If you’re a hip-hop head, you’re probably familiar with Adrian Bartos and Robert Garcia, the stars of WKCR at Columbia University’s legendary hip-hop radio show, The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show.
For eight years, the duo played a pivotal role in rap’s emergence in New York City. Having appeared on Stretch and Bobbito’s show is almost a requirement to be considered a golden-age hip-hop veteran today. From a 17-year-old Notorious B.I.G. to Jay-Z, Nas, Wu-Tang, Fat Joe, and Big L, the unfiltered show gave aspiring rappers a chance to be heard when no one else—that is, mainstream stations—would.
Today, technology offers artists far more autonomy, but independent radio still matters in hip-hop, where influential shows can also become documents of history. One shining example is right here in Durham.
DeeJay Samps hosts the Street Flava Mixshow on Duke’s WXDU, which launched as the UndaGround Sound Mix Show in 1994. Since then, Samps has both contributed to and influenced the Triangle’s hip-hop scene, making him a pioneering local legend. It’s arguably the longest-running hip-hop show on college radio in North Carolina and the second-oldest in the country.
“DeeJay Samps is literally the glue that holds the Triangle hip-hop scene together,” says Durham rapper and community advocate Joshua Gunn. “Many got their first airplay on Samps’ show, and most of us made meaningful connections through Samps that advanced our careers to the global stage.”
Many other artists share similar sentiments about Samps. He’s “more than a DJ and a hip-hop legend,” says the rapper Shame. “He’s always a good friend and somewhat of a father figure. When Samps has your back, you’re more than just an artist. You are family”.
“DeeJay Samps is a pillar of hip-hop in Durham,” says the comedian Bishop Omega. “Before Apple Music, before YouTube, no rapper did not go to Samps and rock with WXDU.”
While attending North Carolina Central University, Samps began his love for deejaying by practicing on his roommates’ turntables. Eventually, he moved into local clubs.
“I had these 12 crates of records I pulled in, and then they just wanted to hear the same five to 10 songs,” Samps recalls.
Realizing that deejaying parties didn’t allow him to immerse himself in the music he loved, he responded to a call for a hip-hop DJ at Duke by making a demo tape. After receiving a call back the next day, Samps began what would become an iconic Friday-night run that was only recently disrupted by the pandemic.
Many of the stories about the golden moments consist of song premieres, rap battles between local emcees (Phonte vs. Joshua Gunn, Joshua Gunn vs. Kaze), and the $1 beat raffles led by Samps and 9th Wonder.
Currently, Samps is the CEO, A&R, and manager of Street Flava Entertainment, an independent hip-hop label whose roster includes Precyce Politix, Mallz, Grammy-nominated producer D.R.U.G.S. Beats, and Beat Battle champion Steve Skyline.
“If we had a DJ Khaled in N.C., it would be Samps,” says Gunn. “The 919 hip-hop scene that we are all so proud of wouldn’t be where it is without him. DeeJay Samps is hall-of-fame level talent. A legend.”
I got a chance to chop it up with Samps and asked him, among other things, about his most memorable moments at WXDU. This is what he said:
“I can’t really say one, but J. Gunn used to call the radio station and freestyle over the air. I would play an instrumental at the radio station and he was on a three-way with two or three other guys rapping. I was amazed because they were all like 15, 14, 13. That was a big thing, because eventually I managed Thyrday, which is their group that they put together, and I started with them before they were Thyrday as a result of the show. Of course, seeing [Joshua Gunn] battle people when he was 14—he battled students at NCCU and killed them!
“Clearly, working with 9th Wonder—I met him through the show. I was one of the first people to play his music on the air. Here’s another story: So [Little Brother] had just finished “Speed,” and they came here straight from the studio. After my show, I was going downstairs, and they were sitting outside and pretty much formed Little Brother. They weren’t Little Brother at that point. They were just doing songs as a collective of The Justus League. I’m not gonna say I formed Little Brother or nothing like that, but the song was played first at my show. And then right after it played on air, they were downstairs talking about creating the group.
“Another good memory was before [9th] had done any work with major artists. He was mainly working with local artists at that point. He was still just kind of bubbling, and people were trying to get on his beats. As a way to make a little money, but also just to get his name out there, he would say, ‘Hey, if you come up to the station and put a dollar in the hat, at the end of the show, we’re going to pull it out and give [the winner] a beat for a dollar.’ I don’t know how many times we did that, maybe four or five. I don’t know if they did anything with them or not, but some people won some good beats for a dollar from 9th Wonder.”
Her Take: On Carolina Hip Hop is a new recurring column by Kyesha Jennings.
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