wax Poetics
Kool DJ Red Alert

Back to the future

A time machine doesn’t have to come in the form of a DeLorean. In fact, every car comes with its own flux capacitor smiling at you from between the steering wheel and the glove compartment. Radios may have changed over the years, but the one thing that’s constant is their ability to firmly stake out a place and time with the right song. And in the hands of the right DJ, they can even transport you back to the future.

Kool DJ Red Alert is one such DJ. As the third caballero in the Bronx River Projects trinity of DJs that formed the backbone of the Zulu Nation back in the beginning days of hip-hop, along with Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay, he helped usher the sound of the South Bronx to the world at large. 

published online
Originally published in Issue 19
By Robbie Busch

    He found his true calling when he made the move from being strictly a club DJ to working in radio in the mid-1980s. He was in the right place at the right time, but he also had the right sensibility. He’d learned the lesson of keeping an open mind toward the music from Bam and used the power of the airwaves to beam new sounds to a whole generation of eager listeners. He broke the sound barrier for acts like Boogie Down Productions and the Native Tongues Crew, which included the Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest.

    In keeping with his policy of open-mindedness, Red Alert has seen that the future is now and has broken free of the earthly constraints of simple radio waves by recently moving to satellite radio. No matter where he chooses to transmit from, he will always have the ability to help us wipe the crust from our third eyelid and take us back—way back.

    Born in Antigua, West Indies, Red Alert was brought to New York as a tot and brought up in the Colonial Projects, behind the old Polo Grounds, which was Manhattan’s major-league baseball stadium. His grandfather had a good relationship with the housing policemen, and they used to look out for him. When it came time for the baseball games, they would let him and the young Red up on the roof to watch.

    As a youngster, he was raised up in Harlem and was known for having the “crazy red hair.” In junior high school, he played basketball with some organized teams. Then in the early ’70s, he went to DeWitt Clinton High School, up in the Bronx. It was the time of the gangs. He remembers, “Gangs such as the Black Spades, Savage Thugs, Savage Nomads, and Black Pearls. Matter of fact, the leader of the Black Pearls, Blood, was in my homeroom class. Blood was Mitch Green the boxer. Me and him got into a kind of a scuffle, but we turned out to be good friends. He always looked out for me. I was always cool with everybody.”

    During that time, somewhere in the mid-’70s, he got hooked into the craze of the culture of hip-hop. 

    How did you first get introduced to hip-hop?

    There was a guy named Nevins who used to always tell me, “Yo! Y’all need to go check out my man, Kool Herc. Kool Herc! Kool Herc!” I was like, “Who the hell is this Kool Herc?!” So me and a couple of the guys from the project took it upon ourselves to go hang out up in the Bronx, and that’s when I got the experience of seeing Kool Herc. I remember stepping up to Jerome Avenue. Somewhere around 174th to 176th Street, there was a club called the Twilight Zone. 

    The Twilight Zone was a club that Kool Herc had; it looked like it was a condemned-type building. I was a little skeptical about it, but as we moved closer, we were hearing noise that sounded like people were just conversating. So when we got up to it, we saw that people were just hanging on the staircase just talking and, you know, vibing. We said, “Okay, it must be alright.” So, we went straight upstairs and paid two or three dollars. We stepped in and saw a mass of people! We were like, “Whoa!” 

    I stepped all the way to the back, because you know, I wasn’t tryin’ to step up to the front and have everyone lookin’ at me. I don’t know how, but I wound up goin’ all the way to the back to where Herc was playin’. When I got to meet this guy, he was tall. He was like a giant to us! 

    I’ll never forget the set he was playing on; it was a Shure PA system. He had a Sony mic mixer with two Pioneer PL-15 turntables hooked up to it. The music I heard was a little bit of radio music and some disco music—the soul disco from downtown—and he was mixing and blending in other obscure sounds—segueing from one record to another. While I was watching him do that, a guy with very dark skin and thick sideburns was down the stairs next to him on the microphone. His name was Coke LaRock. He was saying phrases like, “Ya Rock! Rock! Rock and ya don’t stop!” He’d shout out various names, and Herc would play certain records [that would make] the crowd form a circle. 

