[Listen to our Essential Organized Noize playlist below.]
It only takes sitting in the center of the main soundstage of Stankonia Studios in Atlanta to remind production trio Organized Noize how much they love making music and working with each other. The iconic, easygoing trifecta comprised of Rico Wade, Patrick “Sleepy” Brown and Ray Murray periodically stare at the ceiling, each other and the gold and platinum plaques adorning the studio walls. Surrounded by a cache of live instruments and leather bar stools, Rico, Sleepy and Ray send a few text messages and laugh at each other’s jokes while a pungent, well-rolled cigarillo lands in rotation.
While each member takes a few puffs from the half-smoked blunt, the down-to-earth triad collectively trades a few details about concocting their latest project, the Organized Noize EP, also the production team’s very first studio effort exclusively bearing their name.
Something else became clear after the veteran trunk-rattling producers released their long-awaited Netflix documentary, The Art of Organized Noize, last year. Younger generations of music fans began to discover Organized Noize’s imprint in Southern hip-hop and pop music’s legacy via music streaming services. Inspiration coincidentally came over the troika responsible for assembling The Dungeon Family, the hip-hop collective that birthed both OutKast and Goodie Mob.
Plus making new music presented Organized Noize with yet another opportunity: to rebrand themselves for new and pre-existing audiences. The once multimillion-dollar signees to Interscope Records celebrate this moment to give their music directly to their consumers. “We saw the attention we were getting from social media. A lot of kids didn’t really know,” Wade, the group’s extroverted vocal member, says. “What made us pull the trigger was Sleepy starting to come up with cool records that sounded like our vibe.”
Like any selection in the trinity’s catalog that spans over two decades, their new EP evenly meshes together funk, hip-hop, jazz, gospel, R&B/soul and pop with hints of world music, psychedelic rock, opera and electronica. The cover art captures rainbow-colored hues watermarked over silhouettes of Rico, Sleepy and Ray.
“We just wanted to look epic, trying to represent iconic without bragging on it,” Sleepy explains. Ray, who everyone affectionately addresses as “Yoda,” adds: “It’s art. Organized Noize is music as music is art.”
The hitmakers responsible for moving over 75 million records worldwide and crafting memorable singles like TLC’s “Waterfalls,” En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go (Love)” and Mista’s “Blackberry Molasses” still extract their music’s subject matter from their shared wisdom. The majestic “We the Ones” features fellow Dungeon Family members Big Boi, CeeLo Green and Big Rube offering astute commentary on police brutality and civil unrest permeating America.
A croaky-toned Rico chews on Starbursts and points his finger at Sleepy, proclaiming that his production partner was “on one in a good way” in the studio while recording “We the Ones.”
“Watching TV everyday became depressing,” a low register-voiced Sleepy says. “Something had to be said. It felt epic and felt like a fight song. Watching brothers get killed all the time and all this shit just really got to me and made me want to express it.”
Rico instantly commends Sleepy’s organic approach to music. “I like when something comes from him naturally,” Rico says. “Not like mad but something proud and reminds you of who you are.”
The familial vibe common on Organized Noize productions is fluid. Joi contributed her seductive vocals on the reggae-esque “Anybody Out There” with former Purple Ribbon signee Scar, whose vocals impressed Rico. “He’s dope as hell,” the chatty cousin of rapper Future says now seated on a stool. “He’s a talent who stood the test of time. He elevates the game whenever we get him involved on something.”
Joi, who Rico reveals was supposed to be in Society of Soul, Organized Noize’s underappreciated recording alter ego, reprises sultry vocals on a bass-heavy ode to cannabis, “Kush,” along with rapper 2 Chainz. Describing how the tall, Grammy-winning artist frequents the studio to share his new music with Organized Noize, Rico praises 2 Chainz' performance on “Kush.”
Ray and Sleepy disclose it was Joi’s suggestion to get 2 Chainz on “Kush.” “That muh-fukka was right,” a chuckling Rico says. “She put that in motion. Joi made her a gotdamn banger.”
Sleepy’s soulful croons take lead on the Glenn Frey-like “Chemtrails,” featuring his father, Brick saxophonist Jimmy Brown, the harmonious “Why Can’t We,” and the quiet storm-styled “Awesome Lovin.’” “The Art of Organized Noize,” the album’ closing number, Rico shares, is a Kraftwerk-resembling track filled with synth accents, 808 snares and Indian chants.
“It was us really saying we wanted to do an instrumental record,” Rico says. “In order for us to do it, it’s gotta have stuff for the people to play with or do different stuff to.”
The idea for the Organized Noize EP is to take the music on tour. “We want to be able to perform it,” Sleepy declares. “We want to be able to go on the road and do a couple of songs.”
Rico, Sleepy and Ray plan to release a full-length LP. They’ve archived a wealth of vaulted recordings filled with verses from André 3000, Wiz Khalifa, Talib Kweli, Snoop Dogg, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. “Before we do that,” Rico says, “we want to show people where we are right now and still incorporate that soulful sound as well.”
It humbles Organized Noize to work out of Stankonia, a space unlike their first studio, The Dungeon, in Rico’s mother’s basement. It’s also gratifying for Rico especially, who admits he almost enlisted in the military before pursuing music, to still love and create music with both Ray and Sleepy.
Considering most music now is produced out of home studios with minimal gadgets and software programs, staring again at OutKast’s gold and platinum plaques and framed magazine covers still help to boost Organized Noize’s confidence in their craft and hard work. It’s the exact same sensation the fellas get as they did making music on drum machines and samplers in a basement with red clay for flooring.
“Music is life,” Rico says. “It’s a blessing we have the monuments. We got some stuff that wasn’t a waste of time. It was truly time well spent.”
LISTEN to Our Essential Organized Noize playlist: