Cover Story: Dungeon Family tree

An oral history of OutKast and the extended crew’s first decade

Big Boi
Big Gipp
Rico Wade
Cool Breeze


Andre (aka Andre Benjamin, Dre, Andre 3000): OutKast

Big Boi (aka Antwan Patton, Twan): OutKast

Big Rube (aka Ruben Bailey): Society of Soul, guest rapper/poet

Cee-Lo (aka Thomas Calloway, Thomas Burton, Cee-Lo Green): Goodie Mob, now solo artist

Cool Breeze (aka Freddie Calhoun): solo rapper

Gipp (aka Big Gipp, Cameron Gipp): Goodie Mob

Khujo (aka William Knighton, Jo): Goodie Mob

Mr. DJ (aka David Sheats): OutKast DJ, Earthtone III producer

Ray (aka Ray Murray): Organized Noize producer

Rico (aka Rico Wade, Ric): Organized Noize producer, Dungeon studio owner

Sleepy (aka Patrick Brown, Sleepy Brown): Organized Noize producer and vocalist

T-Mo (aka Robert Terrence Barnett): Goodie Mob

Late September 1993: Atlanta’s LaFace Records, interested in grooming young talent, asks local production team Organized Noize to do a song for the label’s upcoming Christmas album. LaFace head L.A. Reid wants the track to feature Organized’s new proteges, OutKast, the teenaged duo that Reid is considering signing to LaFace. The song, “Player’s Ball,” with its laid-back groove, razor-sharp rhymes and old-school soul melody, kicks off a new era for Southern hip-hop.

Late September 2003: Southern hip-hop hits flood the radio. Arista Records President L.A. Reid is one of the most powerful men in the music industry. And OutKast, the flagship of Organized Noize’s Dungeon Family crew, has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide.

But in the three years since the group’s previous studio album, Stankonia, much has changed. The rest of the Dungeon Family struggles to regain momentum after a string of commercial disappointments, and OutKast seems to be pulling apart at the seams. Their much-anticipated new album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, arrives this week in the form of two separate solo albums packaged together as a double disc.

Here’s the rest of the story ...

Fade in: Southwest Atlanta, 1980s Andre: I grew up in the ghetto just like everybody else, right across the street from the projects. But my mom bussed me to schools like Sarah Smith [Elementary] and Sutton [Middle School], right in the middle of Buckhead. So by me going to school with a lot of white kids, I got into skateboarding and the music and everything. I’d come home and I might hear Eric B. & Rakim or Too Short, then go to school and hear another thing.

Cee-Lo: I’ve known Andre since the third grade. We were good friends in elementary school. I don’t think our artistic nature was cultivated back in the third grade, but I think a lot of my artistic energy came out in moments of misbehavior. I remember a moment when Dre’s mother came and had to chastise him in front of the class.

Big Boi: [Dre and I] were new to the high school [Tri-Cities High in East Point]; this was 10th grade, 1989 or ‘90. The first time Dre and I really talked was on the way back from Lenox mall; me and my little brother rode back with him. We just got to kickin’ it, and I found this cat was cool. So we went back to his crib in East Point. We talked about music and girls and shit.

Andre: We listened to the same types of music. We both loved De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest. I had stopped going to Tri-Cities and started going to an alternative school, because I was skipping class and got kicked out.

Big Boi: We used to steal cars off of Old National Highway. We tried selling dope, but we’d get some and smoke the shit before we could sell it. So that’s when we knew we had to get us some jobs at the shoe stores.

Cee-Lo: Dre and I didn’t see each other again until about the 11th grade. We were at an alternative school called Frank McClaren for dropouts and teen mothers and individuals who have to work a job and were trying to come in and get their GED.

Sleepy: My dad [Jimmy Brown] was in a band called Brick, and they had some hits. I would go to concerts and be backstage and get to see all the funk bands — Cameo, Bar-Kays, Commodores, Parliament-Funkadelic.

Rico: Lamonte was just a black man who owned a business [Lamonte’s Beauty Supply in East Point’s Delowe Shopping Center]. I got the job with him when I was about 13, just going around saying, “Can I take your trash out? Can I sweep your carpet?” By the time OutKast came around, I was like 19, and I was the manager there.