    I didn’t know why they were doing that, so I went over and saw that there were some guys dancin’. They were doin’ the fancy footwork! That’s when they were gettin’ down doin’—what we call today—break dancing. But we didn’t call it that then; they were just doin’ their thing. That’s when I got to learn about various guys like the Nigger Twins, (rest in peace) Eldorado Mike, Sha Sha, Trixie, and others that were known for doing their fancy footwork. 

    The first time I got to see somebody cut up records was Grandmaster Flash. Kool DJ Red Alert

    What kind of outfits were they wearing at that time?

    The thing about it was that you had a mix of everybody. You had people that dressed like they were just coming from the neighborhood and then you had people who were dressed up, who we used to call, in the past, the “Fly Guys” or the “Fly Girls.”

    At that time you had outfits with these pants called gabardines. You had to be the top guy to have those! There were these sweaters called knits or alpaca. Then the coats you had at that time were called Cortefiels. If you was a top guy, the shoes you wore were British Walkers or Playboys. If you wasn’t a top guy, you was wearing Grips or Little Abners and a Snorkel [jacket].

    Do you remember what you were wearing the first time you stepped up to the Twilight Zone?

    I think I always used to dig up in my older brother’s closet. So I think I had one of his knits, a pair of regular Lee jeans, and a brown corduroyed Cortefiel with the suede collar. They had two kinds: the fur collar and the suede. I had the suede. 

    Do you remember who you were with?

    I was with some of the fellas from the projects. My man Mike Jordan, my man Junie Collins—they were a couple of heads. 

    I wasn’t only going to those parties [in the Bronx]; I was also sneaking into a lot of parties downtown, in the midtown area. I wasn’t supposed to be in there—I was underage—but I was sneaking into an after-work affair or to a party on a Friday night at clubs like Superstar Cafeteria and Hotel Diplomat. I got to hear the difference of the DJs down there. DJs like Pete DJ Jones, the Together Brothers [from Brooklyn], Grandmaster Flowers, and DJ Plumber.

    Pete DJ Jones was the only DJ from uptown, in the Bronx, that was comin’ down. Everyone else was from Brooklyn. I got to see what the vibe was for the R&B disco, ’cause we weren’t into the deep, deep disco; we were into the more R&B or radio hit records. Then I would come up to a Kool Herc party where I got to hear the difference. Downtown, the sound was more about the blending and mixing, and the vibe of the audience was older, dressed up. When you’d come to a Herc party, it wasn’t so much about blending and mixing; it was more segueing from one record to another, and the guy was on the microphone doing a couple of rhymes, but he was more like party rockin’, hyping for the crowd participation. 

    When was the first time you saw somebody cut up records?

    The first time I got to see somebody cut up records was Grandmaster Flash. I got to see Flash doin’ it at this club called the Black Door, which was located up on Prospect Avenue in the Bronx. At that time, it was him and his partners, Disco B and there was three MCs: (rest in peace) Cowboy—who I learned was his very first MC—Melle Mel, and his brother Kid Creole. 

    Flash was cuttin’ records on time, he was goin’ in wherever the break was and kept it on beat from one to another, so that whoever was rhyming on the microphone was vibing right along with the beat. They was simple rhymes at the time; it was more like party rockin’ crowd participation [for] dances like the Freak Dance and then later on the Stank.

