Tapemasta: Props to Rare Hip Hop for this interview & checking out other things on their website..which is like a tribute to the real old school....Salute !!!
YEAH BOY!!! Hip-hop would not be the art that it is without the radio DJ. When the art left the street corner and was allowed to play for a couple of hours on a Friday and Saturday night on the radio, it took off. B-boys and b-girls sat around with their cassette radios to hear two dj's break new records from the street. One dj was Mister Magic (R.I.P) and the other was Kool DJ Red Alert. Red Alert had ties to the art form. He was part of the party crowd that witnessed Kool Herc and MC Coke La Rock do it.. The block party was his classroom and he began showing what he learned by delivering it to the masses with the Red Alert show, one of the first FM radio hip-hop time slots. He was a true dj, that mixed live on the radio.
Red was instrumental in spreading the art form. He is now considered fondly, as Uncle Kool DJ Red Alert because the time he has put into nurturing the art. Still spinning, keeping his ears to the street and delivering mixes that DJ's are attempting to emulate. Red has proven that hip-hop is a part of his soul and he is part of the fabric of hip-hop.
RareHipHop.com: We are here with the legendary Kool DJ Red Alert. So Red, what have you been up too lately?
Kool DJ Red Alert: Just finished overcoming the end of an era, a thirty year era at 98.7 KISS FM. I just finished doing my last show which was the last Saturday of April in 2012. I gotta say, the majority of my career has been there. Of course a lot of people know I left KISS and went over to Hot 97, came back then went over to Power 105, came right back, but this time there is no coming back cause of the end of KISS.
RareHipHop.com: How did you get your start over at KISS?
Kool DJ Red Alert: Let me see where I can go…Me being one of the members of the Almighty Universal Zulu Nation under the behalf of Afrika Bambaataa, a program director at KISS FM approached Bam about having some of the DJs come on and start incorporating Hip-Hop into their master mixes, it was called the KISS master mix. The first person they went after was this brother named Africa Islam who, him and I together used to do a show on WHBI that was an independent radio station (105.9) the show was called Zulu Beats. Africa Islam was the first person they had in mind, but he missed a couple of appointments. The next person they went after was my cousin, the original DJ Jazzy Jay. He did it for a couple of months but he wasn't getting paid. He was getting a lot of exposure for gigs and studio work, but he said 'you know what, I'm not going to do it anymore', so they came to Bam and asked who was the next person he had in line and that's when they came after me. I started in October of 1983.
RareHipHop.com: Did they give you full autonomy or did they have a show mapped out for you? At that time there was no really no format for a Hip-Hop show.
Kool DJ Red Alert: It wasn't fully a Hip-Hop show, it's just that a lot of people recognized it was coming from a Hip-Hop culture. The program director Barry Mayo, wanted to incorporate our style which was Hip-Hop, with the music they were playing on the radio which was dance and R&B. We learned how to fit everything together. When we were rocking at the Roxy at the time we used to be open minded and played all different genres of music. That's how Bam taught us to play all different styles so when I brought it to the radio I basically did the same thing I was doing in the clubs. During that time we were very diverse.
RareHipHop.com: How did you get the name, Kool DJ Red Alert?
Kool DJ Red Alert: Before I got into DJing, a lot of people knew me for playing ball. Growing up in Harlem, went to school up in the Bronx at DeWitt Clinton High School. I played high school ball and I was kinda of well known, slashy, skinny, big ole red head (laughs), big red afro, my man Dennis gave me that nickname 'Red Alert, Red Alert', so once I started getting into DJing I added 'Kool DJ'. When I approached Kool Herc, I asked him if I could add 'Kool' to my name, do you mind, Herc looked at me and said 'go head man' (laughs), so that's how it became Kool DJ Red Alert.
RareHipHop.com: Were you already a part of the Zulu Nation?