Gipp: Ray Murray was the first guy I had been around who kept a drum machine. Ray introduced me to the graffiti thing, kind of took me under his wing. He really hipped me to hip-hop. I met Khujo and T-Mo once I started going to Mays High School. The first time I met Cee-Lo, he came over to my house with his cousin. That’s when they used to call him Chickenhead.

Ray: I moved into the Greenbrier area in 1987. That’s when I met Gipp and Khujo and all of them. They all went to high school together at Benjamin E. Mays.

Big Boi: We were sitting at my aunt’s house. Dre had made some rhymes, and I had some. And I would start where he ended.
Andre: Me and Big Boi were a group by that time named 2 Shades Deep. We both had jobs at shoe stores. One day, Big Boi couldn’t get off of work and I had set up our first shot to perform — on this cable access show. So Cee-Lo went with me. So we performed, and some guy called in and said, “I just wanted to let you know y’all sounded like shit!” To this day, me and Cee-Lo never can forget that.

Big Boi: Cee-Lo was damn near about to be in the group for a minute. Me, Dre and Cee-Lo would go back to my auntie’s house. We used to make loops on the tape deck, and Cee-Lo would have beats on tape that were so fucking funky it was retarded.

Andre: The first live performance was at this club called Club Fritz in the West End. We went, and Big Boi’s uncle gave us weed. We smoked it in a napkin, so it was burning all wrong. So then we got on the mic and just crunked it up. We was on one mic, passing it back and forth, busting each other in the lip.

Big Boi: We were 2 Shades Deep, but there was a group called Four Shades Deep. We were going to do Misfits, but there was already a group called the Misfits. So we went down till we found OutKast, which meant what we wanted.

Sleepy: I met Rico through a girl I was dating at the time. She was good friends with him and T-Boz [of TLC]. Me and Rico started out in a singing group, the Uboys. At the time, when T-Boz got with TLC, she told Pebbles [TLC’s manager, then married to L.A. Reid] about us. Pebbles liked our music, but vocally we weren’t that great. So she just flat-out told us, “I like y’all’s beats; I think you should get more into production.”

Rico: I can’t sing, though I was just fly — like a local celebrity. I had a car, girls liked me, I had a perm. I danced and I looked like I sang.

Ray: Me and Gipp had been a group, Sixth Sense. The Gulf War was going on, and we recorded a song called “Pray for Peace.” We had talked to NBC’s “Today Show” and we were going to perform, but the war stopped.

Big Rube: This guy Joe Carne — his mother was the singer Jean Carne. He had some musical equipment over his house, so we [Rico, Sleepy, Rube] were going over there working on stuff. And that’s how we met Ray. But working with Joe was getting kind of hard, so then we decided to branch off on our own. We got a little setup in Rico’s apartment in Delowe Gardens. And it was 24/7 after that.

Ray: Jellybeans [skate rink] was an institution; that’s where everybody went. In 1990, we had a studio up there. There was an office and we had converted it into a live performance room. There was no ventilation, so if you were in there for 15-20 minutes, you’d be in a complete sweat. We were the producers for [rap group] P.A. After they got the deal with Pebbles, that’s when we officially became Organized Noize. The name comes from a singing girl group Rico and Sleepy put together, but we couldn’t find the girls for it. So we said, “That’s a fly ass name. Fuck the girls.”

Rico: A friend of mine knew [former Atlanta police chief] Eldrin Bell, and he owned a house in Lakewood that he was renting out. We had the apartment at Delowe and a studio at the skate rink, and I couldn’t afford to pay rent at both places, so we moved to the house and made everything one.

Ray: The Dungeon was under the kitchen floor at Rico’s house. It’s a dirt floor. We had a table and chairs set up, an MPC with dust all over it, keyboards, records all over. When the shit flooded, we had to pick up, take the shit upstairs, because it warps. The vibes down there were otherworldly. Sometimes we’d be sitting down there writing, then the drum machine would go on. Because of the moisture in the machine, it used to go haywire. It would trigger samples, crazy shit.