    Afrika Bambaataa, Charley Chase, and Red at the Kips Bay Boys Club in the Bronx, circa 1980–’81. Photo courtesy of Joe Conzo
    Afrika Bambaataa, Charley Chase, and Red at the Kips Bay Boys Club in the Bronx, circa 1980–’81. Photo courtesy of Joe Conzo

    I was going to all different parties. There were a lot of guys after Herc, like Grandmaster Flash, Disco King Mario (rest in peace), and a guy by the name of Smokey and the Smoke-a-trons. The crowd followed Flash from the Black Door to the Dixie Club, which was forever up on Freeman Street. But other times I went to DJ A.J.’s parties at the E. Morehouse Center, in E. Morehouse Projects on 149th and Jackson. The person who used to be with him there was Kenny G, and also on the side was Lovebug Starski. Then there were the “L Brothers,” or the Livingston Brothers, who were doing their parties at the Boys Club on Fox Street. 

    Later on, I was going further up in the Bronx, in the Soundview area, because people were telling me about this Junior High School 123 where they was throwin’ jams. That’s when I got to learn about Afrika Bambaataa.

    Were you going to these parties with your cousin Jazzy Jay at the time?

    Nah. Uh uh.

    How did you and Jay hook up in terms of hip-hop life?

    I was influenced by going to Herc parties and then started going to everybody else’s parties after I came back from college. I was encouraged by seeing what everybody was doing, so I started working. As I started workin’, I bought my own set. My first set of turntables was Technics 1800s, and I had the Clubman 11 mixer. I used to have it set up in my bedroom, right in front of my bed. I took the frame out from under the bed and just had the box spring and the mattress. I’d sit on the edge, and in front of it I had three milk crates with the turntables and mixer on them. On the side of my bed, I had all the records. I used to buy records every week after I got paid!

    I’d look at what the other DJs were doin’ when I went out. I studied them and tried to do the same thing that they was doing. Then my cousin started coming over, and, when he came over, he saw what I was doin’ [with the turntables]. By that time, my family moved from Manhattan up to Bronx River. When he moved up to Bronx River, my aunt bought him his first set of turntables. They were Technics SL-210s, with belt drives, and he got the Clubman mixer. He started doin’ his thing, and someone told Disco King Mario, “Yo! There’s this kid that’s in Bronx River. He got turntables and records. You might want to see him.” 

    Mario had the sound system, but he didn’t have no records or turntables. So he said, “Yo! You wanna get down?” And of course my cousin was enlightened, and said, “I wanna get down!” So Mario brought my cousin over to start playing. He wasn’t paying him, but my cousin was getting some exposure. Meanwhile, Bam was saying, “Yo! Who’s this young kid over there that’s down with Mario now?” Somebody told him, “He’s from the Project.” Bam was like, “From the Project?” “Yeah, he just moved to the Project.” Bam said, “Yo! What is he doin’ over there? He’s supposed to be with us!” At that time, Bam had two other DJs, one by the name of Sinbad and another by the name of Zambu. But he got a hold of my cousin and said, “Yo! You need to be with us. You wanna start playing with us?” My cousin said yeah, so Bam brought him in, and one of the DJs had left on his own. After that, my cousin always used to say, “Yo, man! You need to get my cousin down! You need to get my cousin down!” Finally, Bam said, “Go get your cousin!” So that’s when they brought me in. I got in with Bam in ’79.

    And anyone wondering who I’m talkin’ about when I say my cousin, my cousin is the Original DJ Jazzy Jay.

    Bam was the type of person that if he liked you, he brought you in. He didn’t care how many people there was. A lot of people don’t know that at one time Bam had ten MCs!

    That must have been madness!

    It was Mr. Big, Pow Wow, MC Hutch Hutch, Ice, Ice Ice, Master B, Mr. Freeze, Lisa Lee, Charlie Rock, and I can’t remember the last one. Globe came later on, but it was ten MCs and three DJs. When we played and there wasn’t a crowd, Bam would be nice and send (rest in peace) Monk to White Castle and everyone would have burgers. If we had a good night, playing out of Bronx River, playing up in places like T-Connection, I would see $50. It was the spirit and the fun of it.

    Do you remember what your first gig playing out was?