Kool DJ Red Alert: No, this is before I got down with the Zulu Nation. I started DJing as far back as 1976 and my cousin Jazzy used to always come by the crib and he saw what I was doing, so he wanted to learn. As I showed him the basics, at that time my family that was living in Harlem, moved to the Bronx. So when they moved to the Bronx, my Aunt brought Jazzy his turntables and mixer and he started learning on his own how to DJ. He made friends with people in Soundview, RIP to my man Sundance, then Sundance became one of his first emcees. Sundance was telling Disco King Mario, rest in peace, about Jazzy so he said 'yo man you need to get my friend, he's bad!' At that time Mario didn't have records or turntables all he had was a mean sound system. He asked Jazz to get down and he said yeah, Jazzy was wide open. He put him on although he wasn't paying him nothing. Meanwhile, my family all moved to Bronx River, but Jazz started rocking with people over in Soundview. While this is going on, there used to be a little rivalry between Disco King Mario and Afrika Bambaataa as far as the sound systems, one crew against another as far as DJs and emcees. They started hearing so much about my cousin they said 'who is that little guy over there with Mario, where he come from?' Somebody mentioned to Bam that that was the kid that just moved into the projects, he just got down with Mario. So Bam said, 'what is he doing over there, he need to be down with us!' So he reached out for my cousin and Jazz used to say you need to put my cousin Red down, so I got down in '79.
RareHipHop.com: So let's fast forward, how did you get involved with KRS-One and the battle with MC Shan. There are a million and one stories, what's the real deal Red?!
Kool DJ Red Alert: Ok, number one, rest in peace to my man Scott La Rock. Scott La Rock and I became good friends during the time he used to DJ at Broadway International. He was a counselor at a men's shelter, but he also DJ'd on the side. He'd always come to me and ask me how to break in DJing. When him and KRS-One first hooked up together, they made a record 'Success is the word' on Sleeping Bag Records. At the time my rival was Mr Magic on WBLS, rest in peace, damn we lost a lot of good brothers…
RareHipHop.com: Yea, too many!
Kool DJ Red Alert: So here it is, Mr. Magic was the dominant man, even though I just got on in '83, everyone knows Magic is the man, cause he the one that started playing Hip-Hop on radio from the HBI days. So on BLS, he was getting first dibs on records. Magic was known for dissing you if something wasn't good, so he dissed 'Success Is The Word' so bad that the label dropped Scott La Rock and KRS-One. So a little after that, you know Marley Marl is the DJ for Magic and he also had a couple of MCs under him so Marley did that record called 'The Bridge' with MC Shan. KRS and Scott are still burnt from what Magic did getting them cut off from the label, they went and got with this company, Rock Candy Records and formed Boogie Down Productions. So when they heard 'The Bridge', they said 'the hell with that' and went in the studio, I think it was only one take from what I learned and they came out with the record called 'South Bronx'. The first time I actually got to hear the 'South Bronx' was at the Latin Quarters. There used to be a thing at Latin Quarters during the mid-eighties called 'Celebrity Tuesdays', everybody used to hang out there. The Awesome Two were the DJs. The house DJ was this guy named Raul. Here it is, Scott and Kris came in with an acetate. An acetate is like a plate where you record the song on and it and it forms just like a record, but after a couple of plays that acetate wears out like a test press. So Raul put the record on and everybody went like Whoa! Before it went all the way to the end, Raul took the needle off and said, 'this shit is dope, I gotta play it from the beginning again!' He played from the beginning again and everybody started going crazy! Scott then handed it to me and said, 'this is for you for the radio'. When I got to play it on the radio that day, and mind you, even though Mr. Magic, Marley Marl and I were rivals on different radio stations, one thing I was known for, if anything sounds good I'm going to play it. So there were a lot of records that Marley produced that I would play and 'The Bridge' was one of them. So when I played 'The Bridge' and when it comes to the chorus, 'To the Bridge, to the, to the Bridge' and the chorus, 'South Bronx, south, south Bronx', the place went crazy! The phones were lighting up and that's what set the tone and started the rivalry.
