After André 3000 yelled out “the South got something to say” at the 1995 Source Awards, hip-hop was never the same again. Winning Best New Artist with partner-in-rhyme Big Boi, OutKast put on for the city of Atlanta in a big way. The South went on to become a dominating force in rap, and helping to paint the dirty funk stained soundscapes was production mavericks Organized Noize.
Made up of Rico Wade, Ray Murray, and Sleepy Brown, the trio is responsible for some of the biggest hits in music, including so many of OutKast and Goodie Mob’s biggest hits, as well as TLC’s Grammy-nominated "Waterfalls."
Readying the release of their new documentary, The Art of Organized Noize, which debuted at SXSW this week and will land on Netflix today, the group’s Sleepy Brown took some time out to sit down with Complex and chop it up about the documentary, the group’s creative process, and walking away from a $20 million Interscope deal.
How did the idea for the documentary come about?
I believe Flavor Unit came to us with the idea and they wanted QD3 to shoot it. I mean it was something that was bound to happen.
Are you surprised it’s taken so long for someone to come along and propose this type of idea to you?
No. I think it’s perfect timing because it’s been 20 years, and I think it was perfect timing with the OutKast tour that went on. Before OutKast said they were going on tour, we were already talking about doing a documentary. It wasn’t like we were jumping on the bandwagon, it was something that was already kind of put in the atmosphere.
I’m excited about it. We’re excited about just getting our story out to the world and showing them who we are because a lot of people don’t know our story, or don’t really know about Organized Noize, or Goodie Mob, or Witchdoctor, Coolbreeze, Big Rube, the whole crew, you know what I’m saying? This movie is really about the crew and what we went through during the struggle. It’s a great opportunity for the young ones to really know the history of OutKast, and the history of our sound, our music, and our era.
Organized Noize essentially put Atlanta on the map.
I think it was more than just us. I think it was the whole movement, you know, with Jermaine [Dupri] and Dallas [Austin]. I do however think we gave Atlanta a sound. We gave it a voice, a reason to be happy about where you’re from. I can’t say that we completely put Atlanta on the map but we definitely put Atlanta on the map as far as calling out where you’re from and being proud of your city.
You know how N.W.A. and Snoop called out their spots in the West? And the Wu-Tang [Clan] did in New York? They shouted out where they came from, what boroughs, what hood, what clique. That’s what we wanted to do for Atlanta. We wanted our little homies to be happy to say, "I’m from East Point, I’m from Ben Hill, I’m from Greenbriar." In our mind that’s what we wanted to do—represent our spot.
Not only that, you guys brought the funk to Atlanta, and to hip-hop in general.
Well that came from being fans of funk, and me actually growing up in that funk era with my dad being in the band Brick. Seeing them, Con Funk Shun, Cameo, seeing all these different groups coming up I couldn’t help but keep the funk in my music. Me and Ray loved that era of music. Even to this day my favorite producers are the Bomb Squad, and I wanted us to be like the Bomb Squad.
What do you all bring to the table individually and how does the creative process work?
Well everybody’s ear is different. I might have a skeleton of a beat—which is basically just the drums and a bass line, or the drums and a keyboard part—then Ray might hear it and wanna play something over it, or he might have the perfect sound to go with it. It kinda goes like that. One of us will start something and we will all build on it.
Going back to the beginning, when did OutKast come into the picture?
OutKast came into it once we got established as a production team. We had a group called P.A. (Parental Advisory), and we had a deal with Pebbitone, so we met Pebbles and all that and we were looking for a group. And actually this girl that worked with Rico told him about these two guys and she took him to see them. I remember when they first walked in they were different from the beginning because at the time little dudes in high school weren’t rocking bald heads and dressing like that. It was just totally different at the time and that immediately caught my eye. When they first came in each verse they spit was like 45 minutes a piece, and they kept going back and forth. We were very impressed with them from the very start.
Is this when the Dungeon Family was born?
