13. Kool DJ Red Alert
Title(s): Founder of Red Alert Productions
Artists They Worked With: Black Sheep, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, Jungle Brothers
Early hip-hop was largely a New York phenomenon. So it followed that early hip-hop’s success was largely brokered by radio DJ Mr. Magic on WBLS. The only significant rival to Mr. Magic’s dominance of hit-making and hit-breaking was posed by Kool DJ Red Alert on crosstown WRKS, 98.7 Kiss FM.
Magic was one funnel for talent, mainly hailing from Marley Marl’s home base in Queenbridge. Red Alert became the second vortex, mainly for artists from Uptown and The Bronx, beginning with Krs-One and Scott La Rock’s Boogie Down Productions and Red’s cousin Mike G’s group, The Jungle Brothers.
Red Alert launched a production company to handle his foray into the music business. Red Alert Productions had perhaps the perfect acronym for the a business in hip-hop, and through R.A.P. came A Tribe Called Quest. Red’s management arm, helmed by Dave “Funken” Klein and Chris Lighty, took on kindred spirits De La Soul. In fact, Red Alert earned some creative credit for the entire cultural phenomenon that came to be called Native Tongues, including artists like Queen Latifah, Monie Love, and Black Sheep. He also launched the executive careers of Lighty and Shakim Compere.
Red Alert was not successful as a businessman. He was, in many ways, too nice of a guy to take on the shark-like qualities that enable survival in the hip-hop food chain. But he chose the right records on the radio, and chose equally well in his own run as a talent scout. His ultimate creative notion of peace, love and positive vibes—coming straight from his Zulu Nation heritage—gave hip-hop perhaps its most beautiful cultural moment.