Big Rube: The whole idea of calling it the Dungeon came from the way the basement looked. There were red clay walls, pipes over your head, like a boiler room or something. People didn’t leave. You’d go over there and you basically was living there, so it was almost like you was held captive. So it just fit perfectly.
Andre: We had started to perfect our craft, meet after school and trade rhymes in Big Boi’s auntie’s kitchen. We had two meetings set up. One was with a manager called Don Ray, he’s Cody ChestnuTT’s manager now. But we met Rico first that day. He worked at the beauty supply store right up the street from Big Boi’s aunt’s house, so we just walked.

Ray: Me and Rico were at this hair products store that Rico worked at. We were having some creative differences with P.A., and we were saying to ourselves, “Man, we need two fly-ass young MCs that we can really get with and help shine, help nurture.” Right as we said that, these two dudes came walking over the hill.

Rico: I was like, “What y’all got? Y’all got songs?” Then they put in [A Tribe Called Quest’s] “Scenario” — the seven-minute instrumental version — and they went back to back until the tape stopped. No hooks, no errors. As soon as one finished the other one came up right behind.

Gipp: I played the tape in my Isuzu Trooper. They could really spit like an up-North rapper.

Sleepy: They had bald heads, and that was kind of crazy; nobody was into that yet. When they first rapped for us, I just thought they rapped long as hell. Each one had a rap for like 15, 20 minutes. I was just standing there, like, “Damn, when you gonna end?”

Rico: They reminded me of myself. One of them had on cut-off jeans; they had thermals, sweatshirts, some huaraches on. They were fresh; they weren’t no ghetto Atlanta niggas — no gold teeth. They were hip-hop.

Andre: The first thing Rico said was, “That’s dope, come to my house tonight.” Rico was the hustler, the mouthpiece of Organized Noize. He would say stuff like, “Yeah, we can get you a deal next week.” And we believed him. So we went to the Dungeon.

Big Rube: It’s funny, because the personalities were already there. Dre had the kind of quiet personality, Big Boi had this reputation for not giving a fuck — talking about you right in your face even if he don’t know you.

Big Boi: I thought it was going on over there. Ten, 15 people in the studio downstairs. Niggas just writing on pads everywhere, smoking their herb, 40 ounces. The atmosphere said, “Damn, this is where we need to be.”

Ray: We didn’t have anything. We used to scrape money together to go buy cigarettes. Everybody would eat off of a $3 basket from Church’s. Ten, 15 niggas in the room, on the wood floor with blankets rolled up as beds.

Rico: Every day after school they’d come to the Dungeon, spend the night, go to school from the Dungeon sometimes, stay over on weekends. It was to the point where it started to get ugly. Andre’s momma was just so concerned, like, “What the fuck is going on?” That’s when she started making crazy comments, like calling my momma and asking me some really disrespectful shit, like, “What, you gay or something? Why they want to be around you?” She turned around years later and became the most important person in his career. She’s a great person, so I don’t fault her for nothing.

Cee-Lo: We happened to be in Greenbriar Mall one day, and my homeboy was telling Marqueze [Etheridge, Organized Noize associate who co-wrote TLC’s “Waterfalls” with them] that I sing. He was going over to the Dungeon, so we decided to give him a ride. We went over there, and I sung for Sleepy Brown. At the time, Rico, Dre and Big Boi had rode off to get something to eat. They came back and saw me sitting there and Dre got excited, like, “That’s my homeboy Cee-Lo I was telling you about. He can rhyme, he can sing.” That particular day, T-Mo and Khujo and Gipp walked in the door — I knew them from high school. When I saw their familiar faces, I was immediately comfortable.

Khujo: Me and T-Mo started fucking with them Crown Royal liquor bags, the purple and gold bags. We used to strap them on our belts and have goodies in them — weed, a couple dollars. Just a little bag we used to walk around with, and it would swing on the side. We’d say, “It’s the goodie bag, man.”

Late 1992: OutKast makes its first recorded appearance on an Organized Noize-produced remix of TLC’s “What About Your Friends.”

