Producer's Corner: Organized Noize
Sleepy Brown, Rico Wade and Ray Murray declare "We are the South," as they discuss their new album with Nappy Roots. The legendary trio also revisits Outkast's early work and confirms a group deal.
Atlanta, Georgia has served as the hub for influential rap staples such as T.I., Young Jeezy and even Lil Jon, but a couple decades ago, Hip Hop wasn't so receptive to the A. Fortunately, the work of Organized Noize - the production trio of Rico Wade, Ray Murray, and Sleepy Brown - crafted distinct sounds for the likes of Outkast and Goodie Mob to give the genre a perspective it hadn't welcomed before.
The Southern bias isn't as stringent as it was in the '90s, but it's not easy to tell with Organized Noize's continued grind. Their album Nappy Dot Org with Nappy Roots hits stores October 11, they're executive producing the debut of young Atlanta upstart Future, a Dungeonese album with Dungeon Family, and a new Goodie Mob album is keeping them busy as well. Read below to see the group reminisce on classics, explain how Nappy Roots hold their own amongst their other clientele, and deliberate on the possibility of the much-delated Andre 3000 solo album.
Organized Noize Speaks About Designing A Project With Nappy Roots
HipHopDX: You guys have collaborated with a lot of groups over time—Outkast, Goodie Mob, TLC and now, Nappy Roots. What is it like to work with them, compared to those other groups?
Rico Wade: That’s probably where they were most impressive at. [Nappy Dot Org] is [Nappy Roots'] fifth album. We’re a production team. All we do is produce artists. We already have a standard, a work ethic and a way of going in, and you expect somebody to…what I got from them was the same thing I got from the other artists: they wrote their verses in a timely manner, and most of the vision we had, they were totally in sync. You’re not holding nobody’s hand no more. If a person can’t step up, you’re gon’ see it. You can’t put hide nobody…they’ll be exposed. At this point in the game, we’re trying to make a hit record. All people are listening for, is, “Why it’s not a hit?” Our job is to go in, especially if we like it.
We’ve got to work on the new Goodie Mob [We Sell Drugs Too] album, and [Andre 3000 is] going to do his album first. We’re talking about doing a Society of Soul record. … We’ve really got stuff, but we’ve got to do music every day to get in that album mind state. Nappy Roots was a good project because it wasn’t our own shit, but it’s ours because we came in as Nappy Dot Org and did the whole album, so it’s still us being visionaries as well, again.
Working with the guys...Atlanta is so city now, [and with Nappy Roots] you’re dealing with people who still have down South-thinking. We are the South, and I’m not scared to say that because I know what we are to Southern Hip Hop, but it was an opportunity to work with people who can rhyme and have good mind states. I had never heard a Nappy Roots album before, but I know who they are now. They’re pretty insane. … They earned my respect, and I think they’re going to earn a lot of peoples’ respect. A major issue was making sure they didn’t sound like Outkast and Goodie Mob. That’s a major thing, because that’s our shit. We don’t want to work with nobody that sounds like our shit, but at the same time, I understand from being southern Hip Hop, you’re going to be reminiscent to us if you’re rhyming over thought-provoking music. That’s what we do. As Organized Noize, we’ve been hogging the sound. Now we’re at the point in our career, we would love to do a whole album with T.I. There’s a few I think we could step up and do a whole album with. That’s the challenge for us in these years. I would love to make one record for everybody in the world, but being able to have a vision with somebody is great.
DX: What are you guys’ favorite songs on the album?
Rico Wade: I would say “Legends.” That’s probably one on the last songs we did. Big Rube is on the beginning, and the little montage he does at the beginning is so raw. It’s a poem he wrote, but he’s pretty much talking about Organized Noize. But the artists are our vehicles, we live on through them. I know a lot of people are going to hear it and be like, “Yep, that’s Organized Noize.” That’s when the memories come in their mind, “These are the guys who did this and did that.”
Ray Murray: I don’t have a particular song, I like the whole album. I can’t call it. Everybody does different things on different songs. In a four-man group, it’s hard to pick one song where everybody’s the same.
Sleepy Brown: I’m going to say “Hey Love,” I think that’s a damn classic.
Rico Wade: I agree, “Hey Love” is a guarantee. People are going to give that record a chance, even if they just want to play the instrumental on morning shows. That’s something I want to do as well, put the instrumental album on our website or something. I know we’re going to license some of this for film and television. Even though Nappy Dot Org is a complete album, I feel like our sound has changed a lot since even doing that record, and we just finished a month ago. After doing that album, we wanted to switch it up, that’s what we do. This album is coming out, but we’ve probably got 50 other different songs on different projects, so we want to spice it up even more. That’s what God needed us to do to get all the way back turned up to make our sound influential again. Same way all these kids make mixtapes; we’re a little older, so we don’t do that, but sometimes, to grow, we need to get a lot of stuff out to hear ourselves and say, “I want to do something else.”
