Not enough can be said or written about Hip Hop's premier radio deejay Kool DJ Red Alert. He's been on the scene from day one. He came up under Afrika Bambaataa and is cousin to the legendary Jazzy Jay. Red was also recently honored for holding it down on commercial radio longer then anyone else. He started wrecking turntables back in '76-'77 at many of the early Hip Hop block party/ community center gigs. He later went on to put in work with his cousin Jazzy Jay on a show called Zulu Beats which aired on independent radio station WHBI. Red graduated from there and really began to blow up the spot in October of '83 when he was hired by commercial urban giant Kiss FM. He's been holding it down ever since. Now Red can be heard on the Kiss FM's sister station Hot 97.
Red is what I call a Griot. He's a true Hip Hop historian and I'm definitely thankful for the times I've been able to chop it up with him. Red being older, was able to take in more things and experience more things then I could back in the days. When youíre 12-13-14 years old, life was vastly different when compared to those who were 18-19-20. For example when Red was looking at sections of the book, he would catch little things like wrong spelling to the name of a clothing item or particular person. He would also give me the full and correct address to places that I haven't been to in over 20 years. Most of all Red was there to experience the magic that existed at that time. Hence he was able to fill in any gaps. In this interview Red gives up much game and insight into Hip Hop's early days.
Davey D: How do you remember things first starting off with Hip Hop?
Red Alert There's so many things to recall.. I went to Dewitt Clinton High School up in the Bronx which was an all boys school at the time. This was in the mid 70s. There were some engagements going on up there that I didn't know about and my man 'Nevers' he told me about them. He told me to come with him to the spot. So I went to this spot that was on the west side of the Bronx on Jerome Avenue. The place was called the Twilight Zone.
When I went to step upstairs, I noticed it was one of those run down, busted down looking areas. It look like you could get slay at any moment from some one coming to 'vic' you. But I went up in the spot along with him and when I came stepping in, you saw there was a whole different slew of people up in there that was dressed regular. People was into their own thing and hanging around. You would've thought you was in an oversize bar. I went walking straight to the back. right into where the deejay was at. I saw the deejay who was a big husky muscular fella who was spinning.
At that time the set up he had as I recall were pioneer PL15 turntables. The mixer he had was a Sony mic mixer. This was a mixer that you hooked up microphones, but some way, some how he was able to hook up the turntables to it and he was turning the knobs like he was at an old radio station. He was going from one turntable to another. He had it all hooked up to a Sure power amp which was considered big power at that time. He had two tall column speakers. This young man who I'm talking about went by the name of Kool Herc.
At that time, he was playing music that was similar to what you would hear either downtown at the discos or on the radio. But he had a little twist to it. For example, if they were playing certain records downtown like The Average White Band, he [Herc] would put a little twist to it. He would just play a certain break beat of that record. If they was playing 'Scorpio' by Dennis Coffey, he would play a little break of it and add other different records that we would now consider original break beats. I'm talking about records like 'The Mexican' by Babe Ruth, or 'Just Begun' by Jimmy Castor Bunch.
Davey D: What year would you say this was about?
Red Alert: I would say this was around '76 or '77 that I witnessed all thisÖ
Davey D: Now oftentimes we talk about Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc being the key figures in Hip Hop, but there were hundreds of other people who were around doing things. Who do you remember outside of those three who were putting things down?
Red Alert There was a host of different deejays that was coming up during the time. Rest in Peace Disco King Mario who was from Soundview [Bronxdale] Projects. He passed away due to severe problems. He's considered one of the pioneer deejays. There was DJ AJ who later on became the deejay for Kurtis Blow. Kurtis Blow made a record using his name called 'AJ Scratch'.
Then you had the L Brothers, who were the Livingston Brothers. Once upon a time the Livingston Brothers and Grandmaster Flash were all together as a crew but then they parted off. The L Brothers consisted of the older brother called Mean Gene. The middle brother was Cordeo and the younger brother who turned out to be one of the baddest out the bunch was Grand Wizard Theodore.
On the other side you had a host of other different deejays that were always moving around in certain sections of The Bronx around the Valley area near Co-op City, you had DJ Breakout and DJ Baron. There's a bunch of other deejays I could mention, but for starters, right under Bambaataa, Flash and Herc, these were considered the lead off. I could recall people like Mean Gene and Grandmaster Flash used to go to Kool Herc parties, break dancing and having a good time before they became deejays.
Davey D: Thatís interesting that you mentioned Flash and them break dancing. I recall everyone used to break dance. Do you recall that?
