Organized Noize cemented their credentials with En Vogue’s 1996 No. 1 R&B hit “Don’t Let Go (Love)” and TLC’s 1995 Top 10 pop hit “Waterfalls.” “To date, that’s the biggest song TLC has done,” T-Boz says. “There’s no other crew like the Dungeon Family.”
Their accomplishments are still recognized by younger producers. “Organized Noize was one of the first camps out of the South to gain worldwide respect in the hip hop worlds,” says Christopher “Drumma Boy” Gholson, 25, who’s made hits for Rick Ross and Young Jeezy. “They’ve collaborated with the best from Macy Gray to Curtis Mayfield, and influenced producers such as myself.”
By the mid-1990s, the production trio of Rico Wade, Ray Murray, and Sleepy Brown was charging upward of $80,000 for a beat and top music executives had them on speed dial. Rico says then-Elektra CEO Sylvia Rhone paid Organized Noize $1 million to write 10 songs and Interscope Chairman Jimmy Iovine gave them $1.5 million to write and produce another 10 songs. “Back in the ’90’s, it was nothing for a million-dollar budget to go across the table,” says Murray. “But we were some of the first producers to be getting $100,000 a song.” Rico says L.A. Reid owns half of their publishing. “It’s a fucked-up contract,” he says. “[He] still make money on my songs from 1993.”
Organized Noize’s arrangement with LaFace was a production deal, meaning that they were paid to write and produce tracks for LaFace Records, a subsidiary of Arista. But in 1997, Iovine offered Rico the chance to start his own label trough Interscope––a joint venture similar to the arrangement Puffy Combs had through in Bad Boy Records. “I was Jimmy’s golden boy,” says Rico. At the time, Interscope was severing ties with Suge Knight’s lucrative but controversial Death Row Records. Rico felt a tug of loyalty for LaFace co-founder L.A. Reid––now chairman of Island/Def Jam, who still says, “Rico is like a son to me”––but Interscope’s $20 million offer was too good to pass up.
“Iovine said, ‘You ain’t got to touch a drum machine! You ain’t got to do nothing!’” Rico says, his eyes glittering. “He tried to get me to help him run his staff. Like, ‘Help me tell Dr. Dre how to get his shit together.’ He was offering me a dream.” In fact, the job offered was CEO of Organized Noize Records, and Rico accepted it in 1998. The Interscope deal and the frequent trips to Los Angeles drove a wedge between Organized Noize and the rest of the Dungeon Family: “People were telling me, ‘You’re a star, Rico. You don’t need them cats in Atlanta.’” His priorities shifted. That same year his mother was seriously injured in a car crash, adding to the stress.
“It all went downhill,” says Cool Breeze, who was supposed to be first in line at the new label. “Rico didn’t rap, didn’t sing, and really wasn’t producing at the time. But Rico’s our boy, so everybody got behind him and said, ‘We want him to speak for us.’” Meanwhile, Organized Noize Records signed a singer named Lil Will, a quirky rapper named Witchdoctor, and Andrell “Kilo Ali”, 35, a legend of Atlanta bass music. “After all the money spent, there was no Cool Breeze contract,” Breeze says bitterly.