GPB's Morning Edition host Pamela Kirkland speaks with GPB's Sonia Murray about the impact of the life of late music producer Rico Wade.


"One for the money, yes sir/Two for the show/A couple of years ago on Headland and Delowe/Was the start of something good..."

"Elevators," OutKast


OutKast, "Player's Ball"

The first time the world officially saw OutKast, the first image in its 1994 debut "Players Ball" video was actually of Rico Wade.

Out of a shadow, the then neighborhood-famous Atlanta legend emerges — no shirt on, hair braided to the back in thick corn rows, talking his Rico Wade talk.

Over this past weekend the music world learned that the 52-year-old Grammy-winner's voice had been silenced. But the work Wade did for and with some of this state's global superstars (OutKast, TLC, Goodie Mob) cemented a legacy that will last "forever ever," to use a phrase from an OutKast hit.

"We are deeply saddened by the sudden and unexpected passing of our son, father, husband, and brother Rico Wade," Wade's family said in a statement Saturday, April 13. "Our hearts are heavy as we mourn the loss of a talented individual who touched the lives of so many."

Later that day came this statement from the Organized Noize production trio he was a part of, and its larger Dungeon Family: "We are devastated by the news of the passing of our dear brother Rico Wade. The world has lost one of the most innovative architects in music, and we have lost an invaluable friend. 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.

"Rico's presence will always have a special spot in our hearts, and in the music we presented to the world."  

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens tweeted his condolences, though not simply as the city's chief official. Long before he was a politician, Dickens was known as Dre from Benjamin E. Mays High School and a friend of future Dungeon Family members.

The tributes weren't limited to Atlanta. Chuck D, leader of influential New York rap group Public Enemy, tweeted a drawing of Wade.

As Antwan "Big Boi" Patton and Andre "Dre" Benjamin pointed out in OutKast's 1996 single "Elevators," the music Wade and his fellow Organized Noize members (Ray Murray and Pat "Sleepy" Brown) presented to the world could trace its origin back to a corner in Southwest Atlanta. Headland and Delowe Drives, where Wade worked in a beauty supply store.

And as much as he was a charismatic, near-frantic seller of brushes, hair grease and perms, he was also a whirlwind of charisma promoting the latest group he was in, showing off the latest dance he'd come up with and, of course, incorporating that into his moves around the Jellybeans skating rink off Campbellton Road.

Ray Murray, Rico Wade, Ian Burke and Pat "Sleepy" Brown on the set of a film about Burke. (Burke returned the favor as a cont

Ray Murray, Rico Wade, Ian Burke and Pat "Sleepy" Brown on the set of a film about Burke. (Burke returned the favor as a contributor to the 2016 documentary about them, "The Art of Organized Noize.")

Credit: Courtesy of Ian Burke

An impressed record label rep introduced Wade and the emsemble he was in at the time, called The U Boyz, to another future behind-the-scenes power, Ian Burke. Wade learned that Burke was looking to put together a female version of Bell Biv DeVoe (itself a hip-hop offshoot of the R&B group New Edition.)

"He introduced me to Lisa ['Left-Eye' Lopes]," Burke recalled. "And like that morning, early the very next morning, we went to Tionne's" — as in Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins of what would become one of the the best-selling female groups of all time, TLC.

Burke would go on to manage Organized Noize and OutKast, at Wade's request. And when Burke ascended to an A&R position at Elektra, lonhgtime friends Wade, Brown and Murray crafted R&B group En Vogue's surprise rocker "Don't Let Go (Love)"; part of the 1996 "Set It Off" soundtrack Burke was a producer on.


En Vogue, "Don't Let Go (Love)"

"He really had faith in me, and had faith in my capabilities, because he saw I was a go-getter," Burke said. "Hell, he took me in when I was basically out here homeless. That's how I really got plugged in. He took me in with his mother and his two sisters, at their house."

And as Atlanta music industry lore goes, the unfinished basement of Wade's mother's house would become known as the Dungeon, where OutKast, Goodie Mob, Parental Advisory and more would develop their rhyming and production abilities.