So then Marley and Shan went in the studio and did 'Kill that noise'. Then I'm at the crib one day and Scott asked me to come to the studio, Power Play which is in Queens by Queensbridge. He said, we need you to come in the studio and do that phrase you are known for. So I did that off of one take and they finished up the song and put out 'The Bridge is Over'. But I am blessed to say, we always kept it on records and on the mic. It never went any further, it never got disrespectful, it never got out of turn, it was just what Hip-Hop is all along…the battle! Because a lot of people don't understand most of Hip-Hop is about being competitive and we kept it like like! Not knowing later on, KRS-One, Mr. Magic, MC Shan and I would wind up doing the Sprite commercial years later.
RareHipHop.com: That was big for Hip-Hop at the time!
Kool DJ Red Alert: After that Marley formed his Juice Crew, peace to everyone over there, and everybody who was under my affiliation along with Boogie Down Productions, like the Ultramagnetic MCs, I formed the Native Tongues starting off with the Jungle Brothers and all the other crews. Day one, I will never forget when I was on tour in '88 with BDP, I heard that Craig G and Poet did some diss songs. Craig G did 'Duck Alert', Poet did a record going after Kris. We kept hearing about it while on the road. So when we came back home, Kris went straight to the studio. He already had a song on the 2nd album called 'I'm Still Number One'. He did a remix to that, I will never forget this. I was in the studio, the 1st time back in the studio for Kiss FM after being on the road for the whole summer. I played a little segment and then played 'Duck Alert'. Baby Chris aka Chris Lighty was in the studio with me, he saw I was playing 'Duck Alert' and cutting Bobby Brown's verse 'Why you want to talk about me' from'My Perrogative'. Chris kept asking me why am I playing that record, I paid him no mind, cause I had a plan. After I played that record, there was a promo that Kris had did that talked about every individual and said 'I'm still Number One' and then I played the remix, 'I'm still number one' and I feel to this day that remix shut them down and you never heard anything from them after that, everything went quiet. That was it , but we were still cool with other, friends and everything!
Let me explain to you something else that a lot of people didn't know, you remember when the Roxanne Roxanne battles were going on?
Kool DJ Red Alert: Ok, I was credited with breaking the record 'Roxanne Roxanne' because I remember when they first came out with the record, the A side was 'Breaking Out', I didn't care for that. I flipped it to the B side and started playing that. As I started playing that, I got credit for it. Mr. Magic and Marley was trying to take credit saying they broke it first...I broke it first! So they got mad at UTFO and got Shante to make 'Roxanne's Revenge'. So they made that record 'Roxanne's Revenge', you know there were a lot of Roxanne answer records. So a young lady came into the office one day to see Russell Simmons with my man Spyder D and it was Sparky D. Spyder had just finished recording Sparky's record. So they played it for Russell and we were like this is no joke, we gotta get her out there. Sparky said cool, but I ain't got no DJ. She turned to me and said 'do you want to be my DJ?' I said Ok and started DJing for Sparky. It was a rivalry between Sparky D and Shante. Mind you, we all go on the road together. Sometimes it may be Marley, sometimes Shan, or either or with Shante. Never no beef, never no problems. It bugged everybody out that my roommate on the road was Fly Ty, the Juice Crews' manager. It was always a respect factor from way back then, that's a beautiful thing! It's all about being competitive just like a sport!
RareHipHop.com: What about the Native Tongues? How did that formulate? Who was the first?
Kool DJ Red Alert: Ok, the first that came out was the Jungle Brothers, Mike G, Africa and Sammy B. Mike G and Africa went to Murry Bergtraum High School in lower Manhattan. At the same time there were a bunch of other people going to that high school. Q-Tip, Ali, Jarobi, Brother J and Sugar Shaft from the XClan, you had a lot that wanted to get their rhymes off. So I remember my nephew coming to me to start a group. I didn't take them serious. At the time there was a brother named Tony D that DJ'd for the Bad Boys who made 'Inspector Gadget'. So Tony D came to me and told me he had a studio in his house and if I had any ideas let him know. So I contacted Tony and told him my nephew and his people wanted to do some recording. The first song was called 'The Breaks', but it was never released. Now my brother was known for doing abbreviations. A lot of people hear me doing that, but I got it from him. People hear me say you 'BUM', Black Ultimate Man or say KMA 'Kiss My Ass', to give a few examples. So my nephew Mike always remembered what my brother would say, got together with Africa and said lets make this record called 'Jimbrowski'. So they got together with Adam Levy of Warlock Records. That's when they came out.
