Members: Rico Wade, Raymond “Ray” Murray, and Patrick “Sleepy” Brown
Occupations: Producers, Singer (just Sleepy Brown)
Releases: Produced all of Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Goodie Mob’s Soul Food, and albums from Parental Advisory and other members of the Dungeon Family and the Nappy Roots. Produced songs on all OutKast albums except for Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Also produced TLC’s “Waterfalls” and En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go.” As a singer, Sleepy Brown would go on to be a part of Sleepy’s Theme and Society of Soul. Sleepy’s Theme released one album, The Vinyl Room.
Sound: The Organized Noize sound broke new ground within the Southern hip-hop scene. They mixed a healthy dose of funk and soul with trunk-rattling base, and were among the first hip-hop producers to incorporate live instrumentation into their beats.
Strengths: It has been many years since an Organized Noize-produced song has topped the charts. The trio has been used less and less frequently as the South has shifted into a grittier, stripped-down “trap” sound. But their catalogue speaks for itself. These guys have more Grammy nominations and platinum plaques than several of the buzzing beatmakers of our time put together.
Real Name: David Sheats
Occupations: DJ, Producer
Releases: Produced on all of OutKast’s albums outside of Southernplayalisticadliicamuzik. Produced songs for Dungeon Family members Goodie Mob, Killer Mike, Bubba Sparxxx, and for rappers such as Mos Def, Common, Lenny Kravitz, Field Mob, and Rich Boy
Sound: Rico Wade’s cousin showed that music ran in the family when he helped produce six songs on OutKast’s second album, ATLiens, including the title track and lead single, “Elevators (Me & You).” Mr. DJ’s contributions to the group allowed the duo to break into the mainstream and become more experimental. This is especially reflected in the more recent work he has done outside the genre, such as the songs he produced for Common and for Mos Def.
Strengths: Much like Organized Noize, Mr. DJ isn’t really a go-to producer for artists coming up these days, but when you produced “Ms. Jackson,” do you really need to produce anything else? Regardless, he continues to DJ and is the man on the road with OutKast all summer long.
Members: Andre Lauren Benjamin (aka Andre 3000) and Antwan Andre Patton (aka Big Boi)
Occupations: Rappers, Producers
Releases: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, April 1994; ATLiens, August 1996; Aquemini, September 1998; Stankonia, October 2000; Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, September 2003; Idlewild, August 2006; Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty(Big Boi solo album), July 2010; Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (Big Boi solo album), December 2012.
Sound: To try to typecast OutKast’s sound would be doing the group a major disservice. Their ability to mix west coast G-funk together with old-school soul and the South’s trunk-slamming base paved the way for generations of rappers to follow. Their sound would continue to progress throughout their career, with Andre’s singing and bizarre song structures coming from a variety of different influences. And while Andre has only made sporadic guest appearances on songs with anyone from Ke$ha to Unk, Big Boi’s new material has found him blending rap music with electronic acts such as Phantogram and Little Dragon.
Strengths: The duo has sold over 25 million albums and has won six Grammy Awards. That alone should speak to their legacy. Or the fact that their current festival reunion tour has people wanting to see them perform together, perhaps for the final time. But beyond that, the duo’s influence on rap music is undeniable. Their sound, style, cadences, and flows have been passed down to Kendrick Lamar, B.o.B., and Drake, among many others. On his 2010 single “Who Dat,” J. Cole sampled “Spottieottiedopalicious.” On last year’s Cozmik, Dillon Cooper included a freestyle over “Ms. Jackson,” which has been the highlight of some of his live sets. OutKast may never put out another song together (and Andre 3000 may never drop that long-awaited solo debut), but their status as icons is etched in stone.
Latest Track: (Andre 3000 feature)
Members: Cameron Gipp (aka Big Gipp), Robert Barnett (aka T-Mo), Thomas DeCarlo Callaway (aka Cee-Lo Green), and Willie Edward Knighton, Jr. (aka Khujo).
