Grip It on That Other Level
Grip It on That Other Level
~ Geto Boys
 
Label: Rap-A-Lot Records
 
Release Year: 1989
 
Produced By: DJ Ready Red      J-Prince
Doug King      John Bido
Prince Johnny C      

Can't stop, won't stop. This album marked the official changing of the guard for Houston's legendary Geto Boys. The Geto Boys, the linchpin of Houston, Texas label Rap-A-Lot Records, were in limbo in 1988, when the crew's original MC's (Prince Johnny C and The Slim Jukebox) left the quartet shortly after the release of the group’s debut album (1987’s Making Trouble) due to personal issues, and problems with the group's artistic direction. Rap-A-Lot CEO James “J-Prince” Smith, the man who assembled the original Geto Boys, wasted no time in revamping the group; and crafting a formidable lineup that made the GB’s famous (and infamous) for all eternity.

The Geto Boys: 2nd Edition was comprised of two of its original members, and two lyrical firebrands J-Prince recruited from the streets of Houston. DJ Ready Red (Collins Weysath), the sound architect of the first generation GB’s, remained in the fold; as did Little Billy a.k.a. Bushwick Bill (Richard Shaw), the diminutive sideman for the original group, who J-Prince promoted to frontline mic duty. In place of Prince Johnny C and The Slim Jukebox, J-Prince recruited two talented H-Town soloists, who’d represent the essence of the Geto Boys. Willie D (William Dennis), a fiery mic wielder who recorded for Rap-A-Lot as a solo artist, was tapped by J-Prince to join the team. With Willie D becoming the heart of the GB’s, J-Prince completed the cipher by calling on DJ Akshen (Brad Jordan), a young phenom from Houston’s Fifth Ward, who’d been recording since the age of sixteen, and would be immortalized in later years, under the alias of Scarface. In the winter of 1989, James Prince re-introduced his franchise act to the rap world, and the “new” Geto Boys began their historic run with an excellent album called Grip It on That Other Level.

The Geto Boys don’t waste any time bringing the drama on this album, and neither does their sponsor James Smith. J-Prince leads in the rebellious opener "Do It Like A G.O."; vowing to keep Rap-A-Lot strong and self-contained, and then giving way to Willie D, DJ Akshen, Bushwick Bill, and DJ Ready Red, who use melodic bits from Curtis Mayfield (“Superfly”), and Dennis Coffey (“Scorpio”) and the breakbeat from the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” to deal with stressors (lack of radio play) and address societal issues (racism, the barren school system). On the next cut "Gangsta Of Love", Will and Akshen coast across a bumpy soul groove, and recall sexcapades with random women in graphic and humorous detail. The staccato drums and rhythmic bassline found on “Talkin’ Loud Ain’t Saying Nothin” make your speakers hum, and they provides a nice backdrop for Willie Dee and Bushwick Bill; who sound off on the lies and hypocrisy of everyday people; from parents protesting gangsta rap while enjoying violent movies, to jailhouse punks claiming to be hardcore killers. "No Sell Out" utilizes a strutting bassline and the torque drums from Cerrone’s “Rocket In The Pocket”, and explores race-based censorship in music, with Willie Dee and Akshen railing against persecution faced by Black recording artists, and coming to the defense of Public Enemy, who faced a media storm that nearly destroyed them in the summer of ’89. “Trigga Happy Nigga” features J-Prince as Master of Ceremonies, and J introduces each musical component (drums, horns, bass, etc.), which Bushwick, Akshen and Willie D use to loc up in the streets, bust shots freely, and then vanish without a trace. And "Mind Of A Lunatic", one of the most macabre rap songs ever made, finds the Geto Boys committing grisly crimes atop melded James Brown samples; offering listeners a view of a madman’s thought process, and creating a song that caused much dismay and debate in its day.

In addition to the group cuts, Willie D, Bushwick Bill, and DJ Akshen each get solo showcases on this album. Willie D, one of rap’s most notable drama lords, leads off with “Read These Nikes”, a James Brown-powered thumper where Will, known for his hand-to-hand skills, brawls out of control, and leaves his gym shoe logo on the forehead of anyone that tests him. Will, who also became known for his observational bent, displays this side of his persona on "Let A Ho Be A Ho", a wry banger centered on conniving women, and the saps that get used and exploited by them. Bushwick Bill shines on "Size Ain't Shit", a funk-drenched number that focuses on Bill’s thug pedigree, and forewarns foes his 3'5" stature won't keep him from stomping them out. As he’d do many more times in his career, DJ Akshen steals the show when he rocks the set. Akshen has three solo joints, starting with “Seek And Destroy”, a lyric fiend’s dream, where Akshen flips acrobatic punchlines over a bubbling true-school instrumental, and freaks a New York City style of rhyme as well as any Big Apple emcee could, while DJ Ready Red backs his play with dope turntable work. “Scarface”, the song that gave Akshen his iconic pseudonym, is set to a Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers drum kit, morsels of James Brown’s “Blues And Pants”, and the bassline from Le Pamplemousse’s “Gimme What You Got”, and it finds Akshen telling a spiraling street fable, and flashing the skill that made him an all-time great. And Ak’s last solo jawn “Life In The Fast Lane” alternates between a bluegrass groove and a sample of Parliament’s “The Big Bang Theory”, and has Akshen upping the visual ante of his storytelling, by spinning a vivid tale of drug running, and evading the long arm of the law.

As evidenced by this album, the breakup of the original Geto Boys proved to be a blessing; as the revamped lineup had far more talent and magnetism than their predecessors. With his volatile demeanor and hair trigger rhyme flow, Willie D was the ultimate bruiser, who could talk a good game, and back it up with either fists or firearms. Like NWA's Eazy-E, Bushwick Bill was the character of his crew; the little man with charisma and larger-than-life personality. And DJ Akshen a.k.a. Scarface, was the embodiment of the unflappable street king; with a chilling aura, and a finger permanently glued to a gun trigger.

Grip It on That Other Level put both the Geto Boys and Houston, Texas on the rap map permanently after its release; selling more than 500,000 units with virtually no radio or video support. It also led to a censorship blitzkrieg over its content. In 1990, Rap-A-Lot connected with American Recordings founder Rick Rubin, who repackaged tracks from their first two albums (including Making Trouble) for distribution through his own imprint, and venerable rock label Geffen Records. The resulting product, 1990’s The Geto Boys, caused mass hysterics over its nihilism and violence, particularly that of “Mind Of A Lunatic”. Geffen Records refused to distribute it; and even Digital Audio Disc Corporation, the media monolith that presses seemingly every CD and DVD in existence, refused to manufacture it. The Geto Boys would soldier on, though, distributing their self-titled album through Warner Bros. Records in 1990, and then going platinum with both their 1991 album We Can’t Be Stopped; and Mr. Scarface Is Back, the 1991 solo debut from Scarface. The Geto Boys are the very definition of pioneers. Besides laying the foundation for James Prince’s Rap-A-Lot empire, they helped make the South a viable force in Hip Hop, and they added depth, dimension, and emotional value to gangsta rap. Check out Grip It on That Other Level, and see where their saga began.

Review by Syd Caesar




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