Andre: Organized Noize had a relationship with L.A., so L.A. said he’d check us out. He called in the entire staff of LaFace and says, “Go.” I’m nervous, but Rico puts in the DAT and we start rapping. I don’t think L.A. got it, but he said he wanted us to do a showcase. After that, he told Rico he didn’t like it. At that point, I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore. Big Boi was like, “We came this far; we can’t stop now.” We kept on, and the buzz started going around town. Polygram had us showcase for them. I think L.A. got wind, and that helped us get another showcase for him. He gave us a single deal to put a song on their Christmas album. We decided to keep it real — talk about what Christmas was about to us. “Player’s Ball” changed OutKast’s sound. We were rhyming in a way that was melodic and funky.
Sleepy: Ray had a beat that I thought was incredible. He said, “It would be fly if we could find somebody to sing it kind of like Curtis.” I was like, “I can do that.” It was like 5 in the morning, and I just went in there and did it. After, I was like, “That’s kind of funky, I may need to mess with that a little more.” I was just trying to sing like what Curtis Mayfield would’ve sung.

Andre: Puffy [Sean Combs, aka P. Diddy] was the new flavor man at Arista [LaFace’s parent company]. He loved “Player’s Ball” and wanted to direct the video. So he comes down to shoot the video with Rico. And Puffy was the first person who brought us out of Atlanta to a show at Howard University, opening for Biggie. Then the video comes out and people are loving the song, so L.A. was like, “You have to record an album.”

April 1994: OutKast debuts with the acclaimed, platinum-selling Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik.

Rico: We knew ‘Kast was good enough. They could rap. But we knew we had to flip the beats. We couldn’t let them rap over the same New York beats or L.A. beats, we had to come with something new. That’s why we called the first album Southernplaya-listicadillacmuzik: We had to get into who we were.

Ray: Down-South music had always been fast. We slowed it down to make you listen to the MC, make the MCs be rapid fire. And that was OutKast.

Andre: It was a family event. You had Goodie Mob on there, pretty much every one who came through the Dungeon. If you had something to say, you did it. On “Git Up, Git Out,” Cee-Lo came and laid the verse and set the tone.

Big Rube: The first record left a bad taste in my mouth. You look at the first OutKast record, my name ain’t nowhere on it. Not even for the shit that I said. Somebody just dropped the ball in terms of making sure everybody got credit. I never got any publishing [royalties], and it would’ve been a lot because basically me and Sleepy and Rico wrote all their hooks.

Big Boi: Our first taste of performing in front of an audience was the Howard University homecoming. That was my first ride on an airplane, and I was terrified. But I knew if this was my career, I had to get used to it. We weren’t even old enough, but we was drinking. We came out and we performed and they clapped when we came off.

Andre: Freaknik was still around, so we made these snippet cassettes with dice and incense. We passed them out and everyone from all over the country came to town and went back home with our sounds.

Big Rube: The first OutKast album was like the whole energy and chi of the whole South. It represented all our asses. When OutKast came out, young kids had something to look up to that wasn’t necessarily gangsta. Because The Chronic was like the bible of rap at the time, and people were associating the gangbang style with hip-hop. So it was like putting a fire extinguisher on a fire that was starting.

November 1995: The Dungeon Family’s second album, Goodie Mob’s Soul Food, is released and eventually goes gold (500,000 copies sold).

Ray: L.A. came to us and said, “What you guys got next?” And we said, “This is what we feel: Goodie Mob.” We had never recorded any songs with all four of them together until they got their deal.

Cee-Lo: Goodie Mob as a collective was more or less the brainchild of Rico Wade. And me, Gipp, T and Khujo were all familiar with each other, so it was nothing to say, “Yeah, let’s do an album together.” The first Goodie Mob record was supposed to be a compilation of sorts, but we stumbled upon a magic of our own.
Gipp: Soul Food was a fun record because it was all about ideas. Didn’t nobody really have shit. I remember when we first signed to LaFace, we got a check for $20,000 — $5,000 a piece.

Gipp: We just really felt like, OK, people know us on the street through OutKast. What about the political side, the real historical side of Atlanta that everyone doesn’t really talk about?

