Alert, Kool DJ Red
Kool DJ Red Alert
The nightclubs, dance parties, and even street corners of Harlem, New York, have long been breeding grounds for innovative musical stylings. The young men “playin’ the dozens” under the streetlights and the DJs “mixin’ and scratchin’” in the old clubs in the West Bronx gave birth to a distinctive mixture of dance music and rap known as “hip-hop” starting in the early 1980s. As hip-hop gained popularity during that decade, so did the DJs who created the mixes, including one of the originators, Kool DJ Red Alert. His longrunning radio shows on New York’s WRKS 98.7 KISS FM and WQHT (Hot 97) established him as the premier host of popular mix shows from the 1980s into the 21st century.
Red Alert, also known as Fred Krute, began his hip-hop education in Harlem, New York. His mother’s Antiguan-born parents raised him, and he received his nickname “Red Alert” while playing basketball at DeWitt Clinton High School. The “Red” referred to the color of his hair, while “Alert” described his style on the basketball court. Although his play earned him a basketball scholarship, basketball was not the driving force behind Red Alert; it was the music.
Red Alert was exposed to the true beginnings of hip-hop during his high school years when he spent his Saturday nights at parties thrown by DJ Kool Herc and MC Coke La Rock, whom Red Alert credits with being the first well-known deejay (DJ) and rapper, respectively. The parties were not only fun and games for Red Alert; they were his classrooms. He studied the songs Kool Herc played and the rhythm he used to mix and blend the songs one into the other. He also took cues from New York’s popular disco DJs of that time, including Grandmaster Flash, who went on to gain fame with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. “I used to watch different eras—the disco, the hip-hop era—and then go on a little turntable and try to emulate that sound,” Red Alert told the Dallas Morning News. “It was about learning how to hold a record, listening to the grooves.”
Soon enough, Red Alert was spinning his own records and perfecting his DJ style with his own equipment. He frequented parties at the Back Door for Grandmaster Flash’s shows, as well as the Dixie Club and JHS 123 to catch Afrika Bambaataa. By 1982 he had developed enough as a turntable artist to become a member of Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu nation as one of the DJs.
The break that launched Red Alert’s radio career came in 1983 when New York’s WRKS (KISS) FM approached Bambaataa to do a late-night rap show. Bambaataa presented the opportunity to two of his DJs, both of whom turned down the offer because it was a non-paying gig. Red Alert, however, jumped at the chance. “They put me on in October 1983,” he told Billboard. “That’s when I started learning the fundamentals of how to be in and out without playing certain records around the clock.”
The show was one of the first rap-mix shows on a commercial station, broadcasting every Friday and Saturday night. As the host, Red Alert did very little talking as he manned two turntables in creating spontaneous dance mixes for his radio audience. Red Alert cultivated that “spontaneity” with careful preparation,
At a Glance …
Born Fred Krute.
Career: Began deejaying at block parties and nightclubs, circa 1970s; WRKS 98.7 KISS FM, DJ, 1980s-94, 2001-; WQHT Hot 97, 1994-01; released Hip-Hop On Wax, Volume 2, and We Can Do This, 1988; Let’s Make It Happen (Part Three), 1990; DJ Red Alert’s Propmaster Dancehall Show, 1994; Kool DJ Red Alert Presents, 1996; Beats, Rhymes & Battles, Volume I, 2001; appeared in over 50 videos.
Awards: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, exhibit; United Nations, honorary ambassador.
Address: Website— http://www.kooldjredalert.com
often staying overnight at the radio station a day or two before his show just to listen to records. He also scoured New York’s vinyl shops in search of new sounds to introduce in his mixes. Red Alert’s diverse musical tastes became a trademark of his radio show and one of the cornerstones of his fame. Within a year, Red Alert landed a spot on KISS FM’s payroll with his “Dance Mix Party,” which would run for the next eleven years.
