By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
A lifelong sneaker aficionado, b-boy Bobbito Garcia owns two of the most cushioned feet on the planet. He also owns two of the most trusted ears in hip hop. Between 1990 and 1998 he produced the enormously influential DJ Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito show on New York's WKCR-FM (89.9), once named the best rap-radio program of all time by readers of The Source. Since then he has taken the show solo every Friday morning from 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. (listen via the Web at www.cucumberslice.com). A longtime label owner, Puerto Rican-rights activist, hip-hop journalist, break dancer, and touring DJ (as Cucumber Slice), Garcia has more recently tried his hand at acting, appearing alongside Q Tip in the forthcoming hip-hop movie A Prison Song.
To top it all off, he's a surprisingly nice dude. Though talked-out and sick ("You saw that? When I sneezed the snot came out on the floor!"), Garcia graciously took time out from his speaking schedule at the recent "Hip Hop as a Movement 2001" conference in Madison, Wisconsin, to let City Pages try a reversal of his seven-year-old "Sound Check" column in Vibe. In the column, Garcia plays various unidentified songs for selected interview subjects--such as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, whom he recently met in Minneapolis for a forthcoming column. Over lunch on the University of Wisconsin mall, Garcia listened to every track we played, all of them from Minnesota, sometimes bobbing his head, but mostly just shaking it.
Garcia emphasized that his verdicts--though delivered with due jurisprudence--should be subject to mass appeal. "I don't think anywhere in the world needs validation from New York anymore," he took care to say. "Just because I don't like something doesn't mean that it's not valid."
"BREAKIN' MY HEART (PRETTY BROWN EYES)," MINT CONDITION (PERSPECTIVE, 1991)
GARCIA: That sounds like a Jermaine Jackson bad album cut, with the cheesy drums and a late-Eighties keyboard sound. But I didn't hate it. The vocalist was cool. That's the type of record that I feel is cool, but doesn't affect me.
CITY PAGES: That was Mint Condition.
GARCIA: Yeah, I never liked them anyways. I know heads that I really respect that love them, but I've never heard anything of theirs that I've really taken to.
"TOO CLOSE," NEXT (ARISTA, 1997)
GARCIA: This is the second track of the interview? I already don't like it. He went off-key for a second. The female sounded like she was straining. The sample is too easily recognizable. So far I don't like anything you've played.
"BOB GEORGE," PRINCE (WARNER BROS., 1988)
GARCIA: That shit is dope if it's a complete parody and some funny shit. But if money really takes himself seriously, that shit is horrible. The only excuse they would have is if that was done in '87 or '86.
CP: It was '87, I think.
GARCIA: Even so, you've got to think about the standard of musical production and songwriting that exists in the world. Nothing should ever be looked at as like, Yo, this is good for local. It should always be looked at as, Yo, this is good compared to what's out there, period.
CP: Do you have any fond Prince memories? That was from the Black Album.
GARCIA: That was Prince rhyming? I met him recently in New York; he was at a club I was DJing at. Mad cool dude. I would say Prince has some hits and he's definitely had some misses, but nonetheless he's a genius of our time. And, um, he should definitely stay away from rap.
"THE WOMAN WITH THE TATTOOED HANDS," ATMOSPHERE (RHYMESAYERS ENTERTAINMENT, 2000)
GARCIA: I've played this record. Is this Atmosphere? I love conceptual songs. I feel like, particularly in Atmosphere's case, those kids got a lot of rep right now for rhyming off the top of the head. So it's good to see a renowned off-the-top-of-the-head MC be able to do a conceptual song. Moreover, the strength of the record is that beat. Pianos are always my shit in terms of loops.
People in New York are mixed with Atmosphere. There's some people I know who think that they're totally wack, and there's people I know that think that they're the shit.
"CULTURE," MICRANOTS (SUB VERSE, 2000)
GARCIA: The rhyming sounds pretty cool, but I don't like that track at all. I always admire people who try to push what hip hop should sound like, but as with any experimentation, it still has to sound good.
"WE'RE A MESS," THE FOG (DINKYTOWN RECORDS, 2000)
GARCIA: I cheated and I saw what you pulled out, the Fog. Yeah, I don't like this shit. MF Doom did an intro on this that's incredible--that shit was dope. But I remember listening to this demo thinking, "What was Doom thinking getting on this shit?"
"GUARD YOUR HAREM," MUSAB (RHYMESAYERS, 2000)
GARCIA: I like the kid's voice. It's not the most original flow, but he hits all his lines on point. That's the type of record where I might play it once on the radio show just to expose it.
CP:This is Musab.
GARCIA:Yeah, I remember getting that, and being like, 'Oh, this is cool,' but it wasn't something that was changing my life.