Founded in the late ’80s, the Dungeon Family was one of rap’s most celebrated crews. Anchored by the production of trio Organized Noize (Rico, 37, Raymond “Ray” Murray, 39, and Patrick “Sleepy” Brown, 39), the supergroups, Goodie Mob (Robert “T-Mo” Barnett, 37, Willie Edward “Khujo” Knighton Jr., 37, Thomas “Cee-lo” Callaway, 34, and Cameron “Big” Gipp, 37) and OutKast (Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, 34, and Andre “3000” Benjamin, 34), and an eccentric cast of characters that included Cool Breeze, Ruben “Big Rube” Bailey, 37, Erin “Witchdoctor” Johnson, 38, JaMahr “Backbone” Williams, 31, and later additions like Killer Mike and Bubba Sparxxx, the family flourished, transforming Atlanta’s booty music landscape and racking up more than $20 million in sales.
During his mid-’90s heyday, Rico stood as slender and striking as an NBA player. He zoomed around Atlanta in a Porsche. He was known for throwing lavish parties with Sean “Puffy” Combs––renting yachts or locking down beaches for entire weekends.
But over the last several years, the family drifted apart. Andre 3000 broke off from OutKast to work on an as-yet titled solo album and a preppy clothing line called Benjamin Bixby. Big Boi established his Purple Ribbon Records imprint and struggled to release his solo project, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Juve/Laface). Goodie Mob members Big Gipp, Khujo, and T-Mo all attempted ill-fated solo releases, while Cee-Lo toured the world with DJ Danger Mouse as the successful Gnarls Barkley. Sleepy Brown released his second solo album, Mr. Brown (Virgin, 2006), to lukewarm response, while Rico and Ray retreated to their studios, doing production work for the likes of T.I., Nivea, Trey Songz, and Brandy.
“Ray is a loner,” says his estranged wife, Dee Dee Murray. His music was first, no matter what.” As for Rico, the Dungeon daddy faces a hefty tax debt dating back to the late ’90’s. He has also struggled with a cocaine problem. “You can become so high off of the music, you start doing things. But don’t nothing get you high like the music,” he says.
“At one point everybody was like, Rico’s tripping,” says Dee Dee. “They perceived Rico to be spending money he shouldn’t have been spending. He might have been more flashy than the others, but that’s Rico. It’s how he was when they met him.”
Back then, the run looked like it would go on forever. “People looked at him as one of the main people to be connected to in the industry,” says Sheryl Merrit, Rico’s former personal assistant. “During that time in Atlanta, it was Rico, Jermaine Dupri, and Dallas Austin. Rico pretty much had the streets on lock. It was like he could do no wrong.” But Dungeons are dark places, and this one was no exception.