Bobbito Garcia Hip-Hop legend Bobbito Garcia is back with a new project with his partner Rich Medina. As well as being a legendary writer for the Source and Vibe, Bobbito was one of the pioneers that brought the sneaker world into hip-hop. Check out this interview as former Def Jam A&R Bobbito breaks down his relevance in the hip-hop history books.
By William Hernandez
WHO?MAG: Talk to me about the new project you have out with Rich Medina? BOBBITO GARCIA: Rich and I have been DJing since 1997. We started a party in 2002 called “Happy Feet”. We’ve been traveling the world with it. The home base is here in New York. We do it all holiday weekends. We just had a first one in New York at a new location Lepoisson Rouge. We have a lot of fun when we spin together. We play the full gamut of genres available. From deep Jazz, rare seven inches, Afrobeat, Latin, House, and progressive Hip Hop. It’s just fun basically. I had done a compilation with a label in London called R2 records called Earthtones back in 2003. They were about to do a compilation with Rich. We are combined our heads and forces and said why don’t we do a compilation together. We’ll call it “The Connector Vol. 1: Modern Explorations in Afrobeat and Afrolatin”. Rich did his collections and I did mine. We’re real happy with the outcome as well as everybody who’s listened to it and bought it so far too.
WHO?MAG: How did Fondle ‘Em Records come about? BOBBITO GARCIA: (laughs) Well, Fondle Em you’re going back a bit to 1995. I was on the radio with DJ Stretch Armstrong and Lord Sear on 89.9 fm here in NY. We would get a lot of demos to play on the radio. This cat named Rich King who worked at Big Daddy Distribution in New Jersey was like “Yo Bob, you got a lot of dope joints. You should put them out on vinyl so the rest of the world could play them.” He was absolutely right. I didn’t realize the gold mine I had. I was looking at it like I got some fly joints to play on the radio. With Rich’s help and discussion, I started Fondle ‘Em back in 1995. The first release was Cenobites and in 1996 I put out MF Doom, Cage, Arsonist, Juggaknots. The label just kept on Flourishing. It was strictly vinyl, no promotions, and all indie so it never blew up. It did real well for the underground. Cats like MF Doom and Cage are still out there making records and being heard. I’m glad I was able to give them their start as solo artists. I closed the label in 2001 and did a compilation with Def Jux called “Farewell Fondle ‘Em” with all the releases through out the years through the label.
WHO?MAG: How did you end up writing to Vibe and The Source? BOBBITO GARCIA: Back in 1989 I started working at Def Jam. That was the starting point for me to do a lot of things in the industry. Because of the cache of the label’s name, everybody respected Def Jam. We had LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Slick Rick, and the Beastie Boys at one point. That allowed me to really make a lot of new friends by virtue of being a part of what was going on there. A lot of immediate respect, but when people got to know me as well and see what I was about, it really pushed it forward. I was always real honest, hard working, yearning knowledge type hip hop dude. I had a real pure approach towards the culture. For that reason, The Source gave me a writing start. One of my earliest articles for them was “Confessions of a Sneaker Addict” which I wrote in 1990. It ran in May 1991 issue, the one with Ice T on the cover. That was the first time in media history that anyone wrote about sneaker culture. I documented it and that lead to me writing a book “Where did you get those? The New York City sneaker culture 1960 to 1987” which came out in 2003 on Testified. That book led to me doing the first TV series in media history on sneaker culture called “It’s the Shoes” on ESPN. I did it for two seasons in 2005 and 2006. I have a firm belief that all things start small. When you have pulse on something and a passion, most times it will be realized if it’s meant to be.
WHO?MAG: While you were at Def Jam, did you help any artists get signed to the label? BOBBITO GARCIA: Honestly, I did help any artists to the table. I suggested a couple of artists to be signed to Russell [Simmons] but he didn’t sign any of them. My role as an A&R at Def Jam was more along the lines of because I was doing promotions at the same time. I would send out our albums across the world to DJs in clubs, radio stations, record pools, and mixtape DJs like Ron G, and Kid Capri. I would get the feedback from all the DJs. I would help Russell and Faith Newman, who was the A&R director. I would help them decide what the next single should be or tell them they were getting more response to the B side instead of the A side. I would suggest do a small video for the B side. That was really my role as an A&R. I listened to hundreds and hundreds of demos. Ninety nine percent of them were terrible. I would say the grand prize demo of all my years at Def Jam was Organized Konfusion who were called “Simply Two Positive MCs”. You may be familiar with Pharaoh Monch who was a member of that group who went solo years later and had a couple of hits with Rawkus. That was probably the best demo I heard at Def Jam.
WHO?MAG: How did you get the role in the “Summer of Sam” movie? BOBBITO GARCIA: Spike [Lee] and I have been cool for a couple of years. Spike came to hear me spin at ABT. I’ve been doing a residency at the club for eight and a half years now. Spike came to see me spin twice. He really enjoyed my sets. He would come up to the both and tell me “those are the O Jays”. He’s heavy into music. I guess my face fit the role of a DJ in the 1970s up in the Bronx. They threw a wig on me and some gold chains, something I would never wear. (laughs) I had a lot of fun doing that part.
WHO?MAG: How do you feel about the sneaker culture now-a-days with the Sneaker Pimps events? BOBBITO GARCIA: I think it’s the best time ever for the sneaker culture. You have a lot of information out there for anyone who wants to be informed. There are more colors out there and brands available. The technology has improved that the sneakers are more comfortable. I come from a time frame we didn’t have any of that. We didn’t have the internet, sneaker magazines. I was a nerd because I knew the names of the sneaker models. The majority of the kids back then just knew the new Nike joints the tan ones. They wouldn’t know the blazers or the bruins. But now every kid knows the name of the model, how many colors it comes out in. All that information is available. I think that’s good. I think it’s a great time with the sneaker tours that are going around. I’m about to do Sneaker Wars out in Ottawa, Canada. I’m grateful that people recognize what I’ve done for that culture and community. They embrace me and have me be a part of.
WHO?MAG: Would you ever start another record label again? BOBBITO GARCIA: I have a plan to start a new label called Happy Feet with Rich Medina to sort of put out the music he’s doing. He’s produced for Jill Scott. He’s appeared on a number of House records. He’s done singles with Jazzy Sport in Japan. It’s about time to put out his own records. We’re going to do some collaborations, probably mostly seven inches and it’s going to be strictly vinyl.
For more info on Bobbito Garcia go to www.myspace.com/bobbitogarcia www.bouncemag.com