Red Alert Break dancing was a lot like what you would consider freestyle dancing today. There was some people who got into it real deep. There was a certain style of the hustle that was popular at that time that was more street then compared to what was being done in the downtown discos. They were more sophisticated, we were more of the rough side of it. A lot of the fellas were either graffiti artists or became deejays later on.
Davey D: Emcees? Who were the first emcees that you recall?
Red Alert The first emcee I can recall up to this date was Coke La Rock. He was the emcee for Kool Herc. He used to say different phrases like 'You rock and ya don't stop', or 'Rock on my mellow'. At the same time you might as well consider Kool Herc. He was also emceeing in his own little way. But I think Coke La Rock was his very first emcee and he used to shout out a lot of different people's names.
Right after that you started to have a host of different crews. Around that time Grandmaster Flash had the Furious Three. The original Furious Three consisted of Keith Cowboy, May he rest in peace, along with Melle-Mel and his brother Kid Creole. On the other side you had DJ AJ and his man Lovebug Starsky who were together. Lovebug Starsky you might as well say he was a deejay/emcee. There were very few people who was able to do the same thing like he did. I have to give credit to him and also people like Grandmaster Caz who was also known as Casanova Fly. Those were the two who you could see rhyming and mixing at the same time while staying on beat.
The L Brothers had another set of brothers known as Master Rob and Kevvy Kev that later on became the Fantastic Five. They added on a couple of other people who came on over from other crews. They had Whipper Whip and Dot-A-Rock who they used to call the original Salt-N-Pepa because Whipper Whip was light skinned and Dot-A-Rock was dark skinned. On the side with Grandmaster Caz you had JDL. A lot of people broke off from different crews. There was host of all different sets of people in all sections of the Bronx.
Bam [Bambaataa] had an army of emcees. One time Bam had up to ten emcees. I can name all of them as we speak. The very first one was of course Mr Biggs. Beside Mr Biggs he had Ice-Ice. He had Pow Wow. He had Master B and Master Ice that came from the group my cousin and I had called the Jazzy 5. There was Little Sundance. You had Hutch-Hutch. You had Lisa Lee. There was a guy who didn't really stick with it too long called Charlie Rock. He had a host of different people. Bam was the type of person who was like this, not only did he have a host of different emcees, he also had a host of different deejays. He had two guys who he put on called DJ Zombo and Sinbad. One of them pulled off and was later replaced by my cousin Jazzy Jay. The next one pulled off and then Bam pulled me in. At the same time, he had people on the side who were doing things up in Parkchester like Afrika Islam. He also had a host of other deejays that became members of the Zulu Nation that came from different places outside The Bronx in areas like Westchester. There was my man Grandmixer DST who originally came from the Bronx but was known for playing up in Mt Vernon. He had so many peopleÖ
Davey D: Who were the first female Hip Hoppers?
Red Alert There was the Mercedes Ladies.. There was Lisa Lee who was with Bam. There was Sha-Rock who was with the original Funky Four. There was this girl name Smiley who was with the L Brothers. There was this girl named Little Lee who was being branched off by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Three. They later became the Furious Four when they brought on Mr Ness who became known as Scorpio.
Davey D:Where there any female deejays?
Red Alert The very first female deejay that I can recall was Wanda Dee.
Davey D: was this the same Wanda Dee who later signed a deal with Tuff City records?
Red Alert Yes, she was a deejay before she became known as an emcee. You had the Mercedes Ladies with Baby Dee the Baller who actually made a record later on. There was Jazzy Joyce who was taught by Whiz Kid who passed away in the late 80s. Whiz Kid was highly respected as one of the hottest deejays of alltimes.
Davey D: Who were some of the earlier crews?Red Alert You had the Crash Crew who came branching out of Manhattan. There was Master Don [RIP] and the Def Committee. Out in Staten Island there was the Force MCs that became the Force MDs. There were different other groups out in Queens. There was the Disco Twins along with my man who was known as the Son of DJ Hollywood. You had the Infinity Machine with my man DJ Divine. You had out in Brooklyn you had two well known guys who were just getting into Hip Hop but they had a big name and a big rep. They went by the name Frankie D and Master Fonkay.
Davey D: How do you recall the ethnic make up of early Hip Hop?
