The Dungeon Family: A Melodic Incubator
“All art stems from a place of alienation. Intimate and alone. Most people are oppressed by the opinion of others, but I was not that way. I was afraid of the repercussions of not doing what I was told to do, what I was called to do by a creator.” – Ceelo Green
Back in the mid-1990’s, hip hop was entrenched in a coastal battle for supremacy. The East Coast fought for lyrical dominance as the West Coast attempted to “funk up” the streets with khaki colored tales.
All the while, within the red clays of Georgia, a seed of change was ripening. A place long known for peaches, a Georgian collective was gardening a different product.
In a dusty basement on Headland and Delowe – Rico Wade, Ray Murray, and Sleepy Brown formed a successful hip hop incubator named the Dungeon Family. The crew started off as a trio of producers and song writers named Organized Noize.
As time pressed on – Organized Noize sprouted into the Dungeon family. This collective would form the sound of the Dirty South in the 1990’s.
Accelerated Trans Dungeon Family Express
The Dungeon Family are innovators in developing and maturing a musical picture much like a business incubator birth products.
Usually, when we think about incubators, it’s typically in terms of a place where a small business gains access to certain mentors and tools.
The Dungeon Family – led by Rico Wade, cramped into a small dirt-filled basement that looked much like a crawl space. This cramped environment built a brotherhood and foundation where each artist gained access to learn new skills, mix and match resources, mentor artists, and explore a direction of creativity.
As they perfected their craft, record companies wanted the sound, lyrics, imagery, and spark the Dungeon Family was engineering. Their vision and continuous success accelerated the emergence of Southern Hip Hop.
Positioning Within a Lane
The crew’s first major act was the rap group Outkast.
Outkast jumped upon the scene as essentially – outcasts. The hip hop state in 1994 was mostly fueled by edgy, gritty hardcore rap coming by way of Los Angeles and New York.
Outkast’s first album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, was purely rooted in southern culture. Their visuals and content “reflected the lifestyles of pimps and gangsters with politically conscious material commenting on the status of blacks in the South.”
Despite going against things as they were, the album was a huge success. It provided a distinct level of lyricism and funktified sounds that offset the popular radio hits of the time.
For their efforts, the Source Awards awarded the dynamic group “Best New Rap Group.” In return, for their efforts, attendees at the Source Awards booed Outkast.
Questions were asked and lingered:
- Was the booing engineered by the bickering between Puffy’s Bad Boy Label and Suge Knight’s Deathrow Records?
- Is this southern sound not mainstream enough and only for country bamas?
- Is hip hop ready for a third coast with new, unfamiliar culture and a different perspective?
As far as the Dungeon Family had been concerned, the Southern Movement was ready to take form and charter new territory. Each album became an ideation of culture awareness and genre expansion. Whether it’s Goodie Mob’s Soul Food to Outkast’s Stankonia, each album took listeners on a sonic voyage.
Artistic Expression & Exploration
The Dungeon Family may have been rooted in hip hop, but it was not a typical rap conglomerate.
Artists used hip hop spoken word to show a varying layer of creativity. Music producers and engineers literally swapped melodies with live musicians. The Dungeon Family crafted a sound with little barriers often confined by heavy sampling.
For example, a bass player’s insight remain equally important as the group’s flagship artist vision. In their documentary, The Art of Organized Noize, a singer, that still works at a local Hilton hotel, was the brains behind the lyrics to TLC’s global hit Waterfall.
As creatives, artists visualize sights and sounds beyond the realities of the world. Sometimes it’s an uncommon, but a necessary unwavering belief to do something that has never been done before.
The Dungeon Family tree was planted and now has blossomed.
Now, the branches extend into two generations of artists – that consistently contribute to redefining an organic sonic continuity while pioneering melodic exploration.
In essence, a melodic incubator!