We learned at the same time De La Soul were coming out of Tommy Boy. DeLaSoul and Jungle Brothers got to be familiar with each other cause they had a similar type of vibe and style. I think they did a show together in Boston and decided to keep in touch. Now while the Jungle Brothers are getting onboard, on the side waiting their turn was Q-Tip, Ali, Jarobi and Phife. So the intro was lets get Q-Tip on one of the songs on the Jungle Brothers album. So he did a song on the Jungle Brothers album called 'Black is Black'. Meanwhile, when the JB's put out a single called 'Straight out the Jungle', on the flip side they did a song which was actually a promo. A lot of people knew that I had promos being played on my radio show that turned into songs. This happened to be one of them. The 'In time' promo was another introduction for Q-Tip. Now as we introduced Q-Tip the anticipation is building, people are hearing more of the Jungle Brothers. As people hear more and more of the jungle Brothers, here comes Q-Tip and them and people are like who is this Q-Tip? What really capped it was when Q-Tip did his little thing in 'Me, Myself and I' off of DeLaSoul, now everyone wants Q-Tip and did not know he had a crew A Tribe Called Quest. Now there is a bidding war and Jive Records got them.
Now with all this going on, I'm still moving with BDP, but who I also got close with is Mark the 45 King. he used to hand me different beats for me to play and I didn't want to take credit for what he did so I did the promo for him, 'Kool DJ Red Alert with the 45 King Special'. He used to give me different artists that was coming under him. He would give me Lakim Shabazz, Chill Rob G, Lateee and then here come across Queen Latifah. She was on the same label as DeLaSoul and she started flowing and jelling with the crew. We looked at her and said this is good, everyone has a similar vibe. Now in '88, the Jungle Brothers went overseas for the 1st time after dropping their album and the record that took them over the top was 'I'll house you'. You know, hip-hop on a house record. Who does Africa come across meeting, is the top MC at that time overseas, a female, Money Love. He got involved with Money Love, found out a lot about her and she then came back to the states. Everybody started jelling together. It was actually the Jungle Brothers with the idea of forming the Native Tongues. What topped it off more was the remix of 'Buddy', it took it to another level. It all started with the Jungle Brothers.
RareHipHop.com: There is a lot of credit that the Jungle Brothers need to receive that they don't get unless you are really a true Hip-Hop head.
Kool DJ Red Alert: Right! Right! You know what I learned, sometimes you may have somebody who kicked everything off or originated something and whoever feeds off of that person may become bigger because they may have a better machine behind them. So here it is the Jungle Brothers, were on a small label but didn't have a great promotion and marketing machine behind them. While DeLaSoul and Queen Latifah on Tommy Boy and Tribe Called Quest on Jive, they got better marketing and promotion behind them, that's why their names became bigger than the Jungle Brothers. For example, The baddest DJ in Philadelphia was Cash Money but who everybody got to learn about was Jazzy Jeff, cause Jeff was down with somebody who was known and made some good records. Nothing taken away from Jeff, he's a bad motherf*****, but Cash Money was that dude. It's the machine behind you that make you big.
RareHipHop.com: Your son is in the industry, what advise did you give him?
Kool DJ Red Alert: You talking about my youngest son Kool G Mims. It surprised my wife and I, because he went to away to college, St. Bonaventure, he's a ball player and everything. Then he said to my wife and I, he said check this out, it was a video of an R&B artist and during a segment of the song my son comes out rapping! My wife and I looked at each other and was like, where does this come from? We knew he was around it all the time, but he never showed interest. Come to find out he always wanted to rhyme but he kept it to himself cause his heart was more into playing ball. That was his goal and he didn't go as far as he wanted so he decided to start rhyming and surprised all of us. What I always try to show him is that number one, you gotta set your own standards and platform. Yea, I could let everyone know he is my son, but I want him to have his own identity. I want people to accept him for him not because of who he is to me. So I tell him acknowledge the business but master your craft at the same time.
RareHipHop.com: How prevalent are ghost writers in the industry?
Kool DJ Red Alert: Surely, you are trying to say in an indirect way Grandmaster Caz was the 1st ghostwriter (laughs). It wasn't meant to be but it end up being like that to tell you the truth. Because everybody knows the rhymes that Hank took from his book, so you might as well say he is the 1st ghostwriter but was never credited for it!
RareHipHop.com: What about DJs, you guys used to have everyone hypnotized.
Kool DJ Red Alert: That was the purpose of the DJ, to command the set, command the audience and have everybody jell together listening to a little bit of everything.
RareHipHop.com: The DJ used to be bigger than the rapper?
Kool DJ Red Alert: It was in the beginning, respect to Kool Herc. Herc was considered the pied piper during the beginning of the culture. You had Herc bring everyone together and who was hanging out at his parties, the b-boys and the graffiti artists. The only guy on the mic then was Coke La Rock and he wasn't saying rhymes then, if he did it was very short a brief. Even Herc used to say short rhymes, but who changed the lyrical game after them, here comes Cowboy, rest in peace, Melle Mel, Kid Creole, then you had the party rocking MCs like Busy B. Then Bam had the biggest group ever, a lot of people didn't know the Soul Sonic force was 10 emcees.
Kool DJ Red Alert: Now the lyrical game is getting longer. I used to hear Melle Mel say 'Jack and Jill went up the hill and took a chill pill'. They took upon themselves and start delivering more. It became more lyrical. The party scene kinda faded out because as they were commanding the stage as being lyrical, people stopped dancing and starting looking at them. Before, everybody was dancing, but then the emcees started delivering a little more and commanded presence.
That whole Furious crew were Hip-Hop's first superstars as a far as a group is concerned lyrically. The first record that we all know was not made by the Furious Five, we all know that the Sugar Hill Gang came out with Rapper's Delight. But we didn't really accept them cause they weren't really from our circle, yall wasn't here with us. Especially when we learned who they were and where they got the rhymes from (Grandmaster Caz). Like I said earlier, you might as well consider Caz the first ghostwriter. Hank managed Caz and came to him asking for his rhymes, Caz gave him his book and the rest is history. Caz is looking at it in a street sense, I'm going to look out for you if you look out for me. So that's why I say he is indirectly the first ghostwriter. So when they came out, we were like who the f**k is these guys? But because it became so popular it really opened the door for other people to get involved. When Sylvia, rest in peace, put that record out, you had other independent labels up in Harlem looking for guys that are doing this Hip-Hop in the streets. So Sylvia Robinson went looking for Flash and them and then afterwards Spoonie Gee, Country with the Disco Four, Master Don (RIP) and the Death Committee 'Funk Box'. Then Peter Brown put out a few records on the side too, so a lot of the independents are putting these records out.
Now people are starting to pay attention more to the emcees than the DJ. Every time you heard of a group you always heard the DJ name before the group, but what happened over a period of time, every time you heard a record being played, you may see the DJ in the back like a band, but who is upfront doing the performing or who do you hear all the time? You don't hear the DJ on a record or the DJ on the radio, you hear the emcee.
RareHipHop.com: We appreciate the love! Any shout outs you have to give Red!
Kool DJ Red Alert: Shout outs to every single person that took belief in me from day one. To find out more about me go to www.Kooldjredalert.com, cool with a 'K' or what they say nowadays, just google my damn name (laughs)!