Bobbito Garcia: Getting Down With A Culture Orchestrator

You cant mention streetball, sneaker culture, deejaying, b-boying and anything related to hip-hop and New York cultural history all at once without mentioning Bobbito Garcia. 

But there are pockets of people that dont know that hes largely responsible for bringing sneaker culture to commercial advertising after his 1991 article in The Source, or giving rappers like Nas and Biggie their first platform to share their talent on the The Stretch and Bobbito radio show

For the uninitiated and even for this who think they know his story, his documentary, Rock Rubber 45s, provides an intimate autobiographical portrait of Bobbito as a cultural trendsetter. He is a rare icon who has both documented the culture and been a full participant in it.

The film is a historical document of moments in history from Rock Steady Crew reunions, to Soul in the Hole hoops, basketball in Puerto Rico and South Africa, Earl Manigault on Nike commercials, “Wonderfull” parties with surprise guest appearances from Stevie Wonder interspersed with alternately entertaining and poignant commentary from a whos who of celebrities who knew Bobbito best from Patti La Belle to Rosie Perez and Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

Bobbito as the writer, producer, and music director provides an eclectic soundtrack to the film, his third and most personally revealing and inspiring. 

Its a must see for basketball heads around the world, for music connoisseurs, for hip hop historians, b-boys and girls, for Latin music and culture enthusiasts, for Nuyoricans and Puerto Ricans from the island, for party-goers and deejays and everybody in between. 

With sold out screenings across the country, Rock Rubber 45s opened for Video On Demand on July 24th on all platforms including ITunes, Amazon, Vimeo, Google Play and Vudu. 

We talked to Bobbito about some of his inspiration for the film. 


The Shadow League: Why was it important that you documented your part in the culture and the culture itself?

Bobbito: I dont know if anyone was going to approach me and say, We want to do a biographical film about you.

Michael Rappaport kind of joked about it, but I dont know if he would have actually done that. I think early on I wondered how people might perceive me, someone whos not an NBA athlete or platinum selling artist telling my story. 

I had originally planned to write an autobiography, but after having two films in the pocket, I realized the power of film. The reason why its powerful is because its experienced in a shared space. 

Most people read books by themselves. When I screened the film at Central Park, there were two thousand plus people laughing together, sharing together and clapping together and crying together. Its a bonding moment. Thats what I envisioned happening with the film. 

I felt like if I was really transparent about some of the lower points of my life and reveal that I was sexually abused, reveal I was in positions in the entertainment industry that I was unhappy about and on the verge to being asked to creatively compromise myself and I wasnt down for that. I thought if I shared all that it would empower people and it has. It absolutely has. Ive gotten standing ovations for like 90 percent of the screenings. It feels good. I did something right. 

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TSL: One of the themes I got from the film was the focus around showmanship and how for people of color, why style is so important to our culture – for example in streetball, music, dancing…

Bobbito: Having studied sociology and having written about the history of sneaker culture in NY and playground basketball culture and documenting it with Bounce magazine and my book, Whered You Get Those? about NY city sneaker culture, I realized a few things. 

I had to interview Rakim for me and Stretchs NPR podcast. Theres a line that he says that just sums up all of NY. Theres a sign at the door, no biting allowed. There was a code in NY, in playground basketball and in sneakers where you dont copy. You dont imitate. You have to be original, you have to be unique. You have to be forward thinking and thats the mentality that I grew up with in NY. 

I have always been a dude that worked towards exposing the unexposed in a stylish manner because there are rules. You gotta be down by law. Thats another tenet from the 60s and 70s. 

People dont say that anymore, but you gotta be down by law. There was an unwritten law and we followed it to be fresh and progressive and to be righteous. When youre progressive, theres a lot of creativity that comes out. 

BOBBITO GARCIA’S FULL COURT 21 2014 OFFICIAL REEL, @fullcourt21nyc, #fullcourt21 Produced/Directed/Filmed/Edited by Jonathan Lopez

TSL: Talk a little bit more where in the film you touch on one of the many profound experiences in South Africa.

Bobbito: Im not going to spoil the film but I will say that I was the first US hip hop personality to perform in post- apartheid South Africa. This was 2000 on the very weekend on the 6th anniversary of the formation of the African National Congress. 