Rico: Cool Breeze came up with the term “Dirty South” [guesting on Soul Food’s track, “Dirty South”].

Cee-Lo: My mother passed during the recording of Soul Food. I was able to stop it in time to dedicate the record to my mother.

April 1996: A third Dungeon group, Society of Soul, debuts with the album Brainchild.

Big Rube: Me and Sleepy worked so well together, with him doing melodies and me coming up with lyrics, it was like, “We oughta put a group together.” When we did the Society of Soul album, we were actually working out of Curtom, Curtis Mayfield’s studio. We were working on Society of Soul, Goodie Mob’s first album and some OutKast stuff. Everything was feeling pretty good, like everyone was going to have what they needed.

Ray: We did “Waterfalls” [TLC’s biggest hit] while we were doing the Society of Soul record. After we did “Waterfalls,” we wanted to put that sound onto Society of Soul.

Summer 1996: OutKast’s second album, ATLiens, arrives. It goes platinum as well.

Ray: Dre went through a metamorphosis when they came with ATLiens. I don’t know if it was the introduction to celebrity, or just wanting to have more control of your life. He became more introverted, more expressionist. He became more of an individual. Big has also changed, but not so much artistically — more inside. After the first record, Dre started taking it seriously. He stopped smoking, stopped drinking, stopped doing a whole lot of shit that we were all doing.

Big Rube: They started understanding the power they had in their music — particularly Dre. He started getting a lot more brave as far as saying what he felt. They started showing a swagger that certain artists have — the ones that are stars.

Andre: I had an interest in producing, so I started buying equipment, trying out stuff. And I ended up doing a lot of songs on ATLiens. The first single I did was “Elevators.” I started going around Atlanta looking for records. I liked 411 Records, Wax N Facts and pawnshops.

Early 1997: Organized Noize severs its ties with LaFace Records and signs a label deal with Interscope Records.

Ray: Society of Soul, OutKast and Goodie Mob were signed through Organized Noize Productions for their first album because we had the relationship with L.A. Once he saw that the acts were viable, we didn’t need to be in the middle of the situation. There was friction between us and LaFace, and that was turning into friction between us and the artists. Once we alleviated that, we didn’t have a deal with LaFace anymore. After that, we did the deal with Interscope.

Big Rube: Around the time of the deal with Interscope, that’s when the new Dungeon [Rico’s new home studio in the Cascade area] came into play. The studio was paid for with the money from Interscope. My only problem with the Interscope thing was that the first artist released was Kilo. He wasn’t DF, and I knew Kilo wasn’t going to blow up nationally; it was regional booty-shake music. I think it put a damper on the Interscope deal. It wasn’t what they were looking for. The Cool Breeze record could’ve been really great, but it took him about two or three years to write his record. Organized Noize got the reputation for just being the fuck-offs that had the talent but weren’t exactly on top of their game as far as business. And Little Will’s record never hit the shelves. They just pulled their money, I guess.

Rico: [Interscope] took care of us. They’re the reason why we got a studio. All of us got houses. But we didn’t get enough numbers for the kind of deal we were in.

April 1998: Goodie Mob releases its second album, Still Standing; it goes gold. September 1998: OutKast’s third album, Aquemini, arrives and goes on to sell more than 3 million copies.
Gipp: With Still Standing, we knew we had something. Our first tour we went out with the Roots and the Fugees — three live bands back-to-back, all really breaking ground. After that tour, we knew we could do things other hip-hop artists couldn’t. We knew we had a voice.

Ray: It’s a dark album; that was the vibe. It was a dark time. ‘Pac and Biggie had died. We had been with both. That’s why we called the record Still Standing. Goodie Mob had just come from the West Coast; they were about to record some stuff with ‘Pac.

Cee-Lo: We traveled to Helen, Ga., and got a cabin in the woods and sat and talked about concepts — just the four of us. I did the bulk of my writing for that album after I had my tonsils out. I had about two weeks to just write and be quiet and reflect.

