Family Affair: The Dungeon Family
The third installment of Okayplayer’s month-long Family Affair series heads south to the dungeons of Stankonia.
Atlanta may be the current heart of hip-hop (and perhaps even Culture at large.) But its pulse was tapped out of a click-track on an MPC in a place more closely resembling an actual dungeon than a figurative one.
In the 2016 documentary, The Art of Organized Noize, the dungeon is described as a crawl space that barely qualified as a basement beneath the house of co-founder Rico Wade’s mother. The walls were caked with soot, the studio equipment was perched on broken speakers, and the air consistently smelled of “weed and musk and dirt.” Through its unfinished facades, an unending current of music poured out. Wade’s mother Beatrice recalls growing immune to the rumble, a sound so constant she’d learned to sleep through it with ease.
It’s arguable that the inhabitants of that dilapidated dwelling — OutKast, Goodie Mob, Organized Noize, and the larger Dungeon Family conglomerate — didn’t have our ear until André 3000 demanded it at the tense-as-all-fuck Source Awards of 1995. Accepting the award for Best New Rap Group, 3 Stacks indicted the entire industry (literally at his feet) for its narrow optics on what hip-hop was or even could be. The Dungeon Family had spent years honing their skills as prolific producers and top-shelf emcees in the shadow of hip-hop’s warring factions. When they finally broke out of the cave, the product was so singular, funk-fueled, and freaky, it could no longer be ignored. It was time to declare their arrival.
Its most commercially viable component, OutKast’s five studio albums are a long-scroll landing page for any and all Dungeon Family activities. Though not the only (or even the first) place you can hear Organized Noize do their work. TLC’s “Waterfalls” was initially intended for CeeLo, and En Vogue’s ON-produced “Don’t Let Go” is still one the most essential cuts of mid-90s r&b glory.
Honorary members and esteemed associates also include Cool Breeze, Slimm Calhoun, PA, Society of Soul, and heirs to the Dungeon Family throne, Killer Mike and Janelle Monáe. Each of these voices can be heard on, or in proximity to, an OutKast release. Their respective solo careers, however, are often just as overlooked in relation to OutKast and Goodie Mob as the collective was to hip-hop before Andre 3000’s legendary decree.
But we’re here to celebrate the whole stank. An aroma and aesthetic so potent it birthed new worlds, and with them, new possibilities and trajectories for the hip-hop continuum. Stankonia isn’t just an album, after all. It’s a way of fucking being.
And for that, we stank you, smelly much.
Hear the third installment of the Family Affair playlist series down below, featuring classics and deep catalog cuts from the entire Dungeon Family collective. Hit the link to subscribe to Okayplayer’s Spotify channel, where you’ll find previous episodes featuring the cumulative force The Soulquarians and The Wu-Tang Clan. Tune in next week for the fourth and final set.