    Before being down with Bam, I was in this program in high school called the Upward Bound Program. It was a program where you live on campus preparing yourself for college. I took my little stereo equipment up to the dorms. My partner was my roommate, Roosevelt, and we patched our stereo equipment together. We used the phono and the auxiliary section, so when one record ended you’d click over to the other one. We had good timing! 

    So the first party I did was at the campus of Fordham University. After that, I did some neighborhood parties. I did a couple of things like that before I officially got down with Bam.

    Do you remember your first gig with Bam?

    I think the first time I really got to touch the turntables with Bam was the fourth Zulu Nation anniversary [circa 1977].

    Before you hooked up with Afrika Bambaataa, how did you build up your record collection? How did you know what breaks to look for, and where were you going to get them?

    I always took time studying and listening to everybody with their records, so then I used to sneak and see the cuts. I’ll never forget the first time I got to hear “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Rock Band. It was in high school—Dodge or Roosevelt High School—one of those high schools that Herc was playing. The party was in the gym and I managed to go up in the bleachers. I was looking down on the set and I saw this silver album cover with the hands. I said, “My brother’s got that!” 

    I’ll never forget, I got home about five or six in the morning and went to pull [records]. My grandma came in and said, “What you doin’?!” I said, “Mama, I gotta find something.” I kept pulling records out and finally I got it! That inspired me to keep diggin’. I learned from people telling me names of certain songs that Herc used to play like “The Mexican,” “It’s Just Begun,” “Shaft in Africa,” or Baby Huey’s “Listen to Me.” These were obscure records that Herc used to play, and I went looking for these records in my brother’s collection. Then, as years go by and the next set of people start coming around, they were playing [different] records. I listened and learned about those records, then my cousin and me went record hunting.

    Where would you go?

    We went to Downstairs Records, when it used to be in the train station at 42nd Street. We always used to go down to the Village. There used to be a record shop called Bondy’s on Park Place. There was this record store that used to be in the [other] train station on [the west side of] 42nd Street by Port Authority. As a matter of fact, that’s where I bought my Baby Huey record.

    What kinds of music were seeping in and influencing you from your home life? 

    It’s strange, because growing up under my grandparents, who were from Antigua, all I heard was a mixture of calypso, soca, and merengue. When I started going to school—preschool and first grade—I heard other outside music from the radio. That was before FM, when the popular stations were WABC and WWRL. So I was exposed to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, and other bands like that from the ’60s. But then you’d hear a heavy set of Motown music and other indie music like “Cool Jerk” and “Bang Bang.” Then, of course, you had James Brown, and, as it went into the ’70s, you’d hear more of the funk sound, and then the disco era.

    When I got down with Bam to start DJing, he taught us, “Don’t pigeonhole yourself to one certain thing. Learn to be open-minded to all different sounds.” As we got into the ’80s, Bam showed us how to open our minds up to various things like new wave, alternative, and punk rock.

    How did you transition into DJing on the radio?

    Once Bam had established more and more of the Zulu Nation, we got into the recording field. The first record was the “Zulu Nation Throwdown” on Paul Winley, which I was not on; that was the Cosmic Force. But my cousin and I had a group called the Jazzy Three, which became the Jazzy Five, and when Bam joined up with Tom Silverman from Tommy Boy Records, he wanted to take us in and do a recording. So they came out with “Jazzy Sensation.” Then came “Planet Rock”—well, when “Planet Rock” came out, it opened doors for everything! It was a brand new sound, brand new everything! We were going through a transition. At first, we were coming downtown and playing at Negril’s on 2nd Avenue. From there, we went to Danceteria on 21st Street. By the time “Planet Rock” came out, we had just transferred over to the Roxy. 

