The Geto Boys are arguably one of the greatest groups in the history of Hip-Hop music. With eight studio albums and two greatest hits compilations, their longevity is evident. Their sound was raw, uncut, and politically charged, which caused mainstream media to take notice. The group’s popularity also led to three successful solo careers.Despite the platinum success of the group, they were not without internal problems. The following story is that of one of the original Geto Boys, Collins Leysath, also known as DJ Ready Red.During the late 70s in Trenton, New Jersey, Leysath would make frequent treks to visit family in Brooklyn, New York. Upon his visits, Ready Red would visit the Bronx on many occasions to attend various block parties. Although Red had hopes of becoming a professional football player, he quickly developed a passion for the newly developed culture called Hip-Hop. Inspired by Afrika Bambaataa’s classic record “Planet Rock,” Collins was influenced to experiment with one aspect of Hip-Hop, Deejaying. The DJ being the backbone of any Hip-Hop group led to the formation of The Mighty MCs with Prince Johnny C and Brother Radee. Similar to most DJs, the Trenton native began to explore the art of production. After receiving a TR 606 drum machine from his mentor Jasper Bradley, Leysath was ready to delve into the culture .
“I was a DJ first. I was a DJ for many years. But when I heard that Grandmaster Flash was rocking the beat box, that was the natural progression for me to start making the beats.”
In 1987 Red decided to leave the East Coast for the hills of Los Angeles, California. Along the way he made a stop in Houston, Texas to visit family. In turn, what was supposed to be a two week stint in Texas, turned out to be a more permanent stay.
“My oldest sister had a little domestic problem with a cat in Houston, so she wanted me to come down there and check him. So I told my mom I’m getting ready to go to Houston for a little bit, and I’ll be back. But I liked it down there a little bit, and I had just broken up with my girl, so I ended up staying and going to a battle of the DJs they had down there.
“Having adopted a New York DeeJaying style, Ready Red wowed the crowd in Houston by spinning breaks back and fourth, scratching, and blending in the fashion he picked up by hanging at block parties in the Bronx.
” It was more like a demonstration. Me cutting breaks and going back to back and all that stuff, they weren’t used to seeing that, so they stopped dancing and came up around the turntables. One of the affiliates was telling me about a group called the Geto Boys, who had a local hit called “Car Freaks.”
Having a ear tuned to boom bap beats and gritty street lyrics, Red was not easily impressed by the efforts of the Geto Boys Proclaiming that “Car Freaks” was “wack.”
“I’m born and raised up in Jersey, so anything that’s not from Philly or New York to me is kind of wack. So I had to open my mind up a little more. I was hearing records like 2 Live Crew’s “Hey we want some p***y.” I was like, they put that type of s**t on record?”The Original Geto Boys
After an impromptu introduction to Rap-A-Record’s owner J. Prince, Red was eventually signed. With a TR 909 and about 50 records, Red set out to impress Prince, which eventually led to him being the official DJ and one of the producers of the Geto Boys. With the group consisting of Prince Johnny C., The Slim Jukebox, and dancer/hypeman Bushwick Bill, the group began production on their debut album, Making Trouble. Shortly after members Johnny C. and Jukebox left the group because they were disgruntled the direction of the sound. Red quickly forged a bond with Bushwick Bill.
“I have to thank Bill, he got me out of that rat infested car lot. I met Bill, he was straight off the plane from Bushwick Brooklyn, and we bonded because he was a East Coast cat. He knew how to dance to the breaks that I was cutting. After three or four hours after meeting him, he took me to his sister’s house. The next thing I know, they started arguing in the back room. He came out and said “Yo Red, let’s go get your stuff, you’re gonna live with us.”"
After the departure of Johnny C. and Jukebox, The Geto Boys went in search of two new rappers which was later filled by DJ Akshen and Willie D.
“There was this little cat at that was rapping called DJ Akshen. I was like ok, let me hear you rap and he was not bad. Come to find out that he was from Camden, New Jersey. Then K-9, who was one of the original members of the group had just got out of jail and came back home. I told Rap-A- Lot about Brad, and we had a battle between K-9 and Scarface or Akshen at that time. They started rapping and Face blew him up out the water. That’s how Face got to be a Geto Boy.”"Scarface” The Geto Boys
Upon the joining of solo artist Willie D., DJ Akshen (Scarface), and Bushwick Bill, the grouped turned it’s sights on a much harder edged sound, recording Grip It! On That Other Level. As the group’s popularity flourished and they began to travel throughout the United States, Red began to question the amount of money the group was being paid. Crowds were swarming to see this new phenomenon and what once was a blind loyalty to Rap-A-Lot for giving him the opportunity to shine, began to fade into the shadows of naivety and disappointment.