Dungeon Family was already kinda there but we just weren’t called Dungeon Family, we were called Organized Noize. Witchdoctor actually named us The Dungeon Family on his record "Holiday." Before that we didn’t really have a crew name we were just Organized Noize and everybody was just with us.
In the trailer for the documentary there’s a segment where Rico gets upset about OutKast making their own beats. What actually happened?
Think about it like this, it’s like a momma bird with her little baby birds—they’re gonna have to grow and they’re gonna have to fly. I think a part of it, just a little bit, is the fact that we were the ones that got them a deal and set them up. It wasn’t a problem with them learning how to produce because we taught them how to produce. We were never stingy and we were never closed minded with those two. We used to let them sit there and they’d watch me play the keys on everything, watch me go in there and sing it, watch Ray do the beat, they used to sit there and just watch us.
It wasn’t a problem they learning to produce and do other stuff, it was more the fact we got pushed away. They weren’t like, "We ain’t fucking with y’all." It was more like, "Well, we really kinda wanna do it ourselves." It kinda hurt, but at the same time you are super proud of them and what they’ve accomplished and what they’re doing because you know they learned from you.
I saw it coming. As each album was released Dre would bring in beats, Big would bring in beats and Ray would go over there and touch them up a little. Then I saw them starting to do their own beats, and I was like, "Yup, they’re gonna fly away in a little bit," because that’s just how it goes. They’re gonna come back, they’ll always come back and check on you.
What do you think the proudest moment for Organized Noize would be?
I think it would probably be the Interscope deal, when we signed for $20 million. I think that was a really great moment for us—making "Waterfalls" is definitely one, too. I’d probably say both.
You guys left a lot of the money from the Interscope deal on the table, why was that?
Because we felt like we didn’t click with Jimmy [Iovine]. We didn’t click with him at all. The ideas that were brought to the table were Atlanta ideas, and at the time the Atlanta we were trying to promote wasn’t ready internationally. Because we had Kilo—Kilo is a legend in Atlanta—and nobody from California to New York was ready for that… at all. They were not ready for that sound. I think the best thing we did that came from the Interscope deal was Coolbreeze. That album [East Points Greatest Hit] was the best thing to come out of that deal. We felt like we failed Interscope because we did click with them on a personal level but our ideas were not clicking with them, because they wanted another "Waterfalls."
Do you think Interscope failed to promote Coolbreeze’s album enough?
I don’t think it got the shot it deserved. It didn’t get a second chance with another single. It kinda just fell to the side from there, but I think that’s when everything was going sour anyway. Jimmy wasn’t happy and at the time me and Rico were going through a little thing too—I was doing Sleepy’s Theme and working on the Vinyl Room album at that time. Things were very divided. It wasn’t strong. We weren’t together, we were in our own worlds.
Rico was like, "Let’s just do this," but in my heart I wanted to be a singer and do my own stuff, that’s what I wanted. I wanted to do the Sleepy’s Theme album and I didn’t have the backing from my team at all, and that’s just the truth. And that’s just some brother shit. It ain’t no trip, that’s just what happens. But at that time I was really on my own with that. Like me and Ray worked that album and produced it together with Pimp C, so it was me Ray and Pimp C. But me and Ray were cool because Ray understood what I wanted to do.
You just mentioned Pimp C. Julia Beverly released his book last year, have you guys ever thought about doing a book?
Yep, a book and we were thinking about doing another movie but doing something like N.W.A. did theirs, like a theatrical movie, a drama. But yeah, we were talking about doing three different books—Rico’s, Ray’s and mine—and then with an album do like an Art of Organized Noize box set where you get all of that stuff, like three books and three albums.
What else are you guys currently working on?
We’re still working in the studio together. We’re producing the soundtrack for the documentary and we’ve been working with other artists, like J. Cole and a few others. We’ve got something with Kelly Rowland that’s really dope too. So we’re working!