Occupations: Rappers, Singer
Releases: Soul Food, November 1995; Still Standing, April 1998; World Party, December 21, 1999; Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections, April 2002 (Cee-Lo Green solo album); The Man Not The Dawg, November 2002 (Khujo solo album); Mutant Mindframe, August 2003 (Big Gipp solo album); Cee-Lo Green… Is The Soul Machine, March 2004 (Cee-Lo Green solo album); One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show, June 2004; Livin Life As Lumberjacks, January 2005 (Lumberjacks album); St. Elsewhere, May 2006 (Gnarls Barkley album); Mercury, July 2007 (Khujo solo album); Kinfolk, August 2007 (Ali & Big Gipp album); The Odd Couple, March 2008 (Gnarls Barkley album); G-Mob Godfather, April 2008 (Khujo solo album); A.T.L. 2, July 2008 (Lumberjacks & Pastor Troy album); Georgiavania, June 2009 (Khujo & Jneiro Jarel album); The Lady Killer, November 2010 (Cee-Lo Green solo album); Cee-Lo’s Magic Moment (October 2012); Age Against The Machine, August 2013
Sound: Much like OutKast, Goodie Mob’s music has transformed dramatically in the last twenty years. The minimalistic, gritty sounds on Soul Food have been replaced with a hodgepodge of pretty much everything on their last album, Age Against The Machine. From the very beginning, they were amongst the first to mix singing with rap. Meanwhile, Cee-Lo has emerged as a bonafide star, as he continues to transform as an artist year after year. He has opened up lanes for himself by becoming a bonafide pop singer through his solo albums and work with Gnarls Barkley.
Strengths: Internal friction caused the group to release three albums without Cee-Lo, and their last two albums (World Party and Age Against The Machine) as a complete unit were underwhelming. As a result, the Mob’s prestige has certainly taken a hit over the last decade. But the group’s influence on Southern rap is as undeniable as OutKast’s. And of course, Cee-Lo continues to take over TV screens and Las Vegas while waving the Goodie Mob flag wherever he goes, while the success of “Fuck You” helped propel a young Bruno Mars (who wrote the song) into superstardom.
Members: Mello, Kawan Prather (aka K.P.), and Maurice Sinclair (aka “Big Reese”).
Occupations: Rapper, producer, record executive.
Releases: Ghetto Street Funk, November 1993; Straight No Chase, March 1998; My Life, Your Entertainment, August 2000.
Sound: Their first album, Ghetto Street Funk, is marked by chaotic, noisy, throwback soundscapes reminiscent of Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad, with booming, gruff voices to match. Upon first listen to P.A., one would assume that this was an old-school rap group from New York, and not Atlanta. But over time, the trio would absorb Southern influences into their sound, and by their third album, they were collaborating with 8-Ball on “Sundown,” the perfect cruising theme song.
Strengths: Parental Advisory may not have the same legacy that OutKast or Goodie Mob has, but they were the first group to release an album from the collective. Not only that, both Big Reese and Prather have gone on to have successful careers in the music industry outside of the group. As a producer, Reese has produced songs for artists such as T.I., Rick Ross, and Mariah Carey, among others. Meanwhile, Prather shifted his focus to the executive side, starting with La Face before becoming Senior Vice President of A&R over at Def Jam. He may not be rapping anymore, but his influence lives on in the music of YoungBloodZ, Yelawolf, and T.I., artists he played a pivotal role in discovering.
Society Of Soul
Members: Organized Noize (Patrick “Sleepy” Brown, Rico Wade, and Raymond “Ray” Murray), Ruben “Big Rube” Bailey, and Esparonza (aka Roni).
Occupations: Singer, producer
Releases: Brainchild, June 1995
Sound: Old-school R&B/soul music with a spoken word twist courtesy of Big Rube, whose voice was featured on intros, outros, and interludes on albums from OutKast and Goodie Mob. The group’s only album had guest features from T-Boz, Cee Lo, and George Clinton.
Strength: The group only made one album, in 1995, and so it is largely an afterthought in thinking about the Dungeon Family. But most of the group’s members had some success in other ventures. Sleepy in particular created a second group, Sleepy’s Theme, and also released a third album, Mr. Brown.
Real Name: Joi Gilliam
Releases: The Pendulum Vibe, June 1994; Amoeba Cleansing Syndrome, Shelved; Star Kitty’s Revenge, March 2002; Tennessee Slim Is The Bomb, March 2006;
Sound: Joi is known for an R&B fusion sound that has been described by critics as ahead of its time. Current New York Times writer Jon Caramanica described her by writing, "Joi entered the R&B world as a sort of avant-bohemian, doing so-called neosoul music years before Philadelphians like Jill Scott, James Poyser, and Musiq forged a scene to merit the moniker." While she did not work with Organized Noize, she is a member of the Dungeon Family through her ex-husband, Big Gipp of Goodie Mob.
