Straight Outta Stankonia - The Original Dungeon

You’d drop me off by the Dungeon

Never came in but I knew that you were wondering

Now all these niggas in this house up to something

Selling crack, sack by sack, so they could function

W-w-w-w-well yes and no

Yes, we were selling it, but no it wasn’t blow

Cook it in the basement then move it at a show

Then grab the microphone and everybody yelled, “Hoooo!

— “A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete),” Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003)

Technically, Big Boi and Andre never lived at the place known as the Dungeon.

Nestled in Lakewood Heights beyond the confines of the United States Penitentiary, the basement of Rico Wade’s mother’s house functioned as the Dungeon Family’s first studio space. It’s also where the Organized Noize production trio of Wade, Ray Murray, and Sleepy Brown would help develop the sound delivered to the music world by way of OutKast, Goodie Mob, and more.

Rickety stairs lead down to an unfinished basement with dirt floors. In the early ’90s, this was the place of cyphers, writing poetry in notebooks, tinkering with production equipment, and smoking a lot of weed. Speakers were wedged into the walls, and boards and beat machines were more prevalent than furniture. Some nights, folks slept in sleeping bags, only to wake up and create all over again.

“We didn’t care about the neighborhood,” Wade says about the location of the original Dungeon. “We was just caring about what we was doing. ... It was my home, it was the Dungeon.”

There were multiple Dungeons over the years. Mentions in the early to mid-’90s refer to this particular location, whereas later references could mean the mansion Wade bought once money started coming in, Murray’s Dungeon East, or even Bubba Sparxxx’s Suwanee digs he once shared with Dr. Dax and Sleepy Brown known as Dungeon White.

Mary (for privacy, she wouldn’t disclose her last name) lives alone in the space that sits above the original Dungeon. She bought the modest brick home in 2005. For the last nine years, passersby have bombarded her with the same question: “Do you know OutKast used to live here?”

Mary just calls it “the basement.” There are no more speakers or recording equipment, but there’s still a sense of history in the small space. The Dungeon’s former tenants left their marks on the basement ceiling with messages reading “Big Twan” and “Daddy Dre Over Here.” The weathered front-panel of an air conditioning unit displays signatures and artwork from CeeLo and repeated references to “OK,” “P.A.” (Dungeon Family’s first group), a drawing of a blunt with “P. Funk” (Sleepy Brown’s nickname) scribbled above, and the phrase “ALL DAY, AYAN-DAY,” made famous on OutKast’s 1994 debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Hell, even Peaches’ John Hancock is on there.

“People started asking about OutKast or I would see them do things on TV, so I said, let me keep this because it means it was before they were famous,” Mary says about the artifacts she once debated selling before she and her daughter thought better of it. “I said they may want to one day see this.”

According to Mary, not one member of Dungeon Family, OutKast included, has ever come by the house since she’s lived there. She counts me as the second journalist to come knocking, and says if any of the Dungeon Family members come through and laid claim to her finds, she’ll gladly give them up ... for a price.