Rico Wade is still in it to win it. The Atlanta music scene has many founding fathers, but none loom larger than the man whose basement studio, aka “The Dungeon,” became the musical petri dish that cultivated the Organized Noize production team (along with Ray Murray and Sleepy Brown) and the Dungeon Family (Outkast, Goodie Mob, and a plethora of lesser known but profoundly influential Atlanta hip hop and soul acts) is still making music and cultivating new talent. Quiet as it’s kept, Wade’s cousin Future honed his skills in the Dungeon during the late ‘90s. These days, Rico is focused on developing a young artist named Yakki Divioshi, whose song “D.R.A.K.E.” premiered on Mass Appeal and has gone on to generate serious buzz in the ATL streets. To hear Rico tell it, that’s just the beginning— and Rico’s not a bad judge of talent. But don’t take our word for it, let the man speak for himself…
Mass Appeal: We were proud to be the ones to debut Yakki’s “D.R.A.K.E.” record. It seems like Yakki just kind of came out of nowhere.
Rico Wade: Yakki’s been that dude for a minute. His songwriting ability, his ability with melody— he’s been strong. I’m just happy that his manager, Propane, is getting him with the right kind of beats. That’s all it be sometimes. Those 808s just fill up the speakers and give him room to let his melodies flow. I’m glad everybody like the “D.R.A.K.E.” record, cause that’s a raw record. It’s a great record, but I think you have to start somewhere. And he got a lot more too.
One thing about this whole scene, people ask me about the Atlanta scene sometimes like they’re trying to downplay it, saying it’s not what it was when we was doing Outkast… but it’s grown now. ‘Cause it’s a rock and roll vibe. These artists have to build their own touring, they have to make money and create wealth before any label will sign them.
Look at Future: Before the labels knew who he was, Future was already getting $7,500 a show. This is what real rock bands do. They gotta be touring and stuff before they can try to even think about working with a label or a distributor.
MA: These days it’s all about that grassroots grind. But where did Yakki come from? What’s his story? We heard he’s down with Young Thug’s YSL Crew now, but what’s his background?
RW: Yakki is a real West Side dude. Him and Johnny Cinco was in a group together out of high school, the Hella Coppa Boys. I met ’em when they was like 16, 17. They had some great records then. I wanted to sign them then. It was a younger vibe though.
Roscoe Dash, Travis Porter, all them cats kinda like know each other. They was blowing up because of that high school scene. They was doing high school shows and stuff. That’s where all of them was coming from.
HC it was the “Hella Copper” boys or whatever. But not like a plane or a helicopter. That’s what I always thought. But let them explain it, they say “Naw, man, we ‘Hella Coppers’ we cop hella shit.” Like the fly kids. I was ready to change it. They said, “Naw Reek, we hella coppers.” I always knew that they were authentic, as far as the young generation. And they had a bunch of views on songs. They had a song called “Barbie Girl.” I love those records and that’s what got me into them. I’m proud of them cause they persevered. I always told ‘em, “We need some more songs.”
But you know it’s a generation gap. I’m 42 years old. He’s like 21, 22. But I know it when I see it. I saw it with Future before Future blew up.
I put Yakki with Future before Future even had his first mix CD. Or he might have did his Future 1000. I called my cousin like, “Ay man you need to check out these boys.” ‘Cause they were using Auto-Tune as well. [Future] had just did it with a song called “Notice Me” that not many people heard. But I got them together and they went and did a song called “Ask Ya Hoe Bout Me.” It didn’t really take off, but the fact that Future acknowledged them… And Will A Fool too, who was doing some production at that time. They followed up and they got together. I won’t say they all friends, but they knew each other.
Regardless of the fact that it wasn’t like it was my song. I just put them together. And the seed that you plant, it will eventually grow. And I just love the fact that even with them knowing me, they didn’t get discouraged ’cause I didn’t go get them a deal. They knew I believed in them, but I also knew that it was gonna have to go a certain route. You really gotta build it on your own. And it ain’t just about getting dope boy money and thrown it in the club. Come up with some great records, and go to these small little towns. Those are the very things that build an artist.
MA: A lot of people don’t realize that Future was Dungeon affiliated.
RW: Yeah, and you know he didn’t start saying it until the pressure got on. When he started getting on the radio stations and they’re like, “Where did you come from?” and he was like, “Oh, my cousin Rico Wade. I lived at The Dungeon.” He wasn’t there early on, like ’93, ’94, ’95, but by ’98,’99— he was around in the time where the money was already there but the work ethic was still going on. He was there when we got money but we still go to the studio every day. That’s what life was about. I got money so I buy some more equipment to add to your stuff.
He got a chance to learn that we love music. We respect music. We do everything you can to push music forward. One thing when we first came out we helped hip hop grow. And to me that’s our respnsibility. You cant just make money from this and not be held accountable. You don’t just get your money and run off— you give back. With great music and not being scared to be daring. Like not just doing what everybody does. ‘Cause now people watching you. Do something great to build people’s interest.
