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For many hip-hop fans, Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia’s radio show was their introduction to the most influential pioneers of the genre throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s. Their show, The Stretch Armstrong And Bobbito Show, was run out of a basement at Columbia University, giving a literal meaning to its designation as an “underground” show, but its impact had mainstream, global implications for hip-hop music
Between the years 1990 and 1999, Stretch and Bob introduced the world to influential rappers like Big L, Big Pun, Eminem, Fat Joe, Jay-Z, MF Doom, The Notorious B.I.G., and Wu-Tang Clan. And while the pioneering DJ duo’s new project featuring the M19s Band, No Requests, doesn’t include those influential voices, it does, however, carry the influence of the sounds of the city that gave the world many of them.
No Requests pays homage to the history of hip-hop right off the bat, with the album opener “Anna From Woohside” delivering a virtuoso, whirlwind summary of some of the genre’s most iconic beats, including Nas’ “NY State Of Mind,” Biggie’s “Unbelievable,” and Souls Of Mischief’s “93 ‘Til Infinity.” From there, the band, consisting of “elite, hand-picked musicians” explores a tapestry of diverse, diasporic sounds from New York City’s sprawling array of intermingling cultures. The effect is similar to dropping by one of the pair’s eclectic DJ sets (Bobbito also DJs under the alias DJ Cucumber Slice), where they are as likely to play Afrobeat, salsa music, or dusty, throwback funk as they are the hip-hop legends they were raised on and helped raise.
“Anna From Woohside” is the perfect song to introduce squeamish listeners to the set, with its familiar but jazzy renditions of hip-hop “standards.” Not everyone who would approach this soulful compilation is as aware of the two DJs’ expansive and voracious musical appetites; for the uninitiated and unadventurous, it could be daunting to pick up this collection on the strength of Stretch and Bob’s rap reputations and suddenly be confronted with sweeping strings and livewire Latin percussion. What vocal work exists ranges from Spanish chants to operatic jazz-inflected squalling. Giving fans “Anna” first and bookending it with radio interview clips speaking to the radio show’s influence and impact on music allows listeners to ease into it.
But once they have, they’ll find it hard to remain laid back. This set, like the live DJ sets the two have spun for the better part of the past three decades, aims to get your feet moving and your heart pounding. I can’t cumbia to save my life, but you had better believe I did my damndest to hit those steps and swing my hips in my apartment (alone, with the blinds drawn, naturally). Guest vocalists Maimouna Youssef and Mireya Ramos offer lively counterpoints to the rapid-fire drumming and skyscraping horn solos that provide much of the project’s framework, while quick interludes — excerpted from episodes of Stretch and Bobbito’s show — provide the breathing room to step away from the metaphorical dance floor, if only for a moment.
As much as No Requests pays homage to hip-hop’s multicultural influences, it also represents the genre’s constant evolution and forward motion. Although little of modern hip-hop sounds like the jazz, salsa, funk, and soul present here, those threads can often be heard running throughout today’s hits. The willowy woodwinds on “Mask Off,” the burgeoning mainstream popularity of Latin Trap and reggaeton, and the blasting horns that encompass the victorious boasts of Jay-Z, T.I., and Drake all find their roots in the sounds of NYC street corners where the melting pot isn’t just a figure of speech but a literal organism, a synthesis of a hundred different cultures and languages colliding and crashing into one another to create something new. In the same way that tomorrow’s rappers will always have Big L’s “‘98 Freestyle” — yes, that was recorded during a taping of The Stretch Armstrong And Bobbito Show as well — for inspiration, No Requests is both a testament to the legendary duos curatorial legacy and a building block upon which something entirely new may grow.
No Requests is out January 17 on Uprising Music. Pre-order the album here.