I had never been to the motherland. Just going there and just knowing what the conditions were under apartheid. People were shot at with machine guns just because they wanted to go to school. Imagine that. 

Going to school is tough, you gotta wake up, you got pimples, your teacher sucks, you gotta do homework, you get picked on, the lunch tastes like cardboard, but you want to learn, you want to grow, you want to be amongst your peers. Just imagine being in a society that violently denies you that opportunity.  

When I arrived in South Africa, I thought I was going to meet a lot of really beaten people because that system existed for decades. I arrived there and everyone was wonderful and beautiful and welcoming. When two kids came and said to me welcome home, I could tell you exactly where I was I remember all that shit vividly. Its moments like that you cant script that. I am forever grateful for the moment.

Playground to Pro – Make It Happen: Bobbito Garcia at TEDxLMSD

NYC native, LM grad and world-renowned DJ Bobbito Garcia is the critically acclaimed author of “Where’d You Get Those? NYC’s Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987” (Testify Books). In recent years, “Kool Bob Love” has done sideline reporting for the NY Knicks on MSG Network, voiced NBA 2K video games, and has hosted ESPN2’s “It’s the Shoes” series.

TSL: It was wild to hear that Patti LaBelle was your host mother as a high school student…

Bobbito: Its been really funny being at the screenings at the moment when Patti LaBelle comes on screen because its hearing all these people gasp. Its like, whaaaaat! 

I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and all the props to her to be this icon, this platinum selling artist and wanting to be involved in a non-profit outreach program to support students of color in the 80s that I was a part of called A Better Chance. 

When they told me Patti La Belle was going to be my host parent and I was going to hang out with her once a month and spend the day with her, go to the movies have her cook for me and meet her family, I was blown away. But at that moment I dont think I knew just how big Patti was. 


TSL: I noticed too that you did everything independentlyfilms, books, tournaments–which falls in line with the culture of hip hop to make a way out of no way. Did you choose that route or did it choose you?

Bobbito: I think one thing, particularly freelance creatives, can extract from the film is a blueprint of how one can possibly explore the idea of working for themselves in areas that they are passionate about. 

Ive done it time and time again in basketball or sneakers or hip hop or music but its never been easy and in most cases I didnt have a precedent. So Ive been in unchartered territory, time after time, after time.

CNN “Latinos In America” Bobbito Garcia piece

CNN aired this two-minute piece about Bobbito Garcia on 10/10/09 as a prelude to their “Latinos In America” documentary airing 10/21/09.

There are certain approaches to being an entrepreneur and being a freelance creative that work time and time again, which are you dont wait for corporate America or brands to fund things because most times they arent the visionaries, you are. 

I cant wait for Nike to say we want to fund a film about pickup basketball. Its not gonna happen. I have to go out and do it and then Nike will be like, This film is incredible, it speaks to the audience we want to capture, so here do an 11 city international tour. 

I think the other thing I knew from working with multiple brands in the 90s is that when corporate America is involved, they want creative control, thats not something I want to give up. The museums, corporate America, the cultural institutions, they dont validate our culture. When they get involved and support it, it is wonderful because its a resource that we dont have, but it doesnt make it real or make it final. 

Ive done all these projects, I started a basketball magazine, Bounce, I wrote a book with an independent publisher. All three of my films were independently funded, no Hollywood studios involved. 

I did a radio show on a college station, no funding, no salaries. 

Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives – Trailer

During the 1990s, Stretch and Bobbito introduced the world to an unsigned Nas, Biggie, Wu-Tang, and Big Pun as well as an unknown Jay-Z, Eminem, and the Fugees. The total record sales for all the artists that premiered on their radio show exceed 300 million.

For my tournament Full Court 21, the Knicks have been involved and The Nets are now involved. But Ive done the tournament in 20 international cities on four continents for six years whether there was a sponsor or not. When its there, its great. I can have the money for my salary and permits and shit, but its gonna happen either way.

Someone said at the Kennedy Center screening that youve really done a lot for the culture. I dont think people know until they see Rock Rubber 45 how much I have done for the culture. They didnt know about South Africa, they didnt know what Ive done in Puerto Rico, or what Ive done internationally. When you see the film its not meant to be self-aggrandizing, its to share some telling narratives. Thats why I made the film.

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