    People started to acknowledge us more behind that record. There was more interest and there was a whole mass of us DJing down there: Bam, Jazzy, Afrika Islam, D.ST, (rest in peace) Whiz Kid, and me. Then, in early ’83, a guy named Barry Mayo, who was program director at [WRKS 98.7] KISS FM, stepped to Afrika Bambaataa and said, “We want to introduce some hip-hop on the radio. We want to incorporate it into our mix show, Dance Mix Party.” WBLS already had [Mr.] Magic; he went on in ’82. So the first person [KISS] went after was Afrika Islam, ’cause he was quote-unquote “the hottest DJ in the pack.” Islam missed a couple of appointments, so the next person he went after was my cousin, Jazzy. I don’t remember, [but] I think he did it for like two months. He wasn’t getting no pay, but he was gaining some “exposure” and getting some work in clubs. But he wasn’t getting paid, so he quit. So they came to Bam and asked him, “Do you have anyone else?” And he said, “Well, we’ve got Red Alert.”

    The first time I got on the air, I wasn’t on live. We used to have to send in mixes on tapes. The first mix I did was in October of 1983. They had me on for three months, and I used to be on every other week on a Saturday from eleven at night till two in morning. It gained popularity, and then they had me start to alternate with other people. At first, they had me alternate with Tony Humphries. It used to be Tony Humphries and Shep Pettibone doing the mixes. Several months after me, they had Chuck Chillout come on. We went back and forth for a good couple of years. Then, I think in ’86, they split us. They put Chuck on Fridays and me on Saturdays, and they moved our time to more of a prime time: 9:00 p.m. to 12:00 [midnight] on the weekend.

    Let’s go back a little bit. Were you at the recording session for “Jazzy Sensation”?

    Nah.

    So was the 12-inch for Vincent Davis on Vintertainment the first time you were on wax?

    That was the first record I came out with. It was Hip-Hop on Wax, Vol. 2 [Vintertainment] that was in ’84 or ’85. I think ’84. I came right behind Chuck Chillout [Hip-Hop on Wax, Vol. 1].

    Let me rewind, I meant to tell you even before I got on KISS, I used to be hangin’ out with Afrika Islam on this show called Zulu Beats, which we did from ’82 to ’83. That show was on WHBI, which everybody knows is where hip-hop radio first started with Mr. Magic’s [Rap Attack] back in [1979]. We came on late Wednesday nights after Gil Bailey, the Caribbean DJ. 

    I remember the first time I met Vincent Davis, he came down with this record called “2-3 Break.” That’s when I met Chuck for the first time; he came down with Vincent. I kept in contact with him, and after I transferred over to KISS, Vincent asked me if I wanted to do a volume, and I said yeah. So that was my first taste of studio work.

    Do you remember working in the studio on those tracks? How did you put them together?

    We was in INS Studio on Murray Street between Church and Broadway. We did maybe three sessions. I’d lay down something, then I’d lay something down on top of it. We were going track to track. That’s how I learned how to lay one thing over another.

    What was the next record you made?

    The next record I got involved with was “He’s My DJ” with Sparky D. Around that time, you had the “Roxanne Roxanne” craze going on. Sparky asked me to be her DJ. Her rival, Shante, was with Mr. Magic and Marley Marl. Sparky wanted to make a record going after Shante. I’ll never forget, we were at Russell Simmons’s old office on 26th Street and Broadway, because her man at the time was Spyder D, who was affiliated with Rush Productions. 

    Spyder had produced the record going after Shante. They said, “Wait a minute, we need a DJ.” She turned around, looked at me, and asked, “Wanna be my DJ?” I said okay and we just clicked. We were doing shows and everything. About that time, they wanted to do a record about me called “He’s My DJ.”

    And you went out on tour with Sparky?

    Yeah! We did shows, shows, shows. All through ’85 and going into ’86.

    So you made the move from DJing for Bam to working with Sparky D. Did you go on to DJ for another act or were you getting caught up with the radio gig by then?

    I was getting deeper and deeper into radio, because it was building my stature up. The next group I got involved with was Boogie Down Productions. Scott La Rock (rest in peace) and me knew each other for a long time. He used to DJ at this club, Broadway International, and he always used to ask me questions. I told him what little I knew. [BDP] had a deal with Sleeping Bag Records as 12:41, and they made this record called “Success Is the Word.”

