Twenty years ago, an Atlanta teenager named Rico Wade handpicked a bunch of friends––rappers, artists, and producers––to form the Dungeon Family. From OutKast and Goodie Mob to Organized Noize, Rico and his fellow Dungeon dwellers transformed hip hop. They lived the fly life until a spiral of greed, drugs, and envy threatened to tear the family apart. In Part One of this epic, two-part saga, LINDA HOBBS investigates the rise and early struggles of the legendary crew that put the Dirty South on the map.
His home resembles The White House. But Rico Wade’s stately residence has seen better days. The paint is chipped. Weeds cover the backyard tennis court and the edges of the sunken pool. In the living room: hardwood floors, white walls, no furniture.
Standing in the spacious kitchen, Rico Wade is so skinny, he looks fragile. If it wasn’t for the tatts on his forearms––DUNGEON in script on his right and FAMILY on his left––you might not recognize him as the man who impregnated Southern music with its first burst of universally respected hip hop.
Rico leans over the marble-topped island with a grin as he pours a splash of Crown Royal into his mug of green tea. He’s wearing a brown suede cowboy hat, green grenade belt, dirty tube socks, and a T-shirt with a picture of his dead grandmother. A haunting soundtrack drones throughout every room in the mansion. “Revolution/Revolution/would not be televised/but it will be heard/We don’t fear them/We don’t fear them/We could have riot/but we kept quiet…” It’s a new song Rico’s been working on, for the long-anticipated reunion of a group he discovered 15 years ago: the brilliant eccentric quartet Goodie Mob, just four of the young black teenagers who rose from the Dungeon to become stars.
Follow the sound down a stairwell, to a room that’s painted black. The deeper you go, the heavier the pounding of drum machines. Deeper still, and you enter a tiny room with a Confederate flag hanging over a huge mixing board flanked by framed portraits of Rico as well as platinum plaques from OutKast, TLC, En Vogue, and Ludacris. It’s a room many have heard about, but few have seen: the Dungeon.