Nurtured while playing pro in Puerto Rico in the ’80s, Bobbito Garcia’s passion for basketball led him to become a crucial figure in the underground hip hop scene in New York in the ’90s. A modern renaissance man, he’s a published author, TV host, magazine editor, dancer, athlete, and club DJ, and The Source magazine labeled the WKCR radio show he hosted with Stretch Armstrong as the “best hip hop radio show of all time.”

What do you think is the most creative city at the moment, art- and music- wise?

New York first, then I’d say San Juan, then Johannesburg.

Both DJing and street art had an incredible period of innovation in the ’80s in New York. How do you think they fed off of each other?

In the ’80s I was more a purveyor of art. A musicologist. I didn’t start DJing until the ’90s – I was just appreciating the culture.

As far as how they relate to each other, I don’t know that there’s a topical thing that you can grasp, nothing direct. In the vague sense, there’s a necessarily creative aspect to New York, and that’s a condition of being among 8 million people. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, the kids had a lack of resources, and the outgrowth of those conditions took form in art – in a lifestyle movement on a turntable, or a lifestyle piece on the train. All outgrowths are from the same point of inspiration. New York kids had great inspiration.

Who are some artists you admire?

I love Doze Green, Lee Quiñones, Ease of the Inkheads; they’re all Latino – two Puerto Ricans and one Cuban. I mean, I have their artwork in my house, up on my wall. Their work runs the gamut of new styles, and it’s full of expression.

As far as record sleeves, I love Ge-Ology, Matt Doo of Dooable Arts was great. He did Organized Konfusion’s second album, Extinction Agenda. I like Skam2? too. He’s a skateboard kid, did most of the Tribe covers. He does some crazy stuff.

How do you feel about how mainstream urban music and art have become?

I think the art forms are too passionate to be completely co-opted, manipulated, exploited, packaged. Once people figure they can make money off of it they will, and with all the digital forms available now, anyone can make anything. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a purity to it. There are enough MCs who love it too much. Fine art and commercial, these are two very different things, but then you get to the term “hip hop,” and it’s used so loosely. There are artists that go into a recording studio and say, “I want to make a record that sounds like nothing we’ve ever heard before.” And then there are other artists that say, “Yo, we want to sell records with this catchy loop,” and that’s commercial art, and that’s okay. Neither one is better than the other. It’s just different.

How do you feel you fit into that equation?

My record label was never based on sales. I sold maybe 5,000 copies on vinyl, but for me it was always about creative control, quality control, analog sounds. I still take photos with a 35 mm camera, and that’s not a conscious decision. That’s a pure love decision. Prints made from film just feel warmer. I think a kid who sketches freehand and a kid who sketches something with a mouse are in two different universes. I just personally feel one is closer to my heart.

You wrote Where’d You Get Those? NYC’s Sneaker Culture 1960–1987 [Testify Books] and have written for magazines, and you are the editor in chief of Bounce magazine, an actor, a dancer, a producer, a basketball performer…that’s pretty expansive. Do you have any other sort of creative outlet?

I mainly just do photography. I’ve been the main photographer for Bounce, have had photos licensed to Nike for huge billboard ads, but my truest creative outlet is basketball. When I DJ I’m not the most creative. I play what you wouldn’t expect to hear, and as far as turntable skills, I’m nothing special. It’s the way I present them and the energy I put out that makes people move.

Bobbito Garcia