To me that’s what Future did to a certain degree with melody. He was at my house when I was working on Ludacris and he wrote one of the hooks. He was at my house when I was doing singing songs, he understood verse, hook, bridge, change. Different dynamics you can use to make the song not get boring. And I’m proud of him for doing that. That’s what he applied. Yakki got that same knowledge. cause he was around me and he listens. I still eat off royalties of “Waterfalls.” But the knowledge is way more expensive.
MA: How has the game changed since that time?
One thing I say about this whole generation of music: They don’t have the A&R and the marketing that we have, but with the Internet and the social networking, they have the opportunity to build a fan base that won’t just abandon you if you put out a record that ain’t jamming.
Now, if a record label throw a single out and it don’t stick your career ain’t over. Some artists’ careers are based on that. As soon as you put out a record that ain’t hot, the label’s done with you. It’s great to have been doing stuff with your peers and have those affiliations with certain people as well. Cause that shows admiration. That shows respect.
But I always thought Yakki was outta here. I was quietly gonna put him with Future to help him with those hooks. ‘Cause he can actually sing a bit. He can hold a note a little bit better. And he’s from the hood. He knows struggle. He knows pain. He knows not having no bed to sleep. Not that that’s positive, but to me that always sell. There’s more people going through something than there is people that’s rich. [Laughs]
MA: Does that hunger help an artist succeed?
RW: As long as they know they can’t just jump to the moon. That’s one thing with this younger generation. They putting this music out so quick they got the fans spoiled. Even me. I’m playing catch up now ’cause I understand it’s not about holding onto music. Go on and let em out..
It’s our 20-year anniversary with Outkast. This big Dungeon Family reunion they having in Septemeber here in Atlanta, I wanna do something called “The Art of Organized Noize.” We gonna do 10 instrumentals, and take 10 songs people never heard. I got unreleased Wiz Khalifa, Andre 3000 solo, Goodie Mob, stuff from back in the day from The Dungeon Vaults. I wanna just give em away. Because that’s what this generation is into. Your fans will pay you now with t-shirts and concerts. They actually come out and support. It ain’t so much the record sales anymore. You gotta make em a fan. They’ll be right there.
Travis Porter did it very well and they just got a little big-headed, or whoever their manager was, trying to get too much. They had all the high school girls. They had a following. But they wasn’t old enough to be no hood Atlanta dudes yet. You popular in high school but you aint popular in all the streets in all the clubs in all the hoods. That’s where you gotta be a little humble. You gotta come up with some more bangers.
Future put out Future 1000, No Mercy, and then he put out Dirty Sprite. And then people started calling me about him and by the time he put out True Story then I had him in L.A. Reid office. I had Jimmy Iovine and them. And by that time everybody’s talking about him over there. But that’s like 30 songs. And some of those songs to this very day are better than songs that’s on his album. So my logic is that us as executives now, we gotta figure out a way to make it all connect. One thing I can say, it gives these artists longevity.
Same thing with Yakki. You gotta have a resume. You gotta have a little history. And I gotta give it up for Yakki. This kid paid dues. And it’s not over. He just got a record out now with his name on it that’s starting to buzz, so now he gotta do 10 more records. The same way Future did. And that’s what I’m investing into. That’s what I believe in is an artist who don’t believe one song gonna change your life or two songs gonna change your life or three songs gonna change your life. It’s gonna take forever. You gotta come up with songs forever.
MA: Is that what made Outkast so successful?
RW: It’s Outkast’s 20-year anniversary and they still relevant. I’m sitting here right now waiting for us to go to the studio and finish this last Outkast album. After that I’ll probably retire [Laughs]. OutKast do one more album, the kind of money that I’ll make on that album, I’ll be happy. I might not have to work anymore.
I’ll be happy but I think there’s a reason why… I’m important cause I am Atlanta. I think they got a lot of respect for me. Somebody gotta tell ‘em the truth. ‘Cause a lot of ’em got big heads. Everybody want a million dollars. “Give me a million dollars. Give me two million dollars. Gimme this.” Well, it’s a lot of work that comes with that, and it’s a lot of structure. And you have to be willing to listen.
That’s one thing I can say about Yakki. He gets that. That’s why I believe in him too. Yes, we want to get to it. And it’s going to be continual work. The work ain’t gonna stop when you get one single popping, or even two or three singles poppin. You gotta be willing to give to get help. It can’t be always about money. Some places you need to go in order for you to make money tomorrow.
Outkast did promo shows up until their fourth album. They would go to certain markets. Regardless if they was getting money someplace else, they still paid their respects and did certain stuff and certain radio shows. That’s the game. Otherwise it’s like a one-hit market. And those are the artists that disappear as soon as their record disappear.
I truly believe it’s about creating your fan base, getting your own touring going, and moving cautiously, ’cause you wanna keep the ignorance down to a minimum. Because at the end of the day that crunk music it attracts crunk people.
I ain’t gonna be in the streets like that. I got kids now. But it’s important that you out here really networking and you really doing it the right way. Not just goin to the shake club and throwning money up. That’s messin the game up. You can tip someone but not in the BMF way. If you see dancers in there you tip somebody. And that goes to the DJs, the promoters, they all eat off this music industry. The more we give the more we can get.