Legendary Atlanta hip-hop producer Rico Wade dies at 52

Rico Wade visited the WABE studio as a guest on Closer Look with Rose Scott" to discuss with 50th anniversary of hip-hop on December 8, 2023. (LaShawn Hudson/WABE)

Atlanta hip-hop producer Rico Wade died Saturday at age 52.

Wade was part of the legendary production/songwriting group Organized Noize, along with Ray Murray and Patrick “Sleepy” Brown. The team is credited with creating the so-called “dirty south sound” that defined hip-hop in the early 1990s.

He was also a founding member of the Dungeon Family music collective, which included Atlanta music groups like OutKast and Goodie Mob. The collective was named after Wade’s mother’s East Point basement, where they recorded much of their early music.

Organized Noize also produced R&B hits like TLC’s Grammy-nominated “Waterfalls.”

Rico Wade, Sleepy Brown and Ray Murray after discussing the 50th anniversary of hip-hop on “Closer Look with Rose Scott” on Dec. 8, 2023. (LaSahwn Hudson/WABE)

“We are devastated by the news of the passing of our dear brother Rico Wade,” Organized Noize said in a statement on Saturday. “The world has lost one of the most innovative architects in music, and we have lost an invaluable friend.”

In December 2023, Wade, Brown, and Murray visited the WABE Studio as guests of “Closer Look with Rose Scott” to discuss hip-hop’s 50th anniversary and their undeniable legacy on the genre.

Rico Wade as guest on “Closer Look with Rose Scott.” (LaShawn Hudson/WABE)

During the interview, Scott asked the group if Organized Noize would ever consider doing a legacy project.

“I’m just happy that we got us in the game. Yes, it’s something else I feel like we’re supposed to do,” Wade said.

“Yes, I feel like it’s some more legacy stuff that we’re supposed to do and we are probably gonna do because I can’t say we’re through,” he continued.

“It could be with anybody you imagine because the respect is so great. But at the same time, I do feel like what we’ve done is our legacy because we made a difference — like we really did.” 

Video by LaShawn Hudson

Maurice Hobson is an associate professor of African American Studies at Georgia State University.

“One of the things about OutKast that other artists didn’t use, they used all live instrumentation,” he said. “They used the musicians from S.O.S Band, from Brick. So it was soul and funk with the hip-hop lyrics over it that critiqued the ‘Olympification’ of Atlanta and that’s Rico, that’s Rico.”

In a 2017 interview with “City Lights with Lois Reitzes,” Wade and Brown explained that they couldn’t afford to sample music in the early days of Organized Noize.

“It propelled us to be very honest,” he said.

Wade explains that they would play around with different instruments to find a distinct hip-