From B-boying to beats, Bobbito knows hip-hop’s street culture.
by Joshua P. Ferguson
originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine 10.01.09
“PRO-Keds is rereleasing the Royal Flash for the first time in 30 years,” Robert “Bobbito” Garcia says with the excitement of a die-hard sneaker freak. “They’ve asked me to contribute my design and thoughts, which I’m very proud of because I loved the shoe when it came out in 1979.” It’s hardly surprising that Garcia knows the year a pair of Keds hit the streets: An avid consumer of New York street culture, he’s dedicated his life to documenting it, from the shoes on its basketball courts to the music in its clubs.
Along the way, the renaissance man of hip-hop culture has donned an array of hats: skilled basketball player, break-dancer, sports announcer, journalist, author (Where’d You Get Those?: New York City’s Sneaker Culture 1960–1987), consultant for the creative marketing firm Project 2050 and, most important, renowned DJ, who spins at the Shrine Thursday 1.
“I was immersed in culture—seeing graffiti on trains, hearing music coming from people’s windows,” the 43-year-old says of his formative years. “I was engulfed in it before I was even aware of what that meant.” Garcia grew up across the street from Rock Steady Park, as it’s now known, the Upper West Side park that gave birth to world-famous break-dancing team the Rock Steady Crew. “It was a pillar to the hip-hop and playground basketball communities,” Garcia says. For the son of Puerto Rican immigrants, athletics and music have held equal sway: His father was both a Latin-jazz musician and a lifelong basketball player.
Taking up his family’s first love, Garcia became a professional basketball player in Puerto Rico in 1987 but ultimately felt drawn to his other passion, music. He returned to the U.S. to complete a sociology degree from Wesleyan University in ’88. All the while deejaying, Garcia was snapped up by Def Jam in ’89 to host a radio show with fellow NYC DJ Stretch Armstrong. The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show, which aired for eight years, was voted the best hip-hop radio show of all time by Source magazine in ’98 thanks to its taste-making promotion of breakout artists such as Nas, Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G. “We introduced the world to over 30 unsigned artists that changed the face of the industry in the ’90s,” Garcia says. “They were all heard on our show before they were known.”