Organized Noize: Odds and Sods from the Atlanta Production Giants

Phillip Mlynar goes deep with the Southern hip hop hitmakers, finding out more about their work with Eric Clapton, Curtis Mayfield, and more

Two decades ago, Organized Noize reshaped the sound of southern hip hop. Based out of Atlanta, the production trio of Ray Murray, Rico Wade, and Sleepy Brown masterminded the musical direction of Outkast’s breakthrough debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, topping hardscrabble drum loops with melodious swathes of synths and live instrumentation. With Big Boi and Andre 3000 casting bewitching lyrical spells over this soon-to-be-signature production bed, the combination caught on worldwide and the Organized Noize sound was solidified.

These days, the production unit is at work finishing up a celebratory project titled The Art of Organized Noize. At 30 tracks deep, the endeavor is intended to be a gift to fans as it rounds up unreleased tracks featuring Andre 3000, Snoop and Wiz Khalifa plus a smattering of fresh instrumentals. Taking a break from that project, Ray Murray and Rico Wade look back over the curios, overlooked productions and curveball remixes in their discography that formed the early building blocks of the Organized Noize DNA.

Before Outkast broke through, you were a given the opportunity to remix TLC’s “What About Your Friends” in 1992. Can you remember when you got the call?

Rico Wade

That was very early on. We didn’t get a call to do the remix – we were in Pebbles’s office ’cause she had the Pebbitone production company. We knew Pebbles because we were already working with the group Parental Advisory and I remember her calling LA Reid and asking him to let us get a shot at it. This was TLC’s first album and with us being from Atlanta, we were impressed by what Dallas Austin had done with TLC.

This was one of the earliest times we got a chance to go into a studio and hear someone else’s song track out, like with all the parts. We could listen to somebody else’s production and hear the piano sounds and hear how they broke it down. I remember thinking, “Wow, I didn’t hear this part when I heard the song on the radio, that’s pretty dope how they did that.” So our main thing was to go in and take some stuff out. We wanted to play up some stuff on the song you didn’t hear – it wasn’t about crowding things up.

At that time, it was Teddy Riley and the Bomb Squad who were the guys who were popular and really doing remixes so I remember we went in and we wanted to get Big Boi and Andre to rap on it ’cause those were our artists and I knew nobody had heard them before. We thought it would be cool, ’cause TLC was more of a singing group. We knew “What About Your Friends” and “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” and we were familiar with the sound of TLC already but it was kinda impressive when we went to the studio and broke it down and realized it was a lot more hip hop in the song and it wasn’t as pop-driven.

This was your first remix. If you could go back and re-do it, would you change much?

Rico Wade


Ray Murray

We’d change everything because now we can hear better. We didn’t know how to hear, per se. When you hear a song now, on the radio or through your headphones, you’re not necessarily understanding that it’s been presented several different ways before it got to the stage where you’re receiving it now, so back then we didn’t know how to listen. You make a song one way at home but when you get to the studio it can sound entirely different depending on the engineer and the room. We understood how to create sound and melody but maybe not how to bring it across.

You mentioned the hip hop group Parental Advisory as one of your earliest productions. How did you come to work with them?

Rico Wade

Well, Parental Advisory was one of the first groups we all had something in common with. There’s three members: K.P., Mello, and Big Reese. Before they was a group, Mello actually came to me just as Rico Wade to manage them; they wanted me to work with them and help them with local shows and make sure stuff was correct. It just so happened that the producer of choice for them was Ray, who was now our partner in Organized Noize.

Ray Murray

Me and K.P. were from the same neighborhood before I moved; before that, K.P. stayed down the street.

Rico Wade

We were more peers with Parental Advisory than with Outkast per se. With Outkast we were more like their big brothers but with these guys we were peers. It was cool but there was an uncertainty of the times with the situation, being put into a major label circumstance and then you turn around and look and the person in charge is actually your friend and you might wonder, “Do I know more than them?” It was slight though and it helped us grow together to be able to deal with individuals in a group setting.

Parental Advisory - Ghetto Head Hunter

Whose idea was it to use Parental Advisory’s “Ghetto Head Hunta” in the background to Outkast’s “Flim Flam” skit?

Rice Wade

That was unity. I know it was a point for all of us, and not just using that song in the background but Big Boi also had a P.A. t-shirt on in the first video we shot for [Outkast’s] “Player’s Ball.” Regardless of if it blew up or not, [Parental Advisory] was still produced by us and it was still our project. We were saying, “We know y’all didn’t go out and buy this, but this is us too.” That’s our clique, that’s our family.

Ray Murray

The Dungeon Family was everybody and in the beginning Outkast was everybody. We all wanted to win and we all wanted to give a voice to something that hadn’t been heard. We had tried one way [with Parental Advisory] and this was a different thing. I don’t think it was ever a case of P.A. being underrated – we hadn’t mastered the music ourselves yet so it was a growing period for all of us.

