Atlanta’s Dungeon Family put the Dirty South on the map. But as their rap empire grew, OutKast battled internal strife while Dungeon Daddy Rico Wade battled drug and money worries. With Big Boi and Andre 3000 preparing solo projects and Rico facing foreclosure, family ties are being put to the test. LINDA HOBBS investigates.
Rico Wade bites off the tip of his fingernail and stares at the tape recorder. The founding father of the Dungeon family remembers the day in 1992 when he first met OutKast like it was yesterday. A white girl named Bianca who went to Tri-Cities a visual and performing arts high school with Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and Andre “3000” Benjamin brought them up to Lamonte’s Beauty Supply to rap for Rico, who was then 19-years-old. Big Boi’s aunt lived up the street from Lamonte’s.
After she passed away, Big used to sleep on Dre’s bedroom floor. They both had baldies and rocked to the instrumental from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario.” their lyrical style clearly inspired by New York rap. Rico’s longtime friend and production partner Sleepy Brown, who was up at Lamonte’s Beauty Shop that day, estimates that their verses clocked in at “35, 45 minutes apiece,” adding that “Rico saw the talent in them first, which kind of made us all believe.”
He brought the boys to LaFace Records co-founder Antonio “L.A.” Reid in 1992, who was introduced to him by Reid’s then-wife Perri “Pebbles” Reid, who at that time managed TLC. Rico and his group the UBoys auditioned for Pebbles back in the day. She advised them to stick to producing. “Rico was the gateway to a music culture I wasn’t familiar with,” says L.A., now chairman and CEO of Island Def Jam Music Group. “He was the guy who came into my office and said, ‘Okay L.A., you need to grow LaFace now.’ And he brought me OutKast, and he brought me Goodie Mob… Rico is one of my ‘sons.’”
But according to Island Def Jam Senior Vice President of A&R, Kawan “KP” Prather—a former member of the Dungeon Family group Parental Advisory, who was also OutKast’s A&R rep at LaFace—when Rico first brought OutKast, “L.A. said he wasn’t interested.” Rico recalls L.A. telling him to join the group and make OutKast a trio because “They wasn’t stars.”
But OutKast’s hit 1993 single “Players Ball” changed L.A.’s mind. Sean “Puffy” Combs loved the song—a ghetto Christmas tale—and ended up directing the video with Rico, who was just beginning a long, lucrative, groundbreaking career.
Yet currently, Dre and Big are both going their separate ways, whether pursuing solo stardom or just taking a break. “It’s going to be interesting to see what they can do,” recently returned Goodie Mob member Cee-Lo says by phone from his Atlanta condo. “I hope all goes well. But doing another OutKast album is something they need to do,” he says. “But then I don’t know the entire story...”