Songwriting and production trio Organized Noize pioneered and revolutionized a sound that made reluctant audiences and the music business pay close attention to post-Civil Rights era Atlanta. From the early ‘90s and carrying over into the new millennium, the team comprised of Patrick “Sleepy” Brown, Ray Murray, and Rico Wade churned out records polar to rugged New York hip-hop and West Coast g-funk. They embraced live instruments, speaker-busting drum programming, and compelling socio-geographic subject matter and soared to new heights, reinvigorating modern R&B, soul, hip-hop and pop in the process.
The living legends are the subject of the new film documentary The Art of Organized Noize, which premieres on Netflix tomorrow, March 22nd. Directed by Quincy Jones III (QDIII) and executive produced by Queen Latifah and Shakim Compere for Flavor Unit Entertainment, The Art of Organized Noize traces the trio’s rise from humble beginnings recording in an unfinished basement in Wade’s mother’s home to becoming one of the most influential production ensembles in music history.
Famously known as “The Dungeon,” the threesome’s studio became the landmark site where Organized Noize birthed early records by OutKast and Goodie Mob, while assembling their 13-member posse, The Dungeon Family. Their consistent fearlessness, humility and forward-thinking vision on wax landed them opportunities to twist the console knobs for an array of artists such as Curtis Mayfield, TLC, Mavis Staples, Eric Clapton, Brandy, UGK, Ludacris, Xscape, Killer Mike, Trey Songz, Amy Winehouse, The D.O.C., and Macy Gray among others.
The Art of Organized Noize unapologetically examines Brown, Murray and Wade’s brotherhood. Running close to 85 minutes, the documentary is a cinematic tour-de-force that periodically cruises from block-to-block in the SWATS (Southwest Atlanta Too Strong). On the same token, the film offers a candid, front row seat in-and-out of the recording studio alongside the fellas joking around and making magic happen. In the absence of a narrator delivering a voiceover, all three gentlemen, and particularly Wade, wittingly share all of the vivid details and memories firsthand, accompanied by periodic changes in color saturation.
As a balancing act, The Art of Organized Noize doesn’t shy away from retelling the internal struggles the hitmakers encountered in their two-plus decade careers. Even with their incredible track record, Organized Noize still found themselves not fully reaping the fruits of their labor. The prolific, highly sought-after creatives flashed back to their seemingly lucrative $20 million deal with Interscope Records, including their relationship with music industry veteran Jimmy Iovine that eventually soured because of corporate pressures placed upon them to solely replicate the success of their megahits like TLC’s “Waterfalls” or En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go (Love).” Like most entertainers that precede them, drugs, excess, ego and technological changes in music have threatened the demise of everything Organized Noize worked towards, leaving viewers to watch as each of the three members determine if there is still a place for their sound in today’s fickle musical climate.
Visually enthralling to say the least, The Art of Organized Noize is filled with montages of album sequences, music video snippets, album cover art, performance footage, tear sheets, aerial views of Atlanta’s landscape, and stock images. On hand to share insights is a comprehensive roll call that includes Big Boi, André 3000, Diddy, Ludacris, 2 Chainz, Future, Bobby V, CeeLo Green, Big Gipp, T-Mo, Mr. DJ, Cool Breeze, Joi Gilliam, Backbone, L.A. Reid, Pebbles, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Sonny Digital, Metro Boomin, Bryan-Michael Cox, Marqueze Etheridge, Chanz Parkman, LaMarquis Jefferson, Big Rube, Greg Street, Ian Burke, Shanti Das and selected family members of Organized Noize.
Having originally premiered at South by Southwest (SxSW) earlier this month, The Art of Organized Noize debuted in Organized Noize’s hometown a few days prior to its Netflix release. Following the screening, Brown, Murray, and Wade sat down for an informative Q&A session, sharing their thoughts about the film and pending projects.
In addition to working on a script for their biopic, there’s also talk of Organized Noize becoming professors at one of Atlanta’s colleges, cementing the trio’s imprint on music and pop culture. “This is a great moment,” says a raspy-voiced Wade. “But it’s also a stepping stone. The greatest part about this moment is everyone being here.”
Brown, whose father, Jimmy Brown, was a member of the funk band Brick, relocated to Los Angeles but now resides in Las Vegas. The smooth-voiced vocalist admits he had to reconnect with his love of music. Still, he has no problem taking credit for laying the foundation for Atlanta’s current music scene. “Every artist has a little bit of us in them,” confirms the baritone-voiced Brown. “They dare to be different. We’ve made it to a point where it’s about what you feel. You want to look like what the music sounds like.”
An extremely modest Murray, interchangeably known as “Yoda” or a genius by his groupmates, adds, “It’s all about us. All of us are 40 years old. Creatively, you don’t really look at your surroundings. You say what’s absent, and you try to make it apparent.”
It’s been a little over twenty years since Organized Noize arrived onto the music scene, but they continue to witness how far and wide their impact is felt. The threesome was honored with a proclamation and three keys to the city by Atlanta Councilman Kwanza Hall. It’s a remarkable honor, considering that it wasn’t too long ago that Brown, Murray, Wade and each member of the Dungeon Family survived on two buckets of chicken and cheap Rally’s burgers, while sleeping on the floor for days at a time to feed their collective passion.
In retrospect, Organized Noize’s humble beginnings ultimately paid off. “Going through those struggles comes out through the music, and it makes you a better person,” insists Wade. “Everyone was important to the moment. It was being accountable. People got their crews, and they look out for each other, but they don’t understand why you look out for each other.”
The Art of Organized Noize reminds Brown, Murray, and Wade why they devoted themselves to living out their dreams together. They’ve fulfilled their mission of showing the hip-hop community and, more broadly, the world that the South is articulate, thought-provoking, and deserving of respect. More importantly, they wanted the people of Atlanta to take pride in their great city. Admittedly self-conscious and nervous, Wade concludes the discussion insisting that he wanted to use music to represent his city well.
“We’re the OGs,” says Wade. “We’re willing to get out the way. We have so much respect to where we’re serving our purpose now. We planted seeds years ago. I never wanted to let y’all down. I always wanted you to be proud of us.”