Rico Wade

Yeah, we hadn’t mastered our best music yet. But we wanted people to know where we came from. We actually had a lot of sample clearances on the Parental Advisory album and we learned from that that we could actually own more publishing and get more money if we get even more original with the music. And also that the songs don’t have to be so rigid – sometimes things can be more rigid with the sample-based music and we started to come through with more fluidity as the music developed like with [Goodie Mob’s] Soul Food project and Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.

Speech - Like Marvin Gaye Said

Shortly after Outkast’s debut you were given the chance to remix Speech from Arrested Development’s song “Like Marvin Said.” Do you remember what you first thought about Arrested Development?

Rico Wade

When Arrested Development first came out, I was wondering, “Are they from Atlanta?” It was very southern and their first single was called “Tennessee.” I was like, “Are they from Atlanta? And if they are, why are they saying Tennessee?” I wasn’t saying it in a dumb kinda way, I was wondering like is that where his grandmother is from or is that where he learned to play guitar? What was it about Tennessee? What was so special? It made me think outside of Atlanta and in my mind I realized the whole south had something to say.

I remember with Arrested Development the way it crossed over, because it wasn’t street-driven to me. You had to have a little respect from the street for me, ’cause the west coast music was very dominant at the time and the New York music was gritty and grimy and we were younger so I thought people cared about what your peers care about in the streets and being hip. Arrested Development was clever, even the album title: 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of... So when I first heard it I looked at it being alternative and people liked it – like this is what rock & roll is.

Ray Murray

At that time in hip hop you also had a split between the conscious vibe and the more street or gangsta vibe. So being from Atlanta and being conscious and country in the same song was kinda fly. It wasn’t like you had N.W.A. and you go to Texas and you got the Geto Boys – it wasn’t like a play on that. You come to Atlanta and you got the Hard Boyz which was like that still, but it was a split and that’s what makes it recognizable. As a group from the south, Arrested Development was conscious.

Eric Clapton - Pilgrim

How did opportunity to remix Eric Clapton’s “Pilgrim” come about?

Ray Murray

For Eric Clapton, first of all to be working on something with Eric Clapton and to be hip hop producers – to not be pop producers – and to be real regular cats who play it by ear, that was an honor. I mean, the dude is fuckin’ Eric Clapton! I remember trying to figure out what to do with the song, to keep it edgy and not sell it out and just do some pop shit. That was a learning experience in itself.

Did you get any feedback from Eric Clapton on the remix?

Ray Murray

I don’t think we did. I think it was more about us being able to do it ’cause back then a lot of those things like Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, even Prince... ’Cause Prince called us to do a remix for the New Power Generation!

Rico Wade

It was an honor because of the caliber of the people but it was really about the record company being like, “These producers are hip and they got a pop feel, they got bangin’ beats so let’s use them. You guys are making pop music sound hip!” Sometimes they think a great song needs some boom-bap to it to make it sound cool, but not anyone can do it and bring some class to it. So I think a lot of those remixes had to do with that. Also, working with LA Reid and Babyface was part of that. I remember we wanted Prince to sing on one of Outkast’s songs and LA Reid was like, “Nah, Prince doesn’t even do songs with me!” I was thinking, “We helped you out with the New Power Generation, we did you a favor!” That’s what I was thinking. But that [remix] was just for his group.

Curtis Mayfield - Ms. Martha

A little later you also got to work with Curtis Mayfield on his New World Order album.

Ray Murray

Yeah, I’ma start by saying it was an honor because the first thing we put out with Outkast was “Player’s Ball” and Sleepy Brown was singing in a falsetto voice and Sleepy Brown’s father was Jimmy Brown and he had that same type of voice so it was an ode to Curtis Mayfield. We wanted to sound like we were coming from the same place that they were coming from but know that we were doing it in the correct way. So for Curtis to look us in the face and say, “Hey, man, I think you guys are hot, I want you guys to work with me and bring me back to this generation ’cause y’all get it.” I was like, “Okay, great, cool, whatever you need, sir!”

Were you nervous about working with Curtis Mayfield?

Ray Murray

I felt like he kinda gave us the okay ’cause he’d heard the stuff we were doing and he was just like, “Do that.” So we wanted to keep the quality up and not do it in a token way. With Curtis it was more about trying to give him a great record. I know we did “Ms. Martha” but we did another one too [“Here But I’m Gone”] and I know that at that time he was already somewhat paralyzed. He said he wanted to do it, but they had rescheduled the session a couple of times ’cause he wasn’t feeling good and we just felt bad. We were working with Curtis but we also knew he might pass. Then all of a sudden we were told he was at the studio. We were just so excited to be part of something Curtis loved to do.

By Phillip Mlynar on December 9, 2014

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