Red Alert I give the credit and not because I came up under him and he was like the Father in my eyes. He was the one who I feel took off in the direction to bring Hip Hop to a crossover audience and that man was Afrika Bambaataa. Bam started leaving from up in the Bronx and started bringing Hip Hop to mid town Manhattan. He started bringing it down in the very early 80s. Like '80 or '81. He brought downtown at the time all the 'trendies' were starting to arrive with the Yuppies. You had a lot of people who were starting to come out with that crazy hair styles like the Mohawk. They were coming out with the punk rock and new wave. Hip Hop new wave and Punk rock came bumpin' heads at the same time. They may have heard about what we did, but we brought it to them.
I also remember a guy by the name of Tom Silverman who came a couple of times up to the T-Connection. I don't know how he came alone to meet Bam. But he came up thee and visioned and witnessed what was going on, which enabled him to go ahead and sign Bam later on down the road. First he signed the Jazzy 5 who did the song ĎJazzy Sensationí and later on Bam and the Soul Sonic Force.
Davey D: You are a pioneer with Hip Hop radio, How have you seen things change over the years starting with the first rap shows on WHBI?
Red Alert WHBI in 1980 with Mr Magic had brought rap to the forefront on radio on an independent radio station where you had to buy your time. To play your music. A lot of people didn't understand the difference between independent radio, college radio and mainstream radio. Mainstream radio is under a corporation. College radio is structured under the University or college circuit. Independent radio is where you take upon yourself to do your thing. They don't care where you get your dollars from. You could spend a little bit of time, it could be late at night.
Mr Magic took it upon himself to make this happen. WHBI is considered the home of Hip Hop. It was the birth place and where Hip Hop had grown from on radio. Mr Magic took his time to develop his show. Later on all different kinds of people started to be on WHBI. There was the World's Famous Supreme Team. They were either from Queens or Brooklyn-I could be mistaken. They were 5 Percenters who expressed their belief of what religion they stood for.. then you had a fellow by the name of Jerry Bloodrock who came from New Jersey. After that you had my man named Sweet G that was one of the members of the Disco Fever under Mr Sal. He was an emcee over there. A few years later Africa Islam came along with the innovation of Zulu Beats.
Davey D: When did you get on the radio?
Red Alert I came along a couple of months after Afrika Islam started doing Zulu Beats. I joined him and started doing it for a little while. I'll never forget because it was on Wednesday nights in the morning. After a while Islam started traveling out of town a lot with the Rocksteady Crew and he'd leave me in charge. So I started playing all the old battle tapes, obscure records which we considered Hip Hop breaks to us. You heard me play crazy records like Cookie Puss by the Beastie Boys or we would play 'Liquid Liquid' by Caravan. At that time nobody had a clue as to who that was. Or we would play ESG which was considered Hip Hop in our part of town. Or we would play the instrumental of Mount Airy Groove by Pieces of a Dream.
Davey D: How do you recall the Hip Hop battles and early rivalries like with Bam and Flash?
Red Alert The battles came over so many different forms and ways. People were always looking for battles but they didn't always come out that way. I have to mention this because this is part of our history. I remember for the very first time ever when we had Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash together doing a party. It was at Bronx River Center and it was the first time that Flash came out with his beat box. Me and Bam had the original tapes which we later put out as a record.
Davey D: Now a lot of people don't know this. It wasn't so much that Flash and Bam hated each other it was their crews.
Red Alert It was the boundary of the people surrounding them. With Bam you had the Zulu Nation. People who were affiliated with Flash and them were the Casanovas. Everybody in the Bronx had their territories and that was a traditional thing that carried over from the old gang days of the Black Spades, Black Pearls, Savage Nomads, Bachelors--the list goes on. So even though that died out, you still had that mentality of staying within your area. That's where everyone had their own little set crew.
AJ had a crew, The L Brothers had a crew Bam had a crew. Everybody had a crew. Bam had the Zulus. Flash had the Casanovas. The L brothers had the Boston Road Crew and the Nine Crew. The Morehouse Crew came along under AJ. The Valley Crew hung out with Breakout. Everybody had their crews. Joining Flash and Bam together was history making.
After that, you had some of Hip Hop's greatest groups that used to come on stage and do great shows. For example there was the Fantastic Five and The Cold Crush Brothers. They were all going around boasting and bragging about how great they were which resulted in it becoming a Hip Hop battle.