DX: How does the group dynamic work? What does each person do?
Sleepy Brown: To me, Rico [Wade] has always been the hard, ghetto rock sound. He represents the heart of ghetto in the A. Ray [Murray] is really kind of the Yoda. Ray teaches me and Rico a lot about sampling, he was always the teacher for us. He truly taught me and Rico everything we know. I grew up in that Funk era, so when we do music from my side, it’s everything I loved about growing up in the '70s—from Funk, to Disco, to Rock. If I put a touch on it, it’s going to have a little bit of a Funk mix. All three of us are funky as fuck, no doubt, we can all get down by ourselves. But as a unit, it’s a beautiful thing because we all respect each other’s talents and we all listen to each other. Organized Noize, to me, is three different chaotic sounds. That’s why we have the name Organized Noize; we took noise, but made it beautiful.
Rico Wade: As Sleepy [Brown] was saying, Ray is raw as Hip Hop to me, and Sleepy is live. I learned instruments because of Sleepy: clarinet, rolls, rollers, [Hammond] B3s, guitars, basses. He grew up on the stage, so he wasn’t as worried about digging through the crates as much because he hears it in his mind and he can just make it. With Ray, the studying of James Brown and others was very important—to know where every beat came from. We may not use the beat they do, but we want to know. … When you feel a certain way, you produce a certain way.
DX: How do you guys adapt your sound over time? Since you guys came in, there’s been a big digital to analog switch.
Rico Wade: That’s what I was trying to say without telling. [Laughs] The album we did for Nappy Roots was an analog album, pretty much. But all three of us have drum machines and computers. We’re still going in with the keyboards and live instrumentation, but we have to incorporate digital as well. We’re not going to abandon analog stuff, but the digital stuff is so much louder, and it makes these kids beasts. It’s nothing great they’re doing, but it’s so loud that it forces people to pay attention to it. I see that, so we’re going to have to incorporate that because we’ve got the better songs. … We don’t want to sound dated.
Organized Noize Recalls Making Outkast's First Two Albums
DX: What do you remember about Outkast when you first started to work with them?
Sleepy Brown: When I first met 'Kast, this girl that was working for Rico told him about them, and he told her to bring them up to the job. When I first looked at them, I knew they were totally different because at the time they had bald heads, and that wasn’t even the style back then in Atlanta. That caught my eye. They were just some real different guys. When they first started rapping, they were totally straight Hip Hop rappers. It wasn’t like the first album [Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik], when they were more of the player thing. We saw the passion in them, and how much they wanted to make it. I’ve got to say, Rico believed in them more than I did at first. I followed Rico like, “If this is what you see and what you hear, bro, let’s do it.” Rico saw it first.
Rico Wade: The reason their sound was so round right there was because of the talent. Me, Ray and Sleepy had just done an album, Parental Advisory's [Ghetto Street Funk], so we knew what not to do. We learned. In order to get better, you have to put something out. With the P.A. record, we learned the system of what MCA [Records] was doing. We were like, “If we finish the record, it won’t even come out that fast, so we have to be even more.” They’re going to hold it, and you worry about someone else using your sample, or using something you used. We had to make it a little more original and a little more ours, so we don’t have to worry about nobody else putting out the same thing. We started fighting for our own lane then. That’s why we worked hard on ‘Kast. And ‘Kast was young; if we were 18 and 19, they were 16 and 17. So we were just older brothers that weren’t taking “No” for an answer. …
People have to realize, Ray can rap, Khujo [Goodie] was around, there were other people around. We had the Dungeon around already when we first met them, and they went to school. Their energy helped drive us, because they were these kids who showed up every day with their pass, like, “Tell me what to do to get better.” We all wanted to get out, that was the whole point. … That’s why we became Dungeon Family, we were all doing what we needed to get out. Sleepy did all the hooks on that album, Outkast didn’t do one hook on that album, really. That’s some real big brother stuff. “We got you, y’all just bust and get those 16’s right!” Big Boi became a writer as well, because he came up with “AIn’t No Thang,” and that surprised me. But we got our groove. This was our first time making an album together. We had a bunch of songs, but we never said “This is the album, and this is the vibe.” Once we did that [we succeeded]. That’s Sleepy’s influence. Sleepy loved the '70s, so we made the Parliament concept and making the words be all together. I think that came from us going through all those records all the time, we started seeing original shit that was ours.
