Here’s an abridged history of Congo Square for those unfamiliar:
The area in the heart of New Orleans was a market and gathering place where slaves received Sundays off and fraternized—usually with music. They played the dozens and used coded language to tell dancers which moves to perform. As songs and dances grew in popularity they began to take on lives of their own, with new interpretations of dances forming in different regions of the city and the South.
Some traditions die hard. Enter “Get Ready, Ready”.
DJ Jubilee started DJing in the early ’80s, playing birthday parties and block parties in the famous projects and neighborhoods across the city. By the early ’90s, he became one of the most popular DJs in the city, recruiting a dance team to perform different moves as he shouted out various people at the party.
“If there was someone that lost a fight or something the week before, I’d call her name out and say something about her while the music played,” Jubilee explained.
A DJ Jubilee party became the hottest ticket in town. He was performing at block parties in every major corner of the city. Soon, Jubilee was making his own party anthems. His first big hit was “Jubilee All (Stop Pause)”, a bounce classic that catapulted Jubilee to even higher levels of local success. But “Ready” added some new wrinkles to appeal to the party crowd.
“We sped up the song so it’d have a quicker rhythm, get people moving,” Jubilee explains. “And we added the ‘gettin’ ready gettin’ ready gettin’ ready ready’ at the beginning and it made people rush to the dance floor.”
The track is essentially a collection of the most famous cat calls from Jubilee’s travels on the house party circuit. He starts the song by calling everyone to the dance floor before shouting out obscure, seemingly meaningless phrases like “walk it like a dog” and “monkey on a stick.” Both moves require various bounces and leg gyrations that hamstrings over the age of 19 simply aren’t built for.
Then things get confusing. Jubilee yells out “Do my boy Anky” and “Do the Chuck D,” which are actually references to the dancers he used for block parties.
“The dancers would just come up with different moves,” Jubilee explains. “Then we’d name the song after them. Eventually we put all of their dances in the song.”
This call-and-response approach went over superbly in New Orleans, but it presented a problem for people outside of the city: they simply had no clue what these calls meant. For example, in Mississippi the dance floor would be packed with people kicking their legs during the “do the Big Keith” part, thinking the song was saying “do the big kick.” Or in Texas, whole crowds would just stand around or do their own dance when the track screamed, “do the sissy poo.” These were the drawbacks of a dance song from the ’90s.
When Soulja Boy released his “Crank That” song in 2007, it came with a YouTube video of kids doing his dance as he rapped the chorus. Overnight, the song became a national sensation and made Soulja Boy a household name. Jubilee didn’t have a YouTube channel to make his song the national phenomenon it could have been. Instead, “Get Ready, Ready” became a song that traveled the country via word of mouth, migrating with New Orleans kids who went off to college or relocated after Katrina. While many of the dance moves got lost in translation, Jubilee is able to recall their origins with ease.
“For the ‘Big Keith,’ you just pound your chest,” he recalls, ending years of speculation and incorrect interpretations. “On one part I say ‘do the 10th Ward,’ which people sometimes don’t understand. I’m just telling you to put the 10th Ward sign up.”
If the song had ended at the five-minute mark after the dance moves ended, it would have still become an undeniable hit. But one key element put the song over the top as a monster track that sent parties into a frenzy.
“When we added that ‘what’s the name of your school?’ it was over,” he recalls. At the end of the song, Jubilee calls for everyone to scream out his or her high school name, which is always a hit. Anyone that understands New Orleans culture knows that high school pride trumps all, and this aspect of the song plays directly into that.
While “Ready” was a regional hit, still played at weddings and reunions across the third coast, it never landed Jubilee a record deal. Instead, he was able to independently sell CDs locally and still tours on the strength of his previous hits. He performs when he’s not teaching at West Jefferson High School. Though he’s settled into his teaching job for the last 18 years, he hasn’t given up hope on major label success.
“We’re going to do a video,” he says excitedly. “And it’ll show everyone what all the dances mean. A record label is going to see it and sign me. Then it’ll be the biggest song in the country. That’s my plan.”