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Of course, CD-ROM titles are popular in the mass market, but is the enhanced CD a viable medium for music appreciation or is it just a fad? I suspect the latter (although I thought CDs would never catch on). Home computers typically have lousy sound, and compatibility with some CD-ROM drives continues to be an issue. Furthermore, playing on the computer and listening to music are two very different cognitive activities, at least for me. But you don't have to be a techno-nerd or even own a computer to enjoy these discs, because EMI Classics has filled them with performances from its tremendous back catalogue. Even experienced collectors occasionally like a well-selected "greatest hits" compilation as they drive down I-95 or do the dishes. Now, if only IDG could explain rap music to me.

-- Raymond Tuttle

Various Artists
Kool DJ Red Alert Presents ...
(Next Plateau)

Despite the blatant commercialization of hip-hop culture, the mix tape has remained the underground medium of choice for hip-hop in the Nineties. For ten bones, you get anywhere from 60 to 120 minutes of hip-hop, served straight up or cut with your choice of dancehall or R&B (either current or old-school). While the sound quality isn't always state of the art, the DJ usually makes up for it with his or her turntable creativity. A skilled selector with access to advance product and -- even better -- artists for cameo appearances can make some steady dough selling mix tapes.

This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by major and indie labels. It was only a matter of time before they would sort out the licensing nightmares and "legitimize" the practice, pressing their own mix tapes with world-class DJs and, more important, quality sound. Kool DJ Red Alert Presents ... is the second such effort to hit stores this year, following Funkmaster Flex's debut for Loud/RCA.

Working late nights back in the Eighties on the now-defunct WRKS in New York City, I can remember DJ Red Alert going toe-to-toe on the airwaves with fellow turntable legend Marley Marl, breaking new records and new ground every weekend. At school, at the bus stop, at ball games, at football practice -- anywhere kids congregated -- tapes of his shows were played at maximum volume by whoever had the box. Such was the golden age of hip-hop in NYC.

Red Alert is still spinning records in the Big Apple, now a little to the left on the dial at Hot 97. Packaging up the Nineties Red Alert experience, Presents ... is a hip-hop/R&B compendium of recent and current hits blended seamlessly together for 52 nonstop minutes. And while the music has changed a whole lot in ten or so years, the man's style and knack for the dope segue have aged like rare wax. Bad Boy and Death Row are among the labels represented here, where hip-hop music is presented in its only truly acceptable format: the mix.

-- Jesse Ballinger

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