Q&A: DJ Red Alert On Kiss-FM, The Bridge Wars, And Breaking "Rappin' Duke"
In October of 1983, Kool DJ Red Alert broadcast his first rap radio show on Kiss-FM. It would soon bloom into an essential listening session for hip-hop junkies, a jump-off point for upcoming artists, and a long-running part of New York City's musical soundtrack. So with Kiss closing its doors as we know it, we prompted Red Alert to look back on the very first show he broadcast, his rivalry with Mr. Magic over at WBLS, and the rap records he broke while reigning on the Kiss airwaves.
How did you come to get a show on Kiss-FM?
I got involved with Kiss through a program director named Barry Mayo who stepped to Afrika Bambaataa. He used to play in the Roxy and in '83 Barry Mayo stepped to Bambaataa looking for someone to start playing hip-hop on the radio, to add rap music to their Kiss master mixes. I was part of Bambaataa's Zulu Nation so they put me on, in October '83.
Did you have many conversations with Barry Mayo about what sort of music you'd play on Kiss?
He had an idea about what I was going to bring from hearing me at the Roxy, so he really just had some guidelines as to what he wanted on the radio.
What was the very first record you played on air?
The very first record on Kiss was "Pleasure Of Love" by the Tom Tom Club. It was a good record, in my opinion, and I thought it was a fine introduction and it was something to show the audience what I was about.
What were some of the highlights you remember from your first show?
Wow, you're talking about 30 years! I played a little bit of everything, some dance, some R&B, some hip-hop, I was being very diverse. That's how my whole show was like. But at the time I was pre-recorded, it wasn't live. When Barry Mayo got to listen to what I played he noticed that I wasn't into using any special effects, like some of the other DJs like a Shep Pettibone did. He asked why I didn't do that. I said because the same way the audience hear you on the radio is the same way the audience expect to hear you live. Then after a good three years he moved my time shift and started having me come on live. That was around '86.
Do you have any recordings of that first show?
No. I misplaced a lot of things since I moved.
What was the first hip-hop song you felt like you really broke on air?
I think the first one I broke on the radio was "Rappin' Duke." When I first heard it, it was catchy, it was humorous, it was fun. That was the type of catchy record that everybody can sing along to; it wasn't a dancing type record.
How did you come across "Rappin' Duke"?
I'm a person that used to always come across all different types of records, so then when they allowed me to come across the free material at the radio station I listened to everything! That one just caught my ears.
As your show progressed, what are some of the most important hip-hop songs you broke on air?
A lot of people credit me for being the first to play U.T.F.O.'s "Roxanne, Roxanne," and a lot of people credit me for playing Boogie Down Productionsrest in peace to Scott La Rockand the other one is the Native Tongues: Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah and Black Sheep.
You had a personal connection to the Native Tongues, right?
As far as the Jungle Brothers, one of the members is my nephew, Mike G, and he always told me him and his friends wanted to get together as a group and start making records. I introduced them to a friend of mine, Tony D, who had a studio at home. This is Tony D from Brooklyn that had a group called Bad Boys that made a record called "Inspector Gadget." So the Jungle Brothers started recording and came out with "Jimbrowski." At the same time De La Soul was coming around and I met Mark The 45 King when he was having people like Queen Latifah and members of the Flavor Unit coming around and everyone just started to gel.