How Organized Noize Created The Atlanta Hip-Hop Sound With Outkast & Goodie Mob
In looking at Rap superstars, their producers are never far behind in recognition. Rick Rubin was the musical architect that would have a hand in the success of Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, and Beastie Boys. Dr. Dre’s “Midas Touch” with N.W.A., Snoop Dogg (and to a lesser extent) Tupac cleared a path for Eminem. When Slim Shady proved to be a missing link in Rap music, Dre’s praises were hand-in-hand with the Motown mad-man. The Notorious B.I.G. has long been positioned as Puff Daddy’s discovery, and careful tooling as a hardcore MC-turned-chart-topper. The year that Biggie Smalls would be tragically murdered, Sean “Puffy” Combs was the one to floor the accelerator on the movement.
Of the nine Hip-Hop albums to be certified diamond (10 million single-album units sold), Dre, Puffy, and Rick Rubin are responsible for six of them. Outkast is one of the three artists not affiliated with those producers to achieve the mark. Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below would not only reach diamond, it would be the only Rap album to do so and receive “Album Of The Year” at the Grammy Awards. Amazingly, it is the only work in the duo’s album catalog that does not feature involvement from their mentor-producers, Organized Noize (Rico Wade, Sleepy Brown, and Ray Murray). While the moment was an overdue triumph for the Dungeon Family, it was a slap in the face to the creators of the dungeon, and the funk that emerged from it.
The Art Of Organized Noize documentary was released to Netflix yesterday (March 22). Produced by Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit Entertainment, the film is directed by Quincy Jones, III—better known to Hip-Hop fans as QD3, the man behind Beef. The feature-length film, like the A Tribe Called Quest doc Beats, Rhymes & Life, uncompromisingly delves into the dynamic behind not only Organized, but the entire Dungeon Family.
With participation from Andre 3000, Big Boi, L.A. Reid, Pebbles, Cee-Lo, Big Gipp, T-Mo, the film leaves no stone unturned. Moreover, the Stankonia Studios session players and featured accents of the D.F. play a prominent role in understanding a sound that Joi deems as “unapologetically Black.” Future, Ludacris, Puffy, and 2 Chainz also appear to contextualize Organized for lay listeners and star-seekers.
Above the drama and the timeline, Art Of Organized Noize breaks down the three personalities in the group. The doc showcases Rico as the O.G. to Ray and Sleepy. He was the man with the basement, and the push to unify three visionaries. Ray, the quietest of the three, is revealed to be the creative nucleus. Organized Noize beats are revealed to begin around Murray’s drum machine, with the orchestration to follow. Sleepy, who was an artist outside of the unit several times in his career, is featured as the experimental creative and vocalist—and at times the volatile member who threatened many exits.
From mid-1980s skating rinks, to the earliest days of Gipp and T-Boz (who introduced Rico to Sleepy), the film traces the history of Atlanta’s music scene to its unlikely landmarks. Organized show viewers the streets, shopping plazas, and houses that have since become those of lyric legends. ATL is explained geographically, as well as how in 1991, it was unlikely to get on without help from Dallas Austin or Jermaine Dupri. Amazingly, Noize would get their feet in the door—working with those artists and L.A. Reid and Babyface’s fledgling LaFace Records for some small three and four-figure checks.
All of this money went into funding studio sessions in Rico’s mother’s basement. There, a crowded group of ATL hopefuls congregated around the clock to watch the producers at work, and cut tracks. The introduction of Outkast is described by Big and ‘Dre, who would meet Rico outside a hair-care supply store for an impromptu addition. As Organized was looking for a young, new act to develop—the duo whose verses interlocked would instantly become the vehicle. L.A. Reid explains his own ignorance to Hip-Hop music, and passing on Outkast several times before signing the group. It is around this time that Organized Noize assembled the Goodie Mob, a group compromised of street hustlers Khujo and Cee-Lo, along with O.N. affiliates Gipp and T-Mo. Almost instantly, Organized Noize made LaFace a Hip-Hop powerhouse.