    They got the record to Mr. Magic; he played it and dissed the record. Mr. Magic had so much influence that when he dissed it so bad, Sleeping Bag dropped the group. I don’t know how they got into dealings with Rock Candy Records, but that’s when they formed Boogie Down Productions and made this record that was an answer to “The Bridge” called “South Bronx,” where they mentioned my name. 

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    How I came to hear it—I’ll never forget—I was in the Latin Quarters that used to be based on 48th Street between Broadway and 7th Avenue in midtown. There was a party called Celebrity Tuesdays that the Awesome Two used to play, along with this husky young Latin guy named DJ Raul. Scott came runnin’ in with the acetate and he said, “Yo, man! Can you play this?!” Raul got to listen to it on the headphones and said, “Oh, man! I got to play this!” As he played it, it caught everybody off guard! Everybody was screaming, “Oh! Whoa! Oh!” He cut it down and said, “This shit is so dope, I got to play it again.” He put the needle back on and let the shit play. Everybody was screaming again. After he finished playing it, he gave it to Scott. Scott turned around and looked at me and said, “Yo, this is for you to play on the radio.” So I got to bang that out on that Saturday. 

    Here’s the way I did it. There was this record called “The Bridge,” by MC Shan. Scott and KRS-1 already had some gripe about Mr. Magic because he dissed their record. And here’s MC Shan, under the affiliation of Marley Marl and Magic, talking his little nonsense about the Bridge. [BDP] wanted to put out an answer to that, so they put out “South Bronx.” Even though we had a rivalry, I used to play all types of records that Marley produced. You know, if it’s good, it’s good! So when I played “The Bridge” and it came to the chorus line, instead of letting it say “To the Bridge, to the Bridge.” I cut in with “South Bronx! South, South Bronx!” and that caused a stir right there.

    When you did that show, had you gone live on the radio yet or was it still a taped show?

    That was live. I started doing [the show] live in the middle part of ’86 after they split Chuck and myself. The reason they had us start doing it live was because every time a programmer would listen to our shows, they heard that we weren’t into no editing and splicing. You had some people that had done some great edits like the Latin Rascals. The reason why we decided not to do edits was because we learned that people expected to hear you play the same way you did in the clubs as you did on the radio. If it don’t sound the same like it is on the radio, they feel that you’re a fluke and a fake. So we always wanted to play it natural. They asked, “Can you do it?” I felt a little tense and nervous at first, ’cause now, you know, you’re on live. But I got used to it very quickly.

    Can you describe your thought process about breaking new artists and new sounds?

    Once my popularity started gaining on the radio, record companies started sending me all the new [releases]. I honestly took the time to listen to every record that came through. I would take time, and I’d judge every record. I didn’t care if it was a major label, an indie label. I didn’t care if it was somebody who was already established or if it was a first timer. The name of the game is: “If it sounds good, I’m gonna play it.” I will admit that there have been records that I didn’t care for, that didn’t sound good to me, that did take off. I’m not perfect, but I always tried to find something that sounded right to me. I knew that, after a while, the audience started to know my style. 

    In the past, every DJ had a distinctive sound according to what they played. Everybody could have the same records, but it’s all about how you present the records, how you play the records, how you mix the records. I knew that there were records that Marley played, but there were records that I played that he didn’t and vice versa. 

    So many records come out, you can’t play every single record. Not only that, but I’m hired by this radio station, they’ve got to believe there’s a reason why I’m playin’ what I’m playin’. Otherwise, just hire me as a “Make It or Break It” DJ. No, no. I have a show to please the audience; if I just throw anything at them they won’t follow me. That’s where I have to narrow it down to make my judgment and look for what I believe.

    Coming into the later part of the 1980s, new-school groups like Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest started coming up. How did you get involved with breaking them to the public?

