In recent years, a number of documentaries have focused on the behind-the-scenes players who worked on popular albums. Standing in the Shadows of Motown helped start the craze in the early 2000s; more recent examples include The Wrecking Crew, Muscle Shoals and the Oscar-winning 20 Feet From Stardom. The latest entry in this genre, The Art of Organized Noize, debuts March 22nd on Netflix. The film chronicles the history of Rico Wade, Sleepy Brown and Ray Murray — collectively known as Organized Noize — whose production for Outkast, Goodie Mob and others in the mid-Nineties jumpstarted the rise of Southern hip-hop, which now dominates the world of rap and regularly infiltrates Top 40 hits.
Organized Noize developed their distinctive instrumentals — a blend of live playing and crackling samples — in Wade’s basement in Atlanta, which was dubbed “the Dungeon.” They favored loose, thick grooves that were grounded in hip-hop but also remained conscious of R&B’s storied history; these allowed MCs like André 3000, Big Boi and Cee-Lo, with their Southern inflections and idiosyncratic rhyming patterns, the freedom to move as they liked. Organized Noize productions had pop appeal — listen to TLC’s “Waterfalls” or Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” — but they were also relentlessly regional: See Goodie Mob’s “Dirty South” and Outkast’s first album title, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.
Recently, several entries in the Organized Noize discography experienced big anniversaries — Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik turned 20 in 2014, and Goodie Mob’s Soul Food followed suit last year. “We were getting asked a lot of questions by different people,” Wade tells Rolling Stone. “Publications were doing anniversary stories.”
This helped prompt talk of a documentary as a way for the group to take control of its own narrative. “We were living in that world of nostalgia,” Wade continues. “We just felt like it was time for us to give a little more history about where we came from.” When Orlando McGhee of Seventy 2 Music approached the trio about a film project, the members were ready. “We were crazy excited to do it,” Brown notes calmly.
McGhee then brought the idea to Queen Latifah and Shakim Compere, who run Flavor Unit Entertainment, and the duo suggested a director: Quincy Jones III, son of legendary producer Quincy Jones. Jones III has music production on his résumé as well — he met Queen Latifah in the early Nineties working on a remix for Naughty by Nature, and also went on to make beats for Tupac and Ice Cube. “He is one of our peers,” Wade says of the director. “We thought he would understand being a producer. He would have an appreciation for it.” Jones’ film background includes directing or executive-producing documentaries on Tupac (Thug Angel), Lil Wayne (The Carter) and assorted rap rivalries (the Beef series). In a separate Skype conversation with RS — he’s currently serving as a judge on Idol Sweden — Jones claims to have “the biggest library of hip-hop footage in the world.”