Ray: By Aquemini, it was running on its own. Where we might have been worried [about Dre’s direction], that died down. We understood a lot better what he was doing. At first, I took it as kind of personal when he switched up. We felt like [Southern-playalistic] was their best expression of themselves. True indeed, how can somebody else tell you how to express yourself? But I didn’t think it called for putting on the headwrap, you know, being non-smoking, non-drinking. But with Aquemini, when he changed up, I could see clearly that it was more of a growth.

Sleepy: I always thought our crew was like the Parliament of hip-hop, but I never thought anyone would be willing to go there with it. The first time Dre started dressing that way, we were doing the “Skew it On the Bar-B” video at the Tabernacle. I was backstage, and he came out in that white feather suit. I was like, “Wow, either the crowd is going to laugh at you, or they’re going to be with you.” He had the white wig on, the shades. He jumped up on stage and the crowd went bananas.

Mr. DJ: Dre, Big and me started trying to produce from watching Rico and them. And Big Boi and Dre came to me and said, “Hey, why don’t we start a production company together?” I was no longer DJing for them, but I was still an OutKast fan. And we had good chemistry together. So we formed Earthtone III.

Big Rube: Organized Noize still did some tracks on Aquemini, but I think it was out of respect. OutKast was getting to the point where they could produce their own stuff.

Andre: Things were really about me and Big at the time, and I liked the way Aquemini [combining their astrological signs, Aquarius and Gemini] sounded. It meant something really smooth, the coming together of two forces.

Mr. DJ: Aquemini was right when everybody was starting to deal with adult-type things. Right around that time Big’s aunt passed, and Dre had his relationship with Erykah [Badu]. Everyone was really finding themselves, and you can hear it in the music.

Rico: When The Source gave Aquemini five mics [its highest rating], we knew we had world supremacy. We were given respect by the industry, by our peers, and by the public.

Last week of 1999: Goodie Mob releases its third album, World Party, which many view as a departure from the group’s grittier, more outspoken earlier records.

October 2000: OutKast releases its fourth album, Stankonia, recorded in the group’s new West Atlanta studio, also called Stankonia.

Cee-Lo: Gipp initiated the whole change of direction. World Party was unconscious — it’s so simple to speak ignorantly. I plead temporary insanity because of what we went through, being the ones who helped to kick down the door and not reaped the same benefits as the rest of Southern [hip-hop]. I don’t think it was whack, but after we set such a bar, it was regression. We were ahead of our time and turned our space ship around to come back to earth to simply fit in. The market was congested with bling-bling, and people were waiting on Goodie Mob. If anybody’s going to keep it real, Goodie Mob will. And we didn’t. We failed the people.

Gipp: We were on our third album; we had been through the ropes, starting to get tired. We put together what we thought people wanted to hear.

Big Rube: I think they got a little scared they weren’t selling as many records as OutKast. They were going gold, though. Just one more time without changing what they were doing and they would’ve gone platinum. Sometimes you drop the ball right before you get to the end zone.
Big Boi: Bobby Brown came to see our show. He was drunk as hell and telling us his studio, Bosstown, was for sale. He was like, “Really, y’all can have the studio. I’d rather y’all have it than someone else get it.” But it came up that the IRS had it for sale; we bought it from them and just revamped it. That was the studio where we recorded the first album, so there’s a lot of good vibes in there.

Andre: Before there was any lyric or hook on “Bombs Over Baghdad,” we knew it was going to be the first single. Just that tempo alone, we knew that this go around, we just want to be in the business of blowing people’s minds. I’m always with stretching it, so when this song came out, it had guitar solos and everything. Even the record company was like, “I don’t know if radio’s going to play it.” They actually told us to take the guitar out, and I was really mad about that.

Big Boi: We’d be in the studio, and then go to the strip club afterward. So instead of going back and forth, I figured if we put the [stripper’s] pole in the Boom Boom Room [Big Boi’s den/home studio], that could inspire some more shit. So I put the pole over there. Soon as a chick walks in, they want to get on it just to show they can set that bitch off.

Mr. DJ: Big is more of the street-savvy rapper. And Dre is more of the ghetto-poetic one. But when we’re in the studio, you wouldn’t even think there were lines between them. They think the same creatively. The differences come in their personal lives.