Strength: Joi has released four albums, and despite the lack of notoriety or fame, she continues to perform and retains a cult fan base. As alluded to above, her style of fusion and influences helped shape the neo-soul movement.
Members: Darryl Allen, Bobby “V” Wilson, Brandon Brown, and Byron Reeder
Releases: Mista, July 1996
Sound: The group incorporated rock and hip-hop elements into a classic R&B sound, on full display with their first single, “Blackberry Molasses.” This was Organized Noize at their prime, with Rico Wade saying, “It’s innovative [Blackberry Molasses]. It starts out with almost a medieval feel. It’s one of the most visual songs on the album with strong harmonies and a great melody.”
Strengths: The group only released one album in 1996 before disbanding, but it showcased the strength and musical range of Organized Noize. It also jumpstarted the career of at least one member of the group in Wilson, who would go on to be a very successful singer under the name Bobby Valentino.
Real Name: Erin Johnson
Releases: A S.W.A.T. Healin’ Ritual, April 1997; 9th Wonder Of The World, March 2000; Gumbo Cookin’, 2003; The Diary Of An American Witchdoctor, October 2007; Dracula “Transylvania”, December 2010; The United Race Ov America, March 2013
Sound: Over the years, Witchdoctor has been consistently incorporating mysticism into the signature soulful Dungeon Family sound. His storytelling is marked by its vividness.
Strengths: Witchdoctor might be an afterthought to most, as he never achieved the commercial success of the rest of the family. But he did make appearances on ATLiens, Aquemini, and Soul Food, and he remains a consistent player in the independent market.
Nickname: Mr. Fat Face 100
Releases: Concrete Law, June 2001; Global Warning, March 2012 (Dungeon Family Generation X album).
Sound: Backbone’s sound stays true to his dirty South roots, with his rap style marked by an exaggerated voice that emphasized each bar. His big single was “5 Duce-4 Tre.”
Strengths: Backbone was one of the last members of the “First Generation” of the Family to release his own album with Concrete Law, and has largely slipped under the radar, only releasing one album as a solo artist. But he has also been a prominent part of preserving the legacy of the collective, working with Dungeon Family Generation X, considered the “Third Generation” of the Family.
Real Name: Michael Render
Releases: Monster, March 2003; Home Alone Wit’ Dat Crack, 2004; The Killer, August 2006; I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind, November 2006; I Pledge Allegiance To The Grind II, July 2008; Underground Atlanta, August 2009; Bang X 3, May 2011; PL3DGE, May 2011; R.A.P. Music, May 2012; Run The Jewels, June 2013.
Sound: Killer Mike’s sound and style has changed throughout the years, and he has proven to be quite comfortable over Dirty South bangers such as “Neva Scared” as well as over the frenetic hardcore production of El-P. Mike is also known for his intense delivery and social commentary.
Strengths: The first of those considered “Second Generation” in the Dungeon Family, Mike’s collaborations with OutKast have earned him a platinum plaque and a Grammy already. But as a solo artist, he is known for his surprising longevity and independent grind. At one point he had a falling out with Big Boi, but these issues have long since been resolved. Mike is often regarded as one of the most underrated rappers in the game by fans, and is currently experiencing a career renaissance by working with El-P.
Real Name: Warren Anderson Mathis
Releases: Dark Days, Bright Nights, September 2001; Deliverance, September 2003; The Charm, April 2006; Pain Management, October 2013.
Sound: Born and raised in rural Troup County, Georgia, Bubba Sparxxx is known for embracing his country roots and incorporating that heavily into hip-hop, especially on his single “Deliverance.” He would eventually manage to take this sound to the clubs, and eventually crossed over with “Ms. New Booty.” Now an independent artist, he has returned to his country roots more and more.
Strengths: With his country influences and his willingness to embrace his rural background, Bubba Sparxxx helped pave the way for white Southern rappers such as Yelawolf and Rittz. His first two albums were moderately successful. However, younger fans most likely only know him from the club banger “Ms. New Booty,” which was as much a part of the Ying Yang Twins’ run of success as it was Bubba Sparxxx’s.
