Kool DJ Red Alert: Welcomed to Atlanta 

Where golden era hip-hop stars spend their golden years

Atlanta already has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to current chart-topping rappers. From Young Jeezy to Yung Joc, Ludacris to Bow Wow, it seems that everyone who's anyone has a crib here, although some of them spend more time in their homes than others. (T.I., cough cough.)

But nowadays even hip-hop legends from New York are planting their flags here. From '70s Bronx-born founding fathers to Brooklyn-bred golden-era stars from the late '80s and early '90s, Big Apple ex-pats have formed their own retirement community of sorts – although plenty of them are still quite active in the game.

The list includes artists such as Nas and his wife Kelis, Posdnuos from De La Soul, producers Diamond D and J-Live, and MC Shan, who recently reunited with his legendary Juice Crew posse in Atlanta for the A3C Festival.

Transplanted DJs and rappers famous for helping to kickstart the genre include members of the seminal group Whodini, Grandmaster Flash sidekick and Furious Five member Scorpio, Kurtis Blow's DJ Davy DMX, and old-school power couple Spyder D and Sparky D. Though the latter two are no longer an item, they have a daughter together and Sparky D serves as a Christian minister here.

Lyricist Lounge veteran Punchline used to live on New York's Lower East Side, but now he has a house in Dallas, Ga. The MC, who currently reps the group eMC alongside rap legends Masta Ace and Wordsworth, says he came to Atlanta four years ago partly because everybody else was doing it.

"There was nobody left in New York!" he says. "So, I came down here visiting, getting to know the city, and I ended up meeting a woman through a friend of mine. She said, 'Why don't you move down here?' And I ended up liking it."

He says there are almost too many old school hip-hop luminaries in Atlanta to count, but one he encounters periodically is Wu-Tang Clan's Raekwon. "We get our hair cut at the same barber shop," he says, referring to a Cobb County shop called It's A Man's World.

Rounding out this surely incomplete list of relocated legends is Kool DJ Red Alert, a longtime disc jockey on New York radio and former manager of Native Tongues acts A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers and Monie Love.

Red's hip-hop bona fides as a performer are unparalleled. One of the first to spin hip-hop, the Bronx native kicked it with DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock in the late '70s, and served as Afrika Bambaataa's DJ for a time. Known for his crowd-pleasing mentality and easy humor on songs like Boogie Down Productions' ode to prophylactics, "Jimmy," and Big Daddy Kane's "Welfare," he's about as New York as they come.

So what the hell is he doing here?

"The name of the game is change," Red says by phone, regarding his and his wife's decision to move to Atlanta in August of '06. "You want to come to a new location, a better environment."

Though they lived here part-time for the better part of the decade, Red cites their youngest son's graduation from high school as the impetus for the move, adding that a cleaner environment, lower cost of living and bounty of local talent helped, too.

"I always knew about the music scene down here for a long, long time. I was playing early rap records from down here up in New York before everybody," he says, mentioning MC Shy D, Pastor Troy and early OutKast as examples.

Red has maintained a hectic schedule since his arrival, hosting four separate radio shows. From the studio he had built in his East Point home he tapes an old school hip-hop show for Sirius satellite radio, as well as a program for a station on the Caribbean island of St. Martin. Every Friday he flies north for a gig spinning classic soul on New York's Kiss FM, and in Atlanta he can be heard Sunday nights on 102.5 Grown Folks Radio, broadcasting dance, funk and soul live from Flambeau Restaurant in Lithonia.

"They come to mingle, they come to dance, they come to vibe, they come to reminisce [over] the sounds from back in the day," he says of the Flambeau crowd, adding that the Furious Five's Scorpio hosts the event.

Now 51, Red has begun to receive lifetime achievement awards and other plaudits typical of an elder statesman. He was inducted into the Bronx Walk of Fame a few years ago, was named one of the 50 most influential people in music by Rolling Stone magazine, and has his own exhibit at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He even serves as an honorary U.N. ambassador for an organization called WAFUNIF (World Association of Former United Nations Internes and Fellows Inc.).

This year marks his 25th anniversary as a DJ, and to commemorate he's planning a series of parties, celebrity basketball games and community service projects. While most are still in the planning stages, the first event is slated for New York in July, and others will be held in Atlanta.

Though still well-known for managing Native Tongues acts such as Love and Tribe via his Red Alert Productions, he has passed day-to-day responsibilities of the company to his partners. But he's nonetheless doing his best to stay relevant in a young man's game. His MySpace page, for example, features a promotional photo of him surrounded by a bevy of scantily clad, ridiculously curvy young ladies, as well as bits of his DJ philosophy: "You have to learn how to break a new artist on record by working it in and out with familiar records," it says. "People are scared to fall. It's OK to fall. You must learn how to fall and be strong so you can come back. A DJ is like the pied piper."

Now a grandfather of two, Red seems content with life in the Peach State, and the close proximity to many of his old partners in rhyme is an added bonus. "We often stay in contact with each other, we speak with each other, we vibe together, we do things together," he says of Diamond D, MC Shan, Spyder D and the rest. "We came up together – that's how we are."

Punchline adds that the decision to move to Atlanta was a no-brainer. "The cost of living is way better in Atlanta, compared to what you're getting for your money in New York," he says. "As far as having a car and buying a house, it's just too much there. I love New York, I love my city, and I try to visit once or twice every month. But even as far as the weather, it's better here. And you don't have to worry about snow too much. If you want to get away from the city life, you come out here to the woods. It's a lot quieter."

If people keep following in these revered rappers' and DJs' footsteps, however, it may not stay that way for long.

music@creativeloafing.com

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