Davey D: How do you recall the early party structures? I recall with me and my crew we used to rock the mic all night long until it was time to go? It wasn't like people just came together and did a few routines
Red Alert:Yes thatís the way it was. It really became more later on. Rapping was always going on during the time people was partying. Of course you had different types of rap. At they time you was going to a Flash party at the Blackdoor. At that time you had a dance called The Freak where you a girl up against the wall doing your thing, but you still had the emcees rhyming. The rhyming they was giving on the mic was type that was in a party motion. Years later on emcees became more constructive with their lyrics. They began reciting many things so that people slowly stopped dancing and started standing there watching. That would enable many emcees down the road to start coming and looking at them as performers. This was around '77-'78 because like I was saying earlier, you had the emcees, but everybody was partying and dancing to what the emcee was saying. But by the late 70s the emcee became more structured and he began giving story lines. The emcee became more of a performer as opposed to just being a crowd party rocker.
Davey D: Do you recall any violent type lyrics back then?
Red Alert There were some, but I can't remember. But we were around people that used to say simple rhymes, put it in a structure and add a little twine to it which made them sound unique at that moment. You heard some one like Mele-Mel say; 'Jack be nimble, Jack be quick-Jack jump over the candlestick-He burned his dick y'all, He burned his dick y'all.'. He put a little twine to it. Or he'd say; 'Jack and Jill went up a hill, she took a chill pill, she took a chill pill'. They would add little twists to it. But then you had guys like Bam who would conduct his emcees to say certain lyrics and certain rhymes to incorporate them mentioning some of our Black sayings and Black heroes. Like you would hear Hutch-Hutch say; 'Just like my man Martin Luther King, you got to get on up and do your own thing'. Bam wanted his emcees to be unique and to speak on the history of Black people.
There were some emcees that were story tellers. There were so many different types of things. You had guys like Grandmaster Caz who did one of the greatest rhymes of all times about 'Dear Yvette'
Davey D: Was this the Dear Yvette' that LL Cool J did a song on?
Red Alert No not the one LL used. He had a story about a girl he met called Yvette. It became one of the most popular rhymes at that time.
Davey D: His partner JDL used to do a routine with an old Commodore's song, where he would use the hook and point to females in the crowd and say 'Let's talk about 'Her'. They would time their rhyme so when the hook came, the crowd would yell in unison.. We're talking about 'Her'.
Red Alert Yes that was JDL. He incorporated that. Later on you had emcee Hutch Hutch who would change that and used his name 'Hutch'. So he would say 'Itís the incredible 'Hutch', The love kid 'Hutch'. People learned to put different twines along with the record. Just like my man Kevvy Kev. He knew how to put a different lingo along with a rap record when they first came out. He learned how to rap along with them but also put their own words to them and go back and forth with the record.
Davey D: With you being a deejay, talk about the things you went through to get your music. I remember crossing out the titles of songs so no one could see the name. I remember having to go to Downstairs records to get two copies of everything and paying 5 bucks for each 45 and having to purchase two of them. How did you recall that..
Red Alert I have to laugh at that, because it just so happened that when I started going to Kool Herc parties and I would see him play certain records that were different from everybody else. I would always try to peep over the ropes to see what he was playing. He would yell at me to get away, but I would peep certain records. There were certain records that he had that I remembered my older brother had and I used to run back home and find them records and listen. Some of those records that my brother probably did not play but other people did play. Just like I never knew that I never knew the song 'Apache' was on the Incredible Bongo Rock album. Here at that time Apache was the most popular record, but no one ever listened to the rest of the album. So when Herc would play something, I run home and look in the closet and see that I had it. I would give people like Bambaataa, Flash right alongside Kool Herc for being innovative by pulling out different break beats no one else had.
Me and my cousin Jazzy Jay would spend all sorts of time searching around in the Village. That was a place that was known for having all the old rare records. We were able to find stuff that people would never expect us to find over there.
Davey D: Yep I would go and shop for records in Riverdale and other white areas for records. The trick was knowing the name of the record.
Red Alert Yes, you go to a whole new area world where people was not expecting and you would come off finding stuff because those were places where records were picked over because people did not find them to be hits.
Davey D: What were some of the earl break beat classics that you recall that you absolutely had to have in your crates
Red Alert You definitely had to have Apache. That was considered the Hip Hop National Anthem. You had records like Bob James and his record 'Mardis Gras'. You had 'I Can't Stop' by John Davis Monster Orchestra. You had 'Scratchin' which was off the compilation album Disco Hits. There was 'Catch A Groove' by Juice. You had 'Just Do Your Own Thing' by CJ Double. There was 'I Just Wanna Do My Thing' by Edwin Star. There was 'Frisco Disco'.
Davey D: How do you recall the fashion?
Red Alert People were dressed regular. You had your bell bottoms on. You had your 69ers Pro Keds. You was top dog if you had Super Pro Keds. There was the overlaps and box strip pants. If you was top dog in the streets at that time you had the material that was gabardine which was top quality at the time. You had knits and the coats at the time was the Cortefield. The shoe was the British Walker or Playboys.