Who would’ve thought to make a song about “Crumblin’ Erb?” Big Rube used to get an ounce of weed and crumble the whole thing down. Sleepy was saying, “We have to find a way to capture what we naturally say and do, and quit trying to force these songs.” Because we’re all cool dudes, for real. We weren’t trying to front, so we wanted to find a way. The lesson of trying to sell our culture was the most valuable lesson we could’ve learned. I can use that confidence in anything, now, as motivation.
The reason why the industry’s southern Hip Hop scene became exactly what it is, I have no problem for us taking responsibility for that. That’s what we brought to the game. We brought the confidence of being able to do what we wanted, and never lost respect for New York.
DX: Southernplayalistic did well, but you guys changed up the sound with ATLiens. How did you figure out what changes to make with the second album, and making a new sound when you had already just made one?
Rico Wade: That’s a good question, because this is stuff we were thinking about then. Because of the competitiveness with our New York brothers, we knew people were going to try to say that Outkast had to prove it on their own. On the second album, Sleepy didn’t sing on a bunch of the hooks—they did all the hooks. That was the main thing, they had to make Rap hooks. Because they realized, we’re not singers and we can’t take out background singers to all these shows. That’s when they came up with hooks like, “Throw your hands in the air, and wave ‘em like you just don’t care.” … That was the beginning of them taking more responsibility for their careers, that’s what made that a great transition.
Even with the title ATLiens, I distinctly remember the label questioning us. They were saying, “You should do an album [called] ‘Atlanta this,’ or ‘Atlanta that.’” Each title was getting lame and lame. Now that we had people interested in the South, they were trying to run with it. But people were always saying [Outkast] were weird, so once they came up with ATLiens, it was like, “Wow.” It was more about the vibe and about marketing at that point. That album was an even more hip hop album, but they spent more money on videos. That first album was great, but they shot “Player’s Ball” for like $50,000, I think “Get Up Get Out” for $50,000, and “Southernplayalistic” might’ve been $100,000. But “Benz or Beamer” came in between that, and that was done with Hype Williams. I watched their career really take off, but it was hard work; people think it’s overnight. Same thing with [Notorious B.I.G.]—his [Ready To Die] album was good, but that remix of “One More Chance” was in between albums. Those transition records took them boys [to a different level]. … As producers, I want the chance to work with these other artists, because they need that knowledge.
DX: Most of your music has a really deep sense of spirituality, whether the rappers’ lyrics are about that or not. Where does that come from?
Rico Wade: I think it’s just struggle. We get off on selling music that touches you. Like “Blackberry Molasses,” we get off on that. Nobody can act like they’re poor their whole life or like it’s always bad, we’re not trying to have woe is me. We didn’t want to make Folk music, either. But you’re absolutely right. We want to make thought-provoking music. We want to make stuff to jam to in the club as well, but it’s tough to get in the club when you’re talking about something. [Laughs]
Rico Wade Confirms That Outkast Signed To Epic Records
DX: Rumor has it that L.A. Reid also just re-signed Outkast. Not sure if that’s been confirmed or not—
Rico Wade: I can confirm it. But he didn’t have to resign them. Epic [Records] got the rights to RCA [Records] and Jive [Records], and they split the artists up. He gets to take whatever artists he wants to put once they’re out there. I think Dre has to do a solo album, and Big Boi has to do another solo album as well. But yeah, he’s got the rights to the Outkast album.
DX: So Dre’s working?
Rico Wade: Yes. Dre’s so edgy now, man. He may have just told me last time I seen him that he wasn’t going to do it, and by the time the day is over, he says he’s going to do it again. [Laughs]
DX: It’s frustrating to see him kill a guest verse every year and just disappear…
Rico Wade: I know. It’s more frustrating than it is helpful, I totally feel you. I’m a fan as well, and I’m like, “Man, just stop playin’!” That’s why our crew is so different man, because I can respect the fact that when he goes, he goes. Like the verse he has on Lil Wayne’s [Tha Carter IV] album. He’s timeless with it, and he’s still legendary, but he really is his own person. He’s a Gemini. [Laughs] But he’s dope. It’s frustrating to me, too. We’ve got about four songs recorded that he’s got. We’ve been did it, they may be almost 10 years old now, I’m trying to think. But they jam! Sometimes I get mad and think, “I’m just going to put some of this stuff out.” But I think that if I did that, he’d never do it then. [laughs]
Sleepy Brown: He’d never do it then. [Everyone laughs]
Rico Wade: Yeah, that wouldn’t work.
DX: As someone who knows him, what do you think is his reasoning for taking so long?
