Organized Noize Define “Soul,” Recall Moving From Sampling To Instrumentation (Audio)

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In the same week that host Frannie Kelley interviewed her co-host Ali Shaheed Muhammad, NPR Microphone Check sat down with Atlanta, Georgia production trio Organized Noize. Interviewed before a live New York City audience, the moment included appearances from Big Rube, Big Boi, and other members of the Dungeon Family.

One of the notable moments came from Sleepy Brown, the Organized member who also has enjoyed a prominent artist career. The trio was asked, by Frannie Kelley, to describe “soul” as they see it. “Soul is just a feeling. What we tried to do in Outkast, we just wanted to make sure that—we didn’t want to sound too West Coast or too New York. So the best way for us was just to do what we do. The South has this sound that is really touching, and it hits your heart. So I think that’s what soul music is. It’s us. It’s the South. It’s what we do. It’s how we live. It’s how we breathe. It’s what we eat. Soul food. You feel me?”

Sleepy is the son of Brick’s Jimmy Brown. His father was sampled on his by Dana Dane, Ice Cube, DJ Quik, and India Arie. “For us, for me, growing up in the backstage with Funk, with my dad and stuff, I understood it. I remember when I was there, like 10 years old, when I first saw Sugarhill Gang backstage. I fucking freaked out. So for me, I wanted to make sure that we carried that sound, that Atlanta sound, and brought it to a new—and, you know, me and Ray [Murray] used to sit back and listen to—like, I was a big fan of The Bomb Squad, the producers. I wanted to be like them. Hank Shocklee would make this insane stuff, and so, for me, that’s who I looked up to.”

Brown says that initially, Organized Noize wanted the kitchen-sink sampling approach that Bomb Squad employed on albums by Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and Bell Biv Devoe. “We were kind of doing that at first, but then L.A. [Reid] said, ‘Look. We ain’t paying for the damn samples. Y’all going to learn how to play this shit.'”

Rico Wade interrupted, “Actually, he said, “We have $85,000 left in the budget, but we gon’ have to spend $82,000 on samples.’ Are you shitting me?”

LaFace Records co-founder, in turn, steered the En Vogue/TLC/Outkast producers towards an instrumental sound, while still sampling. Sleepy explained, “So for us, we had to really dig deep and learn our roots. So soul music, man, truthfully, is us. Period. It’s Atlanta.”

The pair then compared “soul” to everything from church—and sinners in church, to Jordache jeans, clavinets, electric keyboards, and even Adidas Stan Smith shoes.

Organized Noize has more than 25 years of music. Some of those materials have never been heard. That may be changing. Rico Wade added, “We got unreleased music. We got songs from Goodie to Andre 3000 to Wiz Khalifa to Talib Kweli to 8Ball to Snoop Dogg.” Not all of the music is unreleased because it was scrapped. “[It is] stuff that they didn’t pay us the rest of the money or we didn’t finish the hook […] and we [still] got these instrumentals.”

Although Rico, Sleepy, and Ray come from traditional label and studio backgrounds, the unit wants to dabble with current trends in technology. “We want to put out kind of faceless records or we put instrumental music or whatever,” said Rico. “And we want to do it the way the kids release now, like from Father to OG Maco, you know, this independent thing where we don’t really know who these guys are, but these guys are huge. And they are the new underground Atlanta sound.” Part of the challenges in this comes from monetizing the music, especially given the overhead of having a studio, and more. “Now I understand they’re giving away a lot of music. We don’t like that. But we gon’ try to figure out a way to give away some things [and] get some things back.”

In terms of sample-free Hip-Hop, are Organized Noize the kings for Rap production?

Related: Salute to OutKast for 20 Years of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (Video)