2001: the entire crew comes together to work on a long-planned Dungeon Family record.

November 2001: Even in Darkness comes out on Arista, which also releases an OutKast anthology, Big Boi and Dre Present ... OutKast the same month.

Big Rube: We had been wanting to do a family record since the beginning, but something inspired Big Boi to want to do it — and he had some power with L.A. [Reid]. I was kind of apprehensive to be on Arista, but it had to go there because the most powerful group, OutKast, was on Arista. Everybody who had tracks to submit, we all listened to them. And everybody who wanted to get on those tracks got on them. That’s how we did it at first.

Rico: Certain tracks we had a concept, like, “Man, it would be great if we could get Andre and Cee-Lo, or we can get Khujo and T-Mo to do a song together, like the old Lumberjacks group.” “Six Minutes” went down just how it was supposed to; it was a dream. Ray did a hot beat; Big came over, he busted. Big had the hook idea, Sleepy stacked the hook. Gipp wanted to come next; he wrote a verse, and everybody else came up behind.

Big Rube: We’re in a meeting at the Dungeon, upstairs. The whole DF. L.A. [Reid] is on speakerphone. Everything’s sounding great, like it always does in those initial meetings. Everybody’s going to get an equal split of the budget money. But then Arista was like, “We’re going to pay our artists [OutKast, Goodie Mob] more.” Which is completely negating the whole thing — DF was supposed to come before what label you’re on. The whole point was to bring the guys who were in a slump out of it. So then you got one guy who might get $5,000 and the motherfuckers that were already rich getting $50,000 to $100,000.

Ray: It was almost like a return to the old days, but it didn’t really get to fruition. There was so much politics. It just didn’t get no support from Arista. As soon as the OutKast album [Big Boi and Dre Present ... OutKast] dropped, you don’t hear shit about the Dungeon Family record. Nothing.

Big Rube: We did a promo tour. We start hitting a couple of cities. We’re thinking, “OK, if this starts taking off, we can do a real Dungeon Family tour; it would be like we always wanted.” But, you know, there’s a lot of different attitudes by now. This isn’t nine years ago. On the road, we had Dungeon Family posters. But they’ll have even bigger [Big Boi and Dre Present] posters. I’m not saying it’s OutKast’s fault, but it ain’t like they put up no major fight either.

Cee-Lo: The album was long overdue. I’m not certain the world was waiting on the Dungeon Family album after all that time. OutKast was in the midst of doing their greatest hits album, and I was working on my solo album at the time. So we were juggling, trying to make it all happen — and it wasn’t as organic as it should have been.
April 2002: Cee-Lo releases his first solo album, the acclaimed Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections.

June 2002: Khujo is involved in a car accident that results in the loss of his lower leg.

Cee-Lo: Goodie Mob toured with the Fugees and Lauryn [Hill] was always a kindred spirit to me. So she called on me to sing on [“Do You Like the Way,” on Santana’s Supernatural album]. The Santana project empowered me. It’s the first time I’d ever sung a full-fledged vocal. It was empowering in monetary terms as well. But in just being a part of something so phenomenal as that album, it did have a great effect on me.

Gipp: After he came back from doing the Santana thing, I knew there was no turning back. Because of the acceptance he got from being part of such a great album. He was around a lot of people who had broke ground. We started doing shows, and he starting calling saying he’s not coming out for the shows.

Cee-Lo: My first solo album represents liberation. A very exciting and challenging time, to take the reins of an entire album. It’s not disconnected from Goodie Mob; it’s a continuation of the same revolutionary spirit we always have reveled in.

Khujo: I was leaving from the Dungeon; it was probably about 4 in the morning. Lots of people fall asleep at the wheel, but I guess it was just my time. Folks came through to say what’s up to me, and then everybody went about their business. Everybody making records, making bread, so I had to heal on up and get back with it. Dre came down [to the hospital] and gave me a bass guitar, trying to keep my mind off what I was going through. That was greatly appreciated. And Big came down, so I felt love. Cee-Lo came through too. After that, I haven’t heard nothing else from him. At the time, L.A. Reid wanted to know what would it take for us to get back in the studio together. But Cee-Lo declined; he didn’t want to do it.