Rico Wade: He’s a perfectionist to a certain degree. Dre is the type of person, if he’s around us or any kind of motivation, he’s gone. He’ll do exactly what you’re talking about, but he likes to move at his pace. He’s so not easily motivated, but he’s easily motivated. You put Dre in the hood or in certain places, he’s ready to go. But he can’t step away from combat. If he’s not in combat, he can just run through these women. I’m just kidding! [Everyone laughs] But that’s pretty much it.
I look at Dre as a great thinker. Sometimes, we all can think too much. Sometimes we’ve just got to go and do it. But what they have accomplished, and what he has accomplished, even from the respect from his peers and his own friends to people like me and Sleepy, that he knows have seen him since he was little. Like Cee-Lo, we all knew that everyone was dope. But when people you look up to look up to you a little bit, it’s kind of weird, because it’s pressure. We’ll say, “You’re killing it Dre!” He’s like, “Naw, man, it’s all right.” I’m like, “Are you just saying that?” [Laughs] “Or do you really need your family here to rally you?” I wouldn’t just tell you shit is dope if I don’t think it’s dope, I have no reason to say that. I’m going to tell you, because that’s what we’re supposed to do. Hopefully, I won’t have to tell you that I don’t like something. But I’m going to tell you if it’s hot, that’s what we’re supposed to do. Hopefully, by not saying something if I don’t like it, you get it. [Laughs]
We all respect each others’ vision, but at the same time, some of the moves…like on that Idlewild album, he did the song where he was playing guitar and singing. I knew he should’ve been putting out a Rap song then, or that they should’ve been putting out songs together, know what I’m saying? I knew both of them weren’t putting out songs together, but that was probably their vision for the soundtrack of the movie, they wanted something different.
DX: How do those songs with Dre sound?
Rico Wade: Ghetto. He wants to bring the “Hey Ya” sound as well, as far as that crowd—the same crowd Cee-Lo had with “Fuck You,” that good pop sound—but most of what we’ve recorded has been ghetto, but dope though! It’s got great hooks. It’s really dope, it’s really dope. I’m just saying that based on the beats though. I’m not going to tell you what he’s talking about, because then he really won’t do it. [Laughs] But I’ll tell you, all the beats are going in. 808s-driven, it’s actually competitive with young music. I think Andre’s a person that, after time went by, he heard it and said, “It’s been five years, and that’s still jammin’.” I think that encourages him more. I most definitely think that helps. He wanted to get on Future’s song “Tony Montana” before Drake. He got on “Walk It Out” on his own. Dre is a different character! Sometimes you’ve got to pay him $150,000, and sometimes he’ll just get on it. [Laughs] When he got on “I Can’t Wait” with Sleepy, I think they were on a plane together.
Sleepy Brown: Yeah, we were headed to L.A., and I’d been trying to get Dre to listen to the album. Before we got on the plane, I gave him my headset and said, “Listen to this album. Tell me what song you like, and tell me what you want to do.” By the time we landed in L.A., he walked up to me, like, “I got the verse to ‘Can’t Wait.’” He was ready.
Rico Wade: I didn’t even go to the studio with them. He called me on the phone, “Dre just killed this song.” But Sleepy was like, “That shit too long, though.” [Laughs]
Sleepy Brown: It was too long! Dre was killing me on my own record! I was like, “Wait a minute!” [Laughs]
Rico Wade: We can talk about Dre all night. [Laughs] I don’t even hope, I know we’re going to get the opportunity to do [Andre’s solo albym]. When we’re around him, I still see the excitement in his heart. It’s just going to take somebody to…I think we’re all so busy in our own lives, I don’t just say, “You know what?” I called Dre the other day, like, “Man, I’m just excited about something, I’ve got a beat.” I sent it to him, and he was totally on it. I think Drake was calling me about doing a song, I was trying to see if a Dre verse could get him on it for an easier sell. [Laughs] He called me right back like, “Email it to me.” Music excites him. If we sat around here and sent him beats every day, then he’ll put an album out. We’re all kind of grown, like, “Man, cut the check!” Nah I’m just kidding. [laughs] All he needs to do is commit to doing it, and they’ll cut the check once he commits. That’s another good thing about being with L.A. Reid, because L.A. Reid is another person that can help us, I guess, manipulate the situation. The fact that Outkast is signed [to Epic Records], you got somebody to play off of. You ain’t got to sit on it. If you cut it and get the song done, you can get someone who can facilitate it and keep everybody engaged.
DX: I think a lot of people just think he’s not inspired.
