Rico Wade: The Visionary of the Sound of Atlanta

As a member of Organized Noize, the acclaimed producer crafted a distinct sound that spawned unforgettable music from Outkast, Goodie Mob, TLC, and En Vogue.

The Hip-Hop community was sent reeling when news broke of the sudden death of Rico Wade. A co-founder of the Organized Noize along with Ray Murray and Patrick “Sleepy” Brown and the Dungeon Family, Wade left an indelible imprint on world music and forever shifted the sonic landscape of rap with a creative dexterity that can not be denied.

Ray Murray and Patrick “Sleepy” Brown of Organized Noize and the Dungeon Family issued a statement mourning Wade's death, which described his pivotal role in their creative enterprise.

“The world has lost one of the most innovative architects in music, and we have lost an invaluable friend,” the statement read. “Rico was the cornerstone of Organized Noize and the Dungeon Family, and we will forever treasure his memory and the moments we shared, creating music as a united team.”

The loss of Wade is undoubtedly significant. Although most of his work was done behind the scenes, his ingenuity and unabashed love of Atlanta emboldened him to push numerous artists to the forefront of culture and eventually to the world. 

The origin story of Wade's illustrious career as a producer, songwriter, and arranger began in the early 90s from a chance meeting. T-Boz introduced Wade to Brown, son of Jimmy Brown, lead vocalist, saxophone, flute, and trombone of Atlanta funk band Brick

at a salon where the former was employed. Eventually, Wade became Brown's manager, seeking to launch his solo career. On one occasion, Brown witnessed Murray create a beat at a local studio, and he asked Wade to bring Murray into the fold. At the time, Murray was in a group called Sixth Sense with Big Gipp of the Goodie Mob. After a falling out with Sixth Sense and their manager, Murray joined Wade and Brown and the trio officially began Organized Noize was born.

After meeting Andre 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast, they produced their landmark debut album, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” which garnered critical acclaim and commercial success. 

If your first encounter with Outkast was on their classic debut single “Player’s Ball,” then the first voice you hear in the song is Wade, which is fitting for Wade’s role as the visionary of the Dungeon Family (it was named after Wade’s studio which he called The Dungeon).

Wade said, “You gon' pass that? Man, the scene was so thick/Lowriders, '77 Sevilles, El Dogs/Nothin' but them 'Lacs/All the players, all the hustlers/I'm talkin' 'bout a Black man heaven here, nahmsayin'?”

With his smooth, Southern drawl, he introduced the world to a new zeitgeist that was forming, a cultural production coming from Atlanta that would eventually influence the world.

The LP also featured Goodie Mob, which now includes Gipp, Khujo, CeeLo Green, and T-Mo.

In the following years, Organized Noize continued to push the boundaries of their music with experimental sounds that can be heard on landmark LPs such as Outkast’s ATLiens and Aqemini and Goodie Mob’s Still Standing and World Party.

Wade and Organized Noize stayed hot with the release of Goodie Mob’s debut album, “Soul Food.” The LP’s first single, “Cell Therapy,” showcased their innovative production and became an instant classic. The album was also the first time the term 'dirty south' (coined by Cool Breeze) was ever heard on wax.

Outside of the Dungeon Family camp, Organized Noize crafted some of the biggest hits of the 90s that solidified their status as an all-time great production collective. In 1995, they produced "Blackberry Molasses" for Mista. Along with Marqueze Etheridge, they wrote and produced “Waterfalls” for TLC  from their Crazy, Sexy, Cool album. The song became a global hit, spending seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, earning them two Grammy nominations at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards in 1996 for Record of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The song remains TLC’s biggest song.

For En Vogue, they produced "Don't Let Go (Love)," which appeared on the Set If Off soundtrack, and their EV3 album "Don't Let Go (Love)" became the third En Vogue song to peak at number two on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It also was the last song that featured all four original members.

Wade was also instrumental in the launch of his cousin Future's highly successful rap career. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2014, Future credited Wade with 

“Rico supported me 1,000 more times than anybody ever could,” Future said. “Nobody could ever do what Rico Wade did for me … Everything I know about music, I know because of Rico.”

Just as Smokey Robinson and Holland-Dozier-Holland helped shape the Motown Sound in Detroit, Thom Bell, Kenny Gamble, and Leon Huff curated The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP), and Prince, along with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, birthed Minneapolis Sound, Rico Wade, and Organized Noize are progenitors of the Atlanta sound, which is still alive and well. His creative genius laid the foundation for a plethora of artists to follow in the trail that he blazed.

In his social media tribute to Wade, CeeLo compared him to “Professor X" of the X-Men for recruiting a group of talented young artists who went on to leave an indelible mark in hip-hop.

“I had what it took to be a team player but no team. so no one before him gets the credit to be called a leader by me! And he alone assembled an all-star cast of characters, a league of extraordinary gentlemen, the A-Team, the real-life X-Men,” CeeLo wrote. “He was Dr. Xavier of the world-renowned @dungeon_family… the mastermind. yet so humble and understated with all his power. even the name” Rico Wade “ rings bells, and sounds so prestigious & regal.”

Wade’s eclectic sound was an amalgamation of funk, soul, jazz, R&B, and live instrumentation that separated them from many of their contemporaries. Organized Noize never chased trends but always pursued authenticity, keeping them relevant and on the cutting edge of popular music.

Wade, along with Brown and Murray, appeared on Questlove’s podcast “Questlove Supreme” and shared the philosophy behind his creative approach. 

“One thing about hip-hop, originally,  is the most important thing because it inspires and motivates,” Wade explained. “So if you come up with some, even if you didn't do it the best, you just presented it to the world. So somebody else is going to grip it another day, or whatever right but in these first 18 months, they can't come behind you with it.”

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