Davey D: What about the Pumas? I sported Pumas
Red Alert People took the Pumas or sported Adidas.
Davey D: Remember when everybody had to have white sneakers to go along with their Onyx jeans..?
Red Alert People did that later on. Before that people was just making sure they had a sharp crease which they ironed on. There was the mock necks which also came later on. But as I said if you was in high standing, you had on some tailor made pants and some fly knit shirt. It was usually Italian knit. But in general you had a mock neck.
Davey D: One of the things I look at is how older Black adults turned their backs on Hip Hop. With the exception of KDAY in LA, its kind of ironic that it took white pop stations to be the first to come out and use slogans that said 'This is where Hip Hop lives'. How did you see the reaction of older folks to Hip Hop?
Red Alert Well you have to look at the same way that it took a company like MTV to put out 'Yo MTV Raps' before there was 'Rap City'Ö
Davey D: Thatís what I'm saying.. There was this resistance. Was I the only one to notice this?
Red Alert There was always a resistance. I can say from the very beginning. First, WBLS in New York City at that time was the number one station across the country did not see or hear Hip Hop. They couldn't picture it. When you had stations like a WBLS or a BET or any of them type of corporations they had their 'sophisticated' outlook. So when they wanted to have their sophisticated outlook they didn't want to cut the edge because they had been fighting for years and years for people to appreciate and respect them for what they were doing. So it's understandable. They wanted to make sure they came out looking groomed, clean cut and everything. As for everyone else who was coming along years later that was on the cuttin' edge and little bit rougher, that was a little too offensive to them. Thatís why they never touched upon it.
Now you had other corporations such as a KTU that was known for playing dance music, that brought in Hip Hop in its beginning stages. The mainstream radio station that started supporting rap music was KTU. The came Hot 97 after being 99x started adding on Hip Hop. They both forced WBLS to start bringing in Hip Hop.
Davey D: Now where was Mr Magic in all this?
Red Alert Mr Magic came to WBLS in '82, but Hip Hop was already being played on KTU. They were always supporting Sugar Hill Records. By the time it came to '82 with the success of Bam bringing out 'Planet Rock' and all his other things and Mr Magic being seen as 'hot' while doing his thing on WHBI, this opened the doors for him to go on over to WBLS.
There was never a Hip Hop mix show on KTU. You had people such as Jellybean and The Animal that was mixing all the Hip Hop with the dance music. At that particular time in the early 80s, a lot of Hip Hop records were dance records. A lot of people didn't see that but then again they was grooving right alone with it. With the success of a record like Planet Rock, look at all the dance records that came out with that similar sound.
Davey D: You had an entire dance industry that was built around that tempo and sound. We called it Latin freestyle. See I had moved to Cali in '81-'82 so I hadn't realized KTU was playing so much Hip Hop.
Red Alert Yes they were heavy into Hip Hop. They also started playing a host of other different records that WBLS would not touch. Later on WBLS started to touch upon it and then who comes strolling along-KISS FM. KTU started going more into dance music.
Davey D: So thatís where they picked you up?
Red Alert The person they first approached was Africa Islam in the summer time of '83. Afrika Islam did not show up to some of those appointments. The next person they came to was my cousin Jazzy Jay. Jay did it for a couple of months but even though he wasn't getting paid, he was on every other week from 11 pm to 2 in the morning. He was doing a three hour mix. At that time he wasn't doing just straight Hip Hop. It was still considered a mix show. What they wanted him to do was incorporate dance music, R&B right along with Hip Hop. That was considered a mix show while, Mr Magic's show on BLS was considered a rap show.
After Jazzy did this show for a couple of months he quit because he wasn't getting paid, even though it opened up his name to do gigs and studio work by people hearing him. Thatís when they came to me. I started in October of '83. After being on and learning how to work with them by the time '84 rolled around, I got my first pay check and been doing radio ever since.
Davey D: Damn there's only one other person I know who has been doing Hip Hop radio continuously as long as you and thatís Kevvy Kev who lives out here in the Bay Area. He's been doing KZSU Stanford since '82.
Red Alert There's also Cosmic Kev from Philly. But I also give a lot of respect to another duo that's been doing Hip Hop on radio for a long period of time. In fact they've been doing this longer then me and that's the Awesome Two.
Davey D: That's right and they've been having to pay to the radio stations to do their shows over all this time..c 1996
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