When the story of Atlanta's turn-of-the-millennium sonic boom is told 100 years from now, Organized Noize — the production trio of Ray Murray, Sleepy Brown and Rico Wade — will be the sound architects credited with putting the Dirty South on the map.
But making history, as it were, is less paramount than standing on the right side of it, especially in troubled times. That's the testament behind the Organized Noize's new video for "We the Ones." Featuring their Dungeon Family brethren Big Boi, CeeLo Green and Big Rube, the song delivers a political gut check on a self-titled EP that finds returning to form after overcoming their own trials.
The video directed by Trevor Kane features footage from Black Lives Matter protests in Atlanta and around the country. But it's the artful treatment of Murray, Brown and Rico, emerging as silhouettes from the shadows, that makes for a powerful portrait, one that finds the forefathers issuing an urgent call to stand up in the face of oppression.
"That's kind of our backbone," says Wade when asked about the themes explored on the seven-song Organized Noize project. "We got testimony, if we ain't got nothing else. We are survivors and winners. So yes, we find a way to get that in with our music."
When Organized Noize introduced Dungeon Family acts OutKast and Goodie Mob to the world in the mid-'90s, it presented a formidable challenge to hip-hop's bicoastal dominance. They ushered in a new wave of street-approved, soul-searching emcees with distinctly Southern sensibilities. The trio's stock also rose as they became sought-after hitmakers for the likes of TLC ("Waterfalls"), En Vogue ("Don't Let Go [Love]") and Ludacris ("Saturday [Oooh! Ooooh!]"), earning them a label deal with Jimmy Iovine's Interscope Records. But for Organized, the soul and funk that infused their sound was more than a vibe — it was the manifestation of a brotherly bond. That family pedigree would eventually clash with the demands of a fickle industry, as chronicled in their 2015 Netflix documentary The Art of Organized Noize.
Though they've always remained close and continued to work together, the new EP presents the first of a slew of new music recorded since Brown returned from the west coast after five years.
Over seven tracks, they lay down the kind of funk heard on opening dub-heavy bass track, "Anybody Out There," featuring Dungeon Family first lady Joi and longtime affiliate Scar. "Why Can't We" and "Awesome Lovin'" alternately find Brown offering up love as the cure for what ails, be it an intercultural or interpersonal bridge. The sticky, sensual "Kush" break features Joi and 2 Chainz and on "Chemtrails" Brown reunites with his dad, Jimmy Brown of the legendary funk band Brick, who plays sax on the song.
"We knew as soon as he got on the record it was going to make it more special than it was," Brown says of his dad, who has contributed vibes since Organized's first group incarnation, 1995's Society of Soul. Never formulaic or known to rely heavily on samples, the trio follows its form with an EP of 100-percent original music.
"We try to organize noise, man, to manifest who we are," Wade says. "We pull from real elements. That's Sleepy's real father. There are no samples on anything. All of this is from the soul, the spirit. And this is just the EP, so this is a peek into where we're going."
As the crew gears up for its 25-year anniversary two years from now, they're already looking forward to a follow-up full-length of unreleased music, including vaulted verses from the likes of Andre 3000 and an expansion of the Organized Noize sound. Murray, whose ingenious approach to beatmaking was heralded long before Atlanta became a hotbed for production talent, is equally inspired by the young guns they've inspired along the way.
"That s*** is really cool. I love all of it," Murray says, pointing out the collaborative efforts of producers like Sonny Digital and Mike WiLL Made-It. "On one hand, it leaves a door for us to do something different and, on the same token, it allows us to not be bound by things that we were. We can change and adapt and be brand new in this mother****** for 2017. We plan on making music until we're gone. We can still do it; Chuck Berry did it until he died."