Releases: The Skinny, April 2001
Sound: Signed to OutKast’s Aquemini Records, Slimm’s sound was very much influenced by the work of his predecessors. His most successful single, “It’s OK,” featured vocals from Andre 3000.
Strengths: With only one album, Slimm is another member of the Family who could never establish himself as a successful solo act, but much like the rest of them, he managed to contribute verses for other members’ albums.
Members: BlackOwned C-Bone, Lil’ Brotha, Supa Nate
Releases: Got That Purp, 2004 (As part of Purple Ribbon All-Stars); Got Purp?, Vol. 2, November 2005 (As part of Purple Ribbon All-Stars)
Sound: The backbone of the Purple Ribbon All-Stars, the group never released music on their own, but as a part of the All-Stars, their sound is marked by a more modern take on the Organized Noize bass meets soul formula, highlighted by “Kryptonite.”
Strength: Fans of the Dungeon Family may not know who Konkrete is, but they most people are aware of the Purple Ribbon All-Stars, and at the very least, “Kryptonite.”
Real Name: Nayvadius D. Wilburn
Releases: Dungeon Family 2nd Generation, 2003 (As Future the Meathead of Da Connect); 1000, May 2010; Dirty Sprite, January 2011; True Story, June 2011; Free Bricks, July 2011 (with Gucci Mane); Streetz Calling, September 2011; Astronaut Status, January 2012; Pluto, April 2012; F.B.G.: The Movie, January 2013 (with Freeband Gang); Black Woodstock, April 2013 (with Freeband Gang); Honest, April 2014.
Sound: As a member of Da Connect, Future the Meathead showcased lyrical dexterity and rapped with a normal voice. Eventually, Rico Wade’s little cousin would find his own sound that is a dramatic departure from the rest of the Dungeon Family. Incorporating a mush-mouth delivery with the assistance of AutoTune, Future’s sound is a mixture of slow ballad crooning and uptempo ratchet bangers. He is also known for his catchy hooks, that have dominated radio and parties since he appeared on YC’s “Racks.”
Strengths: Future’s success revived Auto-Tune and transformed its usage into a more rap-oriented context following the departure of T-Pain. While time will determine his longevity, he is arguably the biggest member of the extended Dungeon Family at this point, with music that only plays homage to the original roots by name and family association at most. Once regarded as a possible one-hit wonder, Future’s sophomore album, Honest, opened on the charts at number 2.
Real Name: Janelle Monae Robinson
Occupations: Singer, Producer
Releases: The Audition, 2003; Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), August 2007; The ArchAndroid, May 2010; The Electric Lady, September 2013
Sound: Having been discovered by Big Boi, who introduced her to Diddy, Janelle Monae’s sound is a wondrous fusion of alternative rock, R&B, soul, and hip-hop, with influences ranging from Andre 3000 to Corinne Bailey Rae and everywhere in between.
Strengths: Despite being signed to Bad Boy, Janelle Monae has continued to maintain an independent aesthetic that reflects the free spirit of her music and her personality. She might not have the commercial success that her predecessors such as Cee-Lo Green and OutKast have had, but with six Grammy nominations and a devoted cult following, the “android” is not fading away anytime soon.
Get familiar with the entire roster of the Dungeon Family.
On April 26, 1994, OutKast released their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. The Atlanta duo began a festival tour to celebrate this twenty-year anniversary at Coachella several weeks ago, and will be performing over forty dates this year. While fans continue to fantasize about new OutKast music, these festival dates also allow for an opportunity to reminisce on their success and the influence they have had on current stars such as Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. At the same time, Future's sophomore album Honest and his close affiliation with the Dungeon Family has once more put the spotlight back on this ATLien crew.
While Andre 3000 and Big Boi were coming together to craft future hip-hop classics, they were doing so alongside other artists all working in the confined space of Rico Wade’s basement studio, also known as the “Dungeon.” Known as the Dungeon Family, the group’s body of work changed the context of what it meant to be a hip-hop artist from the South. As a unit, the Dungeon Family has only released one album, Even In Darkness (2001), but artists representing the Dungeon Family have gone on to sell millions of albums and continue to have their finger on the pulse of rap music.
With the element of rap crews once more taking center stage, it’s time to revisit the crew that made it known worldwide that the South has got something to say. With a complicated catalog that includes side projects galore, here is a complete breakdown of the Dungeon Family.