Now, Dungeon Family members include those acts as well as Wade's cousin Future, Killer Mike (of the recent rap Grammy Awards sweep), Big Rube, Backbone, Cool Breeze, Witchdoctor, Slimm Calhoun and Lil Will.

"Rico was our leader; we were the orchestra and he was the conductor," explained Kawan "K.P. The Great" Prather, one third of the hip-hop group Parental Advisory.

"I've been thinking — what's funny is that he wasn't even the oldest of all of us. But we all looked to him. The one word I keep going back to in thinking about him and talking about him is 'trust.'

Dungeon Family members (from left to right) Pat "Sleepy" Brown, Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, Big Rube, Ray Murray, T-Mo, Andre "3

Dungeon Family members (from left to right) Pat "Sleepy" Brown, Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, Big Rube, Ray Murray, T-Mo, Andre "3000" Benjamin (in mask), Khujo, Big Gipp, Cee-Lo and Rico Wade (seated).

Credit: Mark Seliger for GQ Magazine

"He saw the most," continued Prather, also a Grammy Award-winning writer (for Kendrick Lamar's "Alright"). "And took care of the most. Protected everybody — even from themselves. He had a pure heart. Selfless.

"And I don't mean this to be disrespectful in any way, but he may have been the least naturally gifted guy in the group. Like, he wasn't the best dancer at the talent show. It was all feel. And you couldn't help but pay attention to him. Whatever he was doing.

"He may have personified the 'noise' in Organized Noize; but he was the organizer of the Noize. The filter. All the Noize went through him and the best came out."

DJ Toomp, born Aldrin Davis, has actually known Wade's Organized Noize partner Sleepy since they were students at Fickett Elementary School.

"I used to make some of their talent show tapes [they would perform to]," Toomp said. "He and Sleep were dancing long before they started touching some drum machines."

"And man, to just see how much he has accomplished since," said Toomp, a Grammy Award-winning producer key to Atlanta rapper T.I.'s ascent. "The impact he had, man. Showing people not only another side of Atlanta, but another side of the South. Yeah, we had our booty-shake moment. But he and Organized Noize put together a sound that stood out among the rest. They put up some real [sales] numbers. All while being a straight-up ATL dude. Period.

"You know, we've got a lot of implants here. Been here like 10, 20 years and want to act [like they're from here]. But Rico was folk like us; representing Atlanta and the South, proudly, before [T.I.] really became known for that.

Toomp had to point out two other attributes of Wade's: "Rico was a character — have to say that. But he was a king who stood on business. All of us know the story about him going to L.A., negotiating that contract with [industry veteran] Jimmy Iovine, and coming back with that bag. Millions...I was a couple of years older than him and I didn't feel that confident at that time to get that kind of deal.

"And yeah, he didn't write raps and that kind of thing, but he was one of those people who understood artist development. I would put him right up there with JD [Jermaine Dupri] and Diddy, to some extent, on that. OutKast, Goodie Mob. those were HIS groups."


Mista, "Blackberry Molasses"

That's something R&B singer Bobby V saw up close. He met Wade when he was a teenager at Sutton Middle School and a member of the new Atlanta R&B group Mista.

"I had to be 14, going to the ninth grade, and was just impressionable; I was soaking it all up," V said. "I don't remember like the first time me and Rico met, but probably my earliest, most vivid memory was being in the studio with them when the OutKast [debut] album went gold — and how happy they were. At the same time they were working with Goodie Mob, and [the Organized Noize-produced TLC single] 'Waterfalls' was going crazy. It was just their moment. And [Mista's record label president] Sylvia Rhone wanted them to come up with our 'Waterfalls.' That's how we got [the debut single] 'Blackberry Molasses.'"

(The video for which was shot, in part, at the original location of the Dungeon.)

"All of those guys taught me so much," V said. "About being a man. About real music — having live instrumentation; bringing in real musicians. Coming in [the studio] and watching a song being built from start to finish.When I went solo, I was ready, because I came up under Rico and Ray and [Pat]."


TLC, "Waterfalls"

"It just sucks that Rico's gone," V concluded. "I will remember him, I hope everyone remembers him as a visionary. A pioneer. He definitely left a legacy, and I think when you do that, you never really die...He left something for the dreamers in this Georgia red clay."