This is where the film opens up about the finances of the Dungeon Family. Organized is blunt about the checks they received, from small to large. Despite Outkast’s platinum beginnings and Goodie’s success, the checks were dwarfed in comparison to those from hits like TLC’s “Waterfalls” and En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go” (both are broken down technically). It was then that Organized Noize’s success clashed with their business at LaFace.
One of the major beats of the film is how Interscope Records and its then-chairman, Jimmy Iovine, would attempt to put Organized Noize in the position to rival the aforementioned Dre, Puffy, or Rubin. The trio took a $20 million deal to sign with Interscope. There, they developed Cool Breeze, Witchdoctor, Sleepy’s solo career, and revamped an Atlanta veteran in Kilo Ali. However, Interscope was hoping for more “Waterfalls,” not marginal ATL Rap. Murray characterizes the tenure as “more freedom, less understanding.” As the pressure mounted, Ray Murray recalls being the sole creator for many of the late ’90s and early 2000s beats. Sleepy focused on his career, while Rico handled the business, and the organization literally fractured. In the end, to save themselves and defend their legacy, Organized Noize left a reported $17 million (which they did not have to) on the table to restore the union, and return to the cause.
Back in their epicenter, the film looks at the mid-2000s for Organized Noize. As the trio returned to Stankonia aiming to make more hits with their protege disciples, creative differences emerged. The film explores the tensions within the trio, as well as the strong drug use. From MDMA to cocaine, they were living like the Rock & Roll and Funk acts that influenced them. At odds with each other (especially between Sleepy and Rico, as told), Goodie Mob was on hiatus, and Outkast was taking their sound into their own. The producers point out that since ’96, ‘Kast had produced some of their own material—including hit single “Elevators.” However, Rico states just how personally he took it to be excluded from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. “We wasn’t on Speakerboxx/The Love Below. Them niggas actually said, out they mouth, they want to do this album by they self. I gave you your opportunity! That shit will never go away [for me]. No matter the hugs, whatever—we have to do something that’s together to fix that! That was arrogant as shit! Like, you don’t want us to be a part of your record. Niggas ain’t never thanked me at no award show, never said, ‘Thank you Rico Wade, thank you Organized Noize,’ ever. [They thanked L.A. Reid]; L.A. Reid didn’t know about Rap!” Reid’s commentary acknowledges the same. “You can’t just take me out [of] the equation.” While Sleepy and Ray do not show the fervor of Rico, this alludes to a 2000s unrest in the D.F. Rico adds that the same attitude was true of Cee-Lo’s solo rise, which involved other producers. Notably, the film points to an odd relationship between Outkast and Organized. Mentioning use of Stankonia Studios, and the duo’s participation in the film, things are more than amicable—but all appear aware of that disconnect from teacher to student.
“I wasn’t Puffy. He’ll take your publishing,” Rico says of the film’s guest. Organized Noize and Outkast split works 50/50, despite the producers (as well as Goodie Mob, etc.) writing many choruses. “I didn’t take Outkast’s publishing; I didn’t take Goodie Mob’s publishing.” Wade adds, “I was fair—I was more than fair. I said, ‘These niggas ain’t gonna be mad at me in 20 years.'” Frustrated with the direction of Outkast, he contests, “Y’all need us. Y’all need my fuckin’ opinion sometimes.” Notably, Organized returned to the fold in 2006’s Idlewild, a concept not explored in the final cut of the film. However, Big Boi touches upon his solo return to his mentors, as many members of D.F. signal to a renaissance. The subjects of the film clear the table, and still aim to congregate with the Family after.
The Art Of Organized Noize has drama and arc, but it is not about controversy. The film celebrates three men who stood in the background of some of the best Hip-Hop and R&B ever made. As documentaries tell the stories that history tends to step over, this work is an incredible revelation for modern music. There are bold declarations and admissions, anger and love, but an overall baited hook towards the future. As Rico Wade declares, “That circle’s finally come back around.”