S6 E1 | Kool DJ Red Alert
On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN sat down with Kool DJ Red Alert to talk about his life and experiences as an early pioneer in hip hop.
Born Frederick Crute in Antigua, Red Alert moved to Harlem, New York as a baby. Growing up in a Caribbean household, he was exposed to a variety of different music and when he was a teen and became fascinated by the sounds of what would later be hip hop at parties organized by DJ Kool Herc in the Bronx. Red Alert, then, went on to build relationships with other key figures involved in hip hop’s early formation like Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, and later launched his own career as a DJ. By the early ‘80s, Red Alert was spinning in nightclubs in downtown New York City and he happened to meet Barry Mayo, the program director of the city’s WRKS 98.7 Kiss FM. While at the station, the DJ built a huge following and was responsible for breaking a list of notable acts. He was also involved in numerous historic hip hop events like the famous “Bridge Wars.” In the late ‘80s, Red Alert helped form the Native Tongues, a legendary hip hop collective that featured the Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, A Trip Called Quest, and many others.
Currently, Red Alert is celebrating the 45th anniversary of his career. Additionally, his accomplishments have brought him opportunities to spin at numerous other stations and he now hosts a weekly show on New York’s WBLS 107.5 FM.
To help give fans a recap, REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from the Kool DJ Red Alert interview. Check them out below.
1. On Chris Lighty
Red Alert met Chris Lighty when the future Violator Records exec was a teen. He first appointed Lighty to help him carry vinyl records crates at events and later promoted him to be the Jungle Brothers’ Road manager. On “Drink Champs,” Red Alert said that he gave Lighty the opportunity after recognizing his ambition. “He was a person that was arrogant and cocky,” he said. “But I always saw that he had a good head on his shoulders. [I saw] ambition.”
2. On Rappers Becoming More Popular Than DJs
In the early days of hip hop, DJs were more famous than emcees. But over time, the dynamic shifted and rappers started getting more recognition. During his interview, Red Alert explained how the change first happened. “There were certain times where you heard the DJ’s name first because he was the forefront,” he said. “But the DJ wasn’t on the record. So, who are they paying attention to? The person who is on the record. That’s when the narrative changed. That’s when everybody started looking at the rappers.”
3. On The Diplomats and The LOX’s Verzuz Battle
Last August, the Diplomats went head-to-head with The LOX for a Verzuz battle and the event became a standout moment in the series’ history. After the battle, many fans on social media agreed that LOX walked away as the winners. While Red Alert gave Dipset their props, he said the match-up was a shoe-in for LOX because they are built for battle rap. “Respect to Dipset, because they are from my town, Harlem. But you got to understand that The LOX are battle emcees,” he said. “Dipset has style and swag. But the tactics are different. That’s the best way I can put it. It was good for New York.”
4. On Marley Marl
Marley Marl worked alongside DJ Magic in the ‘80s on New York’s WBLS 107.5. At the time, the two formed the hip hop collective the Juice Crew, which featured MC Shan, Roxanne Shanté, and Big Daddy Kane, among many others. After Shan released the song “The Bridge” in 1986, it sparked the legendary feud between the Juice Crew and Boogie Down Productions called “The Bridge Wars.” Years later, Marley Marl and Red Alert crossed paths when they worked at Hot 97 and their relationship grew closer. When asked if the two ever discussed the past beef between their crews, Red Alert said that they put everything behind them. “We’ve been rocking together for a while,” he said. “When me and Marley was rocking together at the time, we didn’t think about all that nonsense. We were working.”
5. On Being Replaced by DJ Enuff on Hot 97
In the ‘90s, Red Alert once mentored DJ Enuff on New York’s Hot 97, but Enuff was later tapped to replace him. During his interview, Red Alert expressed his feelings about the situation and revealed that he was upset by being let go. “I was hurt,” he said. “Not at Enuff. But, he did not realize that he was being used as a pawn to move me out the way. It was a person in programming that I never saw eye to eye with. And I get along with everybody. So, they took him in place of me to move me. And that’s where I became hurt because they did a foul thing. You utilized this guy.”
6. On The Formation of The Native Tongues
Later in the interview, the “Drink Champs” crew spoke about the formation of the Native Tongues. Red Alert explained that while there were many moving parts that led to the group’s creation, he credits the time when the Jungle Brothers first met De La Soul as being the situation that got the ball rolling. “I have to give a lot of credit to the Jungle Brothers,” he said. “The Jungle Brothers and De La Soul got a chance to meet each other for the first time [at a show] in Boston. When they got to meet each other, they felt a similar vibe. It was always formulated within its own, but I always give credit to the Jungle Brothers because they initiated the whole thing from the start.”
7. On New School DJs
Red Alert has been in the game for nearly half a century and he said that he believes that modern technology has diluted the art of being a DJ. “You don’t see the skill level anymore,” he said. “The skill level is out the door. Not everybody has to cut and scratch, but learn how to play a song [that] accommodates another. I respect a lot of DJs out there, but learn how to work the computer. Don’t let the computer work you.”
8. On His Music Videos Appearances
Numerous artists have paid homage to Red Alert over the years by featuring him in their music videos and he even holds a record for his many appearances. On “Drink Champs,” he said that his countless cameos were intentional. “I did it for a reason,” he said. “A long time ago, before the visuals took off, there were people being imposters. [They were] trying to impersonate [other people] to make money. When I saw that I had the opportunity to be [in a video for the first time], I did it. When I saw the response to how everybody noticed me, I said let me capitalize off that. Let me brand myself. So, I took advantage of that.”
9. On Being More Involved in the Business Side of Music Industry
Throughout the years, Red Alert has racked up an extensive list of accolades. However, he revealed that he regrets not getting more involved on the business side of the industry at some point in his career. “I will admit that I had opportunities to take it to different levels in the business structure,” he said. “I was not that business savvy. I had my reasons, but if I would have taken that course, everything would be a different matter.”