are like, “Yo, that’s an ill record. How did you know to play that.” I’m like “Yo, I understand it. I understand that nuance. I understand polyrhythms. I was a musician as a kid. My father was a musician. The rhythm of dancing also helped me as a ball player. When you see me dribbling or when I’m doing commercials or a performance, I’m incorporate dance into that. I incorporate footwork into that, and so, it all, to me, it all goes hand in hand. I think the crowning moments of my life, personally, would be playing pro-ball in Puerto Rico [at] 5’10” and 165 pounds. To be recognized by one of the best leagues in the world as good ball player meant a lot to me. Right.

Bobbito: Especially in my homeland, where I had a lot of pride and spirituality coming out of the fact that I was getting to see all the islands – in terms of what the world looks and goes “Wow, Bobbito is gonna be remembered.” I think obviously the radio show. In 1998, The Source magazine voted Stretch, Sear, and I, the best Hip-Hop show of all time. I feel like, the artists that are still the biggest artists right now, Jay-Z, Biggie, and Nas, they all started when they were unsigned on our show. Well, Jay-Z, he had a 12-inch [record] deal, he didn’t have an album deal when he came up. I think still to this day, you think about the biggest artists of the last 15 years, they started on our show.

I think another crowning moment is my book, absolutely. I mean, you know, it took four years to write and I’m very proud of it. I went to Wesleyan University and I’m very proud that I could write a book that was reviewed by high literary media like the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and The New Yorker. I’m definitely proud of what I’ve done.