That Other Level

The Geto Boys and Public Enemy Together, 25 Years Ago

And other photos from the archive of former GBs DJ Ready Red.

By John Nova Lomax August 28, 2013

Last night, former Geto Boys DJ Collins "Ready Red" Leysath posted this amazing photo...

Photo courtesy of Collins "Ready Red" Leysath

Left to right, that's Rap-A-Lot founder and CEO James Prince, a.k.a. Lil' J; Geto Boys MC Scarface (then still going by his original stage name Akshen); Public Enemy MC Chuck D; Public Enemy "Minister of Information" Professor Griff; Geto Boys MC Bushwick Bill; Ready Red, and Geto Boys MC (and current advice columnist) Willie D, almost out of the frame. (Public Enemy's Flava Flav and Terminator X are not pictured.)

The photo was taken after Public Enemy performed here with LL Cool J in about 1988.  

"We looked after all the rappers that came to Houston, to make sure nothing happened, or anything they wanted we did accommodate," Leysath tells us via Facebook. "Southern Hospitality." 

That classic line-up of the Geto Boys had just cohered, and Public Enemy had unknowingly played a key role. According to Willie D., the Geto Boys had a vacancy for an MC, and one day back-up dancer Bushwick Bill was hanging around the studio, knocking back a 40-ounce, and rapping Public Enemy's "Rebel Without a Pause" off the cuff. 

"A light bulb goes off and I think, ‘Man, let’s put Bushwick in the group: He’ll take Jukebox’s place.’ Everyone was laughing but I was serious," Willie D told Artvoice earlier this year. "People had reservations about him. [Ed: Bushwick Bill is a dwarf.] I said, ‘Let me take him downstairs and let me see if I can write something for him.’ I took Bill in the kitchen and asked some personal questions about himself and I embellished what I thought it might be like to walk in his shoes. I came up with ‘Size Ain’t Shit.’ A few days later, Bill recorded the song and he became a Geto Boy.”

The Bayou City storms Motown. (Photo courtesy Ready Red.)

Like Bushwick Bill, who was born in Jamaica but raised in Brooklyn, Leysath is from the northeast -- Trenton, N.J., to be exact, where growing up he was privy to all the great DJs and MCs from the dawn of hip-hop: Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and his fellow Trentonians Poor Righteous Teachers.

Album cover art: Ready Red booked by the non-existent "Fifth Ward Precinct."

Ready Red's soul and classic rock sample-heavy backbeats elevated the Geto Boys's sound to "that other level" they loved to rap about on Grip It on That Other Level and We Can't Be Stopped, so the group in its early days was a fusion of Gulf Coast drawl and East Coast punch.

Ready Red was out of the group by 1992. He believed he and his bandmates were being swindled by Rap-A-Lot CEO James Prince, and was bold enough to tell him so. He was cut from the group, and his life fell apart. Ready Red succumbed to crack addiction and stayed hooked by his own account for over a decade. He moved back to New Jersey, where hit true rock bottom: around 2002, he was squatting in abandoned buildings in Trenton when he finally broke free of this living death. He got clean and moved to California for a time, but is now back in New Jersey, working a day job and back behind the turntables by night. (On October 4 he will be flying out to Chicago to perform with DJ Premier, a Houston native who moved long ago to Brooklyn to stage his amazing career.)

"Yes, I've been clean 12 years," he says. "I have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to work it out and I still call Houston my home!


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