Before Atlanta became a hotbed for hip-hop talent, production trio Organized Noize pioneered the Dirty South sound. In the documentary The Art of Organized Noize, producers Rico Wade, Ray Murray and Sleepy Brown recall shaping the city’s ’90s hip-hop and R&B sound.
In the the film, which premiered at SXSW in Texas earlier this month, Organized Noize — alongside artists, managers and executives who played a role in their come-up, including OutKast, L.A. Reid and Diddy — recall how Atlanta brought the noise to music in one of hip-hop culture’s most prominent movements. Here’s what we learned.
1. Started in “The Dungeon” (Now We Here)
While Rico Wade’s mother’s home on Headland and Delowe was “the start of something good,” it was his family’s move to Lakewood Terrace that would define the Organized Noize sound and form the legendary Dungeon Family, comprised of OutKast, Goodie Mob, Organized Noize and a variety of local artists who holed up in the basement to work on music.
“It was just all night long…noise and smoke and noise and smoke,” says Andre 3000 of the “Dungeon” lair. Their former manager Dee-Dee Hibbler adds, “It smelled of weed and dirt. I don’t know if you can imagine how weed and must and dirt would smell together, but that’s what it smelled like.”
2. TLC’s T-Boz Introduced Sleepy Brown and Rico Wade
TLC’s T-Boz, a former LaFace signee and Atlanta native, was responsible for introducing two thirds of Organized Noize, Sleepy Brown and Rico Wade, through the latter’s job at LaMonte’s Beauty Supply. “Rico looked at me, did a little dance and said, ‘So?’” Brown recalls. “And when he did it, it cracked me up so much that I was like, ‘Yeah, I like him.’”
3. L.A. Reid Was Initially Hesitant to Sign OutKast to His LaFace Record Label
“L.A. Reid didn’t want to sign OutKast at first,” Wade says in the film of the esteemed music exec, whose initial encounter with the duo (comprised of Andre 3000 and Big Boi) was their feature on the TLC “What About Your Friends” remix.
Three Stacks even recalls Reid’s initial reaction to their music: “‘Yeah, I think I like them, but I don’t think that they’re stars, I don’t know, but I’ll give them a chance. I’ll give them a song… Let’s put this one song on a Christmas album compilation.” That song was “Player’s Ball,” not your typical Yuletide track but one that would become the highest charting single on Outkast’s platinum debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.
4. Diddy Directed OutKast’s First Video
“A lot of people don’t realize that I directed OutKast’s first video,” Diddy says in the movie. “I realize it because I make sure I tell my kids everyday, ‘Dad directed OutKast’s first video.'” The New York City-bred music mogul shot the 1993 clip in various Atlanta locations from the barber shop to Rico Wade’s family kitchen table. In style and content, the “Player’s Ball” music video personified the soulful, southern grit embedded in the Dungeon Family. Both amused by his subjects and proud to capture their world, Diddy confesses, “I was like, ‘I direct a lot of videos. I ain’t direct no cats like this.’”
6. TLC’s “Waterfalls” Changed Everything for Organized Noize
TLC’s “Waterfalls” offered Organized Noize their big break and also proved their mainstream appeal. In what Wade, Brown and Murray describe as a synergistic studio moment, the creation of “Waterfalls” was just as organic as the song’s message. “For it to impact millions and millions like it did, I don’t think anybody saw that coming,” says Shanti Das, then-national director of promotions at LaFace Records. “Phone calls started flooding in. Everybody wanted Organize to work on their project, and it just started growing and growing from there.”
6. Organized Noize Left $17 Million on the Table at Interscope
After their post-“Waterfalls” popularity, Organized Noize signed a $20 million deal with Jimmy Iovine’s Interscope label. Making their way out west to California, the trio found themselves entrenched in drugs, sex, rock n’ roll — and at major odds with the music execs above them. “I think Jimmy expected us to do every song like ‘Waterfalls,’ and truthfully, we wanted to introduce the old style of Atlanta,” Sleepy Brown shares.
The trio was also growing apart. “At the peak of our success, we were kind of separate in a way,” says Brown. “The money started fucking with us.” As a result, Organized Noize left $17 million on the table with Interscope and went back to the label that best understood them, LaFace.
7. Organized Noize Rarely Uses Samples
Unlike many hip-hop producers who rely on sampling other artists, Organized Noize used primarily live instrumentation to make their beats. “They brought the real soul to hip-hop because they weren’t samples. It’s real music,” says their producer Orlando McGhee. “They found people that could really play the bass, really play the keys, and people started injecting that into their music,” adds Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz.
8. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below Was the Only OutKast Album without Organized Noize Production
On their 2003 album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, Big Boi and Andre 3000 opted out of working with Organized Noize. “That was arrogant as shit,” Rico Wade says while sitting in OutKast’s Atlanta-based Stankonia Studios. The album was the duo’s first without Organized Noize’s production and also the first to win the Grammy for album of the year and go diamond, selling more than ten million copies.
Despite its success and Wade’s enduring friendship with the duo, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below remains a sore spot for Organized Noize. “That shit will never go away,” says Wade. “We’re going to have to do something together to fix that.”
9. Family Comes First
Head of the Dungeon Family, Rico Wade provided the crew with a place to eat, sleep, live and create. “I’ve got to always accredit Rico on such a selfless act of generosity and hospitality,” says Dungeon Family and Goodie Mob member Cee Lo Green. “He treated all of us like family. We all ate.”
From their humble beginnings sleeping on the Dungeon floor to their multi-million dollar record deals, Wade and the rest of the family always made music with their community in mind. “We all knew we was going to make it. We just didn’t know when. We all believed in each other,” says Sleepy Brown.
The Dungeon Family has since collaborated with one another in countless combinations and under a variety of names — from Earthtone III (Outkast’s Andre 3000 and Big Boi plus Mr. DJ) to Lumberjacks (Goodie Mob’s T-Mo and Khujo) among others.
Watch The Art of Organized Noize on Netflix.