Gipp: When this shit started, Cee-Lo was 17. We damn-near raised this kid. So to a certain degree, it’s about respect. When you have something as tragic as a car accident happen to a man [Khujo] who was out here trying to feed his family, because his brother [Cee-Lo] decided he didn’t want to tour anymore, it’s like your own group member tearing down what you gave all your sweat and love into.

Cee-Lo: My separation from the group was not intended to be permanent. It was agreed that we venture out for solo endeavors to make the net worth of Goodie Mob more viable. But I’ve been depicted as some cutthroat individual who left the guys out to dry. None of us are getting any younger. So it was about attaining stability, being as I had a son on the way and a mortgage and a wife and a whole family.

Khujo: I didn’t know Goodie Mob was dropped from Arista until late last year, when we started working on a new Goodie Mob record. They had put it in a magazine. I was like, “For real? Shit.” I was just naive. Cee-Lo didn’t really want to fuck with us. So we started solidifying the Goodie Mob Records deal [with Koch].

Gipp: The name [of the forthcoming Goodie Mob album, without Cee-Lo] is One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show. It’s not against him. But motherfuckers are not going to tell us Goodie Mob are not going to be, because Cee-Lo’s not in the group. My man Khujo got his leg amputated and he’s still out there on stage yelling Goodie Mob. That’s real.

September 2003: OutKast’s sixth album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, arrives this week.

Big Boi: After Stankonia, we were working on our solo albums and an OutKast record. But then we realized both our records are OutKast records, so we’d just give them two sides of it.

Andre: I had been doing songs at home, and I wanted to make a departure from the same OutKast thing. I was writing a lot of melodic songs; I hadn’t written raps in so long, and I started seeing a theme come along with these songs. So I said maybe it would be cool if I put out this singing album. And I wanted to make a movie. I told Big Boi about these plans. I had him and my manager on the phone, and they didn’t think it was a good time because the record company would be expecting to cash in on the next OutKast album. We had just won Grammys, after “Ms. Jackson” and “The Whole World.” That’s when I had to put the movie on hold and we decided to make the double album.

Mr. DJ: I worked with Big on four tracks on his side of the record. Most of the time, Dre was in L.A. Earthtone III expired a year ago. Dre decided we should probably have our own production companies. He said he kind of wanted to do his own thing and we should all have our own entities.

Andre: I’m pretty much focusing on playing the background, producing and writing for people. I’m campaigning to branch out, do other music, start a band, do movies. I’m living in California now, but I think I want to move to New York. Seems like good energy there. But this is definitely not the last album.

Big Boi: The biggest thing that’s changed is that we’re not in the same place at the same time. But we both learned how to write, produce, do the melodic funk thing together. So we can trust each other to come correct. With this album, it’s about saying you’ve got Big Boi and Andre3000 — just get more acquainted with the members of the group. And we got the next three records planned out. The next record will be the soundtrack to the movie we’re doing for HBO. After that, I can’t tell you because it’s top secret. And the one after that we’ve got sewed up, too. You’re gonna get some more OutKast records.

Other Dungeon Family projects in the works: Rico Wade’s new group, Da Connect, featuring “DF second generation” rappers, and a Sleepy Brown solo album, both to be released on DreamWorks Records. Ray Murray is working on the Dungeon East (his studio) compilation. Goodie Mob (minus Cee-Lo) has a new record on its own Goodie Mob Records coming late this year. Khujo and Cee-Lo have solo albums on the way as well. In addition, Big Boi and Sleepy have launched a project called West Savannah.

Big Boi: We lived in the same house together. We scraped up money together to go buy one plate of the spaghetti special at the Citgo. All of us would eat off one plate — I’m talking about cutting the meatballs in half. So when you kick and scratch, and put blood, sweat and tears in one house, that keeps people together.

Cee-Lo: I won’t say it’s the same. We’re not kids who can sit around for hours watching TV and playing PlayStation. But Dungeon Family is tattooed in my left forearm; it’s in my skin permanently. You move on and you hold on, and you try to meet halfway.

(Additional reporting by Tony Ware)