Rico Wade: Yeah, and you’re right. See, you know a lot! [Laughs] That’s basically why I said that. If I sit here and send him music, we can get him going. We are the inspiration, I feel. Nobody wants to say that. That’s what keeps me excited! When I hear something new from Ray, I’ll say, “This is for that new Outkast.” I still say that naturally, because once I hear that music, it’s an easier sell. Talking about it is just talk, but when you hear that music, we back! That’s where it starts from. It’s not just in the air. It always starts with us digging in the crates, coming up with something first, and then you think about what you’re ‘gon do. That’s good to know that the public is thinking that, though. Now we’re going to have to step it up and inspire our brothers.
DX: You were saying you felt competition with the artists in New York. What was it like to see Dre’s speech at The Source awards in ’95, when he said, “The South’s got something to say”? Do you think that’s the beginning of the shift in how the South is perceived?
Rico Wade: Absolutely. I remember that day distinctly. Mobb Deep was up against Outkast, and a lot of their friends were probably there, so you heard them booing. We knew Mobb Deep had “Shook Ones” , and they could’ve given it to Mobb Deep because it was a New York thing. That’s what made me respect Hip Hop even more, because they gave it to us.
Ray Murray: At the time, it was hard for the South to get recognized in New York. That’s nothing bad against New York, that’s just what it was at the time. We had to go through that whole thing of getting respect from New York. No other artist from the South except for us, we had to go through that first.
Rico Wade: But once we broke down that boundary, they didn’t try nobody else!
Sleepy Brown: Exactly. … Atlanta has always been like a melting pot for anything that was jamming to us. We always respected each city, so we felt that we needed to get the respect we were giving y’all. Y’all not giving it back.
The day that I knew New York really liked us is when we did The Tunnel with Cool Breeze, and we had the whole Dungeon Family there. And you know what Ric, they have the whole show on YouTube. When Dre got onstage and the crowd went crazy like that? I’m like, “Okay, New York likes us.”
DX: You said you wanted to make Outkast sound completely different from Goodie Mob. How’d you find the direction for Soul Food?
Rico Wade: Cee-Lo. We leaned on Cee-Lo for a little bit on that one. Goodie Mob went through the whole Outkast thing with us, so they saw how we were putting together an album. Since Cee-Lo could sing, we saw that Sleepy didn’t have to do all the hooks. Cee-Lo had a vibe for what he wanted. If Goodie Mob was and Khujo and T-Mo kind of vibe, that’s who it originally was. But at that point in his career, Cee-Lo definitely had a country vibe. We weren’t trying to be Public Enemy, but it was a Country vibe, and we wanted to talk about something.
DX: “Waterfalls” by TLC is by far your most successful song, and it was played everywhere at some point. What’s the weirdest or most memorable place you’ve heard it?
Rico Wade: I think I heard it one time, I was so excited. It may not be weird, but I think I heard it in the elevator one time.
Sleepy Brown: I think that’s where I heard it myself, or in a nice little restaurant or something.
Rico Wade: I heard it in [Las] Vegas at a casino. You know how they have the buffets? I was walking through the casino like, “Damn, there goes ‘Waterfalls.’” [Laughs] It’s a worldly song. As long as you’re in the world, you’ll hear it. You don’t have to just be in the hood. You can be in Nashville, or you can be somewhere you wouldn’t expect to hear urban music at all. That song came out in ’96, and that record’s been getting played for 15 years. And we lost that Grammy, I don’t know how that happened.
Sleepy Brown: We lost to Seal, “A Kiss From A Rose.” The Batman [Forever soundtrack] song.
Rico Wade: Yeah, that’s what happened.
DX: You guys also had work on Big Boi’s last album, Sir Luscious Left Foot, which took a long time to come out.
Rico Wade: That was a relationship with the [previous] label, [Jive Records]. Big had started working on the record, and they just took too long to put it out. Then they try to go after celebrities, like Mary J. Blige, this person or that person. I felt like Barry Weiss was under the gun, because Big Boi was used to dealing with L.A., someone who had taken the lead on marketing. At this point, [former RCA/JIVE Label Group CEO] Barry Weiss had just come off the Idlewild, which didn’t go well for him. So he was probably scared, and trying to find a record to sell. But Outkast isn’t just a record you sold, it’s a movement.
It was very frustrating, because that used to be our thing. I could always talk to the labels and keep us engaged. To this point, not doing that, I realized how unattached [they were]. Being a producer is one thing, but being a producer is another thing. When you speak to the marketing and the PR, you ain’t got to do their job, but if they respect you, they’ll tell you the truth. Sometimes they’ll be in the meetingn, and it becomes business, they’ll say, “I don’t get this record.” If you don’t like it, tell me why you don’t like it, so I can tell you why I like it and convince you. … But if you’re scared to fail, you’re going to fail.