    My nephew Mike G was going to Murry Bergtraum High School. He was always coming up to me, “Yo, man. I wanna make a record.” I thought he was jivin’, wasn’t sure of himself. Around that time, there was this guy named Tony D who had a group called the Bad Boys that made the record “Inspector Gadget.” He had built a studio in his home out in Brooklyn. He said, “Yo, Red! Man, [if] you have any interest in trying to get something going on, just let me know.” It was the right timing, so I thought I’d try to do something with my nephew and his group. I told my nephew, here was his chance, so I assigned him to go to the studio. The first record they were gonna make was called “The Breaks,” but they didn’t do it. The next record they went to make was based on a saying that my older brother used to say all the time—it’s called “Jimbrowski.” Some other people who were going to school with my nephew were Afrika, Ali Shaheed, Q-Tip, Jarobi, Brother J, and Sugar Shaft (rest in peace). They all started branching out into little groups. Afrika, who first called himself Shazam, and Mike G got together, and Mike went after his cousin, Sammy B, to form themselves the Jungle Brothers. Then, on the side, the other guys formed A Tribe Called Quest.

    So you went in to record “Jimbrowski” with the Jungle Brothers.

    Everybody was always knowing me for my ad libs, so I went in and ad libbed in the recording. You know, I said, “Word up!” and “Jimbrowski” and “Here we go!” Just like when I did my signature “Yeaaaah!” on the recording with Boogie Down Productions for “The Bridge Is Over.”

    I want to bring things back to your upbringing and the reggae and Caribbean sounds you started to present to a new audience. You always dropped the dancehall in your shows.

    When I was on tour with Boogie Down Productions in ’88, KRS-1 had the idea to come out on stage to the version of “Telephone Love” by JC Lodge. That showed me a lot when we were on the road, because [the audience] was embracing “Telephone Love,” and it built up by the time we got to “Stop the Violence.” It seemed that all the audience that was into hip-hop had Caribbean background like me. So they felt proud. And what starts taking forth is the dancehall. I said, “You know what? When I come back, I’m gonna start playing some dancehall.” 

    So I did the first twenty minutes of my [radio] set with some of the popular dancehall records like “Telephone Love,” [Foxy Brown’s] “Sorry,” and a few hip-hop records that had some Caribbean samples like Special Ed [“I’m the Magnificent”]; then I went into my regular set. It developed so much that later on, I got to [stretch] it to an hour, and that’s when they extended my time. I had been on from 9:00 p.m. to 12:00 [midnight], but I stepped up to my boss and told him that I had ideas that I wanted to implement. So they extended my time to 7:00 p.m. to 12:00 [midnight], and we called it the Saturday Night House Party. You could hear me playing some R&B, some uplifting hip-hop, some house music. Then I broke out from nine to ten and got to hit them on the head with the dancehall.

    And you’re still hitting listeners on the head with new sounds. Now that you’re on Sirius Satellite Radio, your show seems to have embraced the new generation of electro and breakbeat records. 

    I’m on a station over there at Sirius called Boombox. It’s a channel where I play a [mixture] of old school hip-hop, mash-up, and alternative like Crystal Method, Moby, Chemical Brothers. It’s making me feel like I’m going back to the beginning when Bam showed us how to play a mixture of different things. 

    See, when I think back to the radio I used to listen to in the ’70s, to people like the late great [DJ] Frankie Crocker (rest in peace)—he used to play some James Brown, he’d play some Sly and the Family Stone, he’d play some Barbara Streisand or Frank Sinatra. He learned to circulate everything around. That’s one thing I’ve learned. I remember I used to play this hip-hop version of “I Miss You” by Bjork. My man Stretch Armstrong used to laugh at me and say, “You’ve got balls!” I said, “Listen, man, if it sounds funky enough, I’m gonna play it.” .

    Robbie Busch is a writer, DJ, and artist whose work can be seen at mcboingboing.com.