Meanwhile, Red Alert continued deejaying at clubs in downtown Manhattan like the Roxy and the Area, where he earned a reputation for creating seamless mixes for five or six hours at a time. He also worked as a DJ for various artists during this period; most notably, he became a member of Boogie Down Productions and toured the country with KRS One. In addition to his live performances, Red Alert was active in the studio, producing and managing artists like the Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest, while producing mix compilation albums of his own. The first was Hip-Hop On Wax, Volume 2, followed by We Can Do This in 1988. The compilation featured cuts by Boogie Down Productions, The Jungle Brothers, Robe Base & DJ E-Z Roc, and Salt-N-Pepa. Letapos;s Make It Happen (Part Three) (1990) featured artists that were part of the Native Tongues movement such as De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and The Jungle Brothers. It also featured female rap artists like Salt-N-Pepa and Queen Latifah. Four years later, Red Alert produced another album, DJ Red Alert’s Propmaster Dancehall Show, featuring songs by Shabba Ranks and Patra, two very popular Dancehall artists at that time. Red Alert’s next compilation release Kool DJ Red Alert Presents in 1996 proved to be one of his best, featuring a list of remixes by the top rappers and hip-hop singers at that time. The release featured Tupac, LL Cool J, Total, Faith Evans, The Junior M.A.F.I.A, and Jay Z and The Lost Boyz.
In 1994 Red Alert moved his radio mix parties to New York’s WQHT Hot 97 radio station to produce two daily mix shows, “The Twelve O’Clock Old School Mix” and “The Five O’Clock Free Ride.” At this point, Red Alert was a household name among hip-hop fans all over the United States. In spite of his nation-wide popularity, he resisted requests to syndicate his radio show. “One thing I learned is, the more you get on the inside, as far as doing production and things, the more you lose focus on what’s going on on the outside,” he explained to Billboard. “So if I was making business moves or producing all the time, I’d relate less to my audience.” When asked about syndication he responded that “just because your name is popular in one city, it doesn’t mean you can hit in every market.”
But “popular in every market” would be a valid description for the hip-hop pioneer. Over the course of his career, Red Alert appeared in more than 50 music videos, and was honored with his own exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. In addition, he was named an honorary ambassador to the United Nations in recognition of his achievements in music.
After spending more than seven years at Hot 97, Red Alert left the radio station to return to WRKS 98.7 KISS FM in April of 2001. The new show, “DJ Red Alert Kiss Mix at Six,” could be heard daily from 6-7 p.m. He also began working on a new release, Beats, Rhymes & Battles, Volume I. The New York Times described the compilation as “offering a lesson in hip-hop history like a book on tape.” The release features some of the classic rap battles that defined hip-hop, and are remembered as the best not just because they stayed on wax. “As we [Red Alert and manager Chris Lighty] talked about the problems with hip-hop right now—all the drama and violence—we had the same idea about taking it back to when it was all about battling on the microphone,” Red Alert told Billboard. The album includes the Roxanne chronicles, the KRS One/MC Shan battle, and LL Cool Moe. Kool J vs Dee, among others. Each battle is also proceeded with a narrative “history behind the raps” provided by Red Alert to educate the new generation of hip-hop fans unfamiliar with the genre’s beginnings. Red Alert has established himself as one of rap, and hip-hop’s pioneers.
Hip-Hop on Wax, Volume 2.
We Can Do This, Next Plateau, 1988.
Let’s Make It Happen (Part Three), Next Plateau, 1990.
DJ Red Alert’s Propmaster Dancehall Show, Next Plateau, 1994.
Kool DJ Red Alert Presents, Next Plateau, 1996.
Beats, Rhymes & Battles, Vol. I, Relativity, 2001.
Billboard, May 21, 1994, pp. 68; April 21, 2001, pp.19.
Dallas Morning News, June 26, 1998.
The New York Times, December 7, 2001.
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Alert, Kool DJ Red