“We were traveling all over. I’m saying alright this is gonna be a good little bank man. Not! I said, I’m not gonna say nothing, I’m just going to get me a lawyer, and a CPA. They want family when it comes to them, but when it comes to us, they want us to accept what’s going on. I was doing this all for love, but I’m not going to keep making somebody rich when I gotta worry about my lights getting cut off and all of that. That’s the only problem that I ever had with James Prince. Yo man, you pay people that make you respectable, you pay them!”Geto Boys on the road
Although he obtained a lawyer, he still didn’t feel that he was properly compensated. Red also viewed the situation as a “Dead End” because Prince owned the record label, management, and publishing company that he worked for. Finally Red assembled the Geto Boys in an effort to confront their label and management. Contending that there was never an accurate account of royalties, combined with his increased frustration, led Ready Red to one final group meeting.”Do It Like A G.O.” Geto Boys
“I told them (Geto Boys) after a show that what we were going through wasn’t right. Now if we stand as a group maybe they might give us our money. But J. Prince came in there with his hard hitters, and they left me standing there by myself. They kinda scooted over to the other side when the bass got turned up a little bit. He came in there saying “Which one of yall think I’m f**king yall?”I said that happens to be me. I ain’t never been one to not let my nuts hang. He tried to flip it to make it seem like I had all the problems and issues. It was four of us, but when it stopped it was me sitting by myself. So I said f**k it, I’m out.”
Professionally scarred, and personally hurt, Collins remained in Houston and attempted to make a living from his past fame. It didn’t take long to realize that his once friends were there only because of his standing in the group. His business relationships and access to certain venues in Houston ceased. Shortly after, the group forged on, releasing their biggest hit to date, “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” from the We Can’t Be Stopped album. Receiving constant taunts of regret from family, friends, and community members, and hearing the new single in heavy radio and video rotation caused Red’s life to spiral out of control. He turned to crack cocaine as a means to ease the scrutiny of his decision to leave a recording contract at the height of his career.
“Mind Playing Tricks On Me” Geto Boys“With problems escalating from marriage that had too much weight on it, I turned to crack cocaine to help deal with everything. I never thought that I would ever have any parts of that drug. It just happened to be there at that time to where you think it’s helping take all the pain away. It just brought me misery for sixteen years. I never drank or smoked, I was clear headed. The more you see that the status that you had was because of who you were down with, you really didn’t own that city at all. Everything started to get cut off, it just became crazy. It took me down to a bottomless pit, where I lost everything. I lost my Gold and Platinum records, I lost my cars, I lost my jewelry.”
Red returned to his home in Trenton. Although he escaped the movement of the Geto Boys, he did not escape his addiction crack cocaine. Hitting a low in which he was homeless and living in an abandoned building, forced him to take a hard glance at what his life had become. His despair and desperation for change, transformed into a cry and prayer for help.
“I grew up in the church and my mother played piano in the church. As we get older we come back to that. I started making vows to the Lord. I said Lord if you pick me up out of this, I’ll never go back to it, and I will help any and everybody. That was a struggle because I used to love to get high. They (drug dealers) used to try to put big golf ball rocks in my face to tempt me. But you trust and lean in the Lord and it’s all good.
“With supplemental income from unemployment checks, and selling loose cigarettes, Leysath moved to California to start a new life. Living clean for almost eight years, has allowed him to re-focus on his spirituality and music. He describes every day as “A good day above ground,” and prides himself on having control over his body and frame of mind. Red is now an official member of the Zulu Nation and has plans to start a chapter in Trenton, New Jersey.
“My hometown is now overrun with the Blood gangs and they’re killing each other. I have to at least make an attempt to reach out to anybody that needs help. I’m not trying to get in their face or anything like that, but if they need some help and a way out, I believe I can help them. That’s what I have to do to make amends for my past transgressions.”
Red is also focused on returning to his love for production and DeeJaying. With his artist Naimaj, he has been touring through California taking performances back to the old school , DJ and MC style of Hip-Hop. With a strong co-sign from some of his former group mates, a comeback for DJ Ready Red is not inconceivable. When recently asked about him, Scarface said, “Ready Red was so far ahead of his time until nobody appreciated what he did until he was gone. Listen to “Mind of a Lunatic,” Listen to “Size Ain’t S**t, ” that motherfu**er Red was too far ahead of his time dog.” Willie D also offered support saying, “Somebody that had as much to offer as Ready Red did, I think he can still do it. He needs to get around visionaries in the music industry. I think if he did that, he could return to dominance.”
Maintaining strong ties to his spiritual birth in the Zulu nation and a promise to the Lord, Collins Leysath’s new outlook on life will keep him away from his past perils one day at a time.
“The hardest thing that any man can do, is to get up and do the right thing. With that comes that humbleness and inner strength where you can move mountains. I get that voice that tells me to continue to do the right thing, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
On March 8, 2008, Dj Ready Red was involved in a accident in Reno, Nevada totaling his Dodge Durango. While trying to avoid hitting a flock of wolves, his truck careened out of control and rolled over three times. Although shaken and suffering a few broken bones, he was able to walk away from the accident and is now back home living in Trenton, New Jersey. He attributes his ability to leave the scene relatively unscathed to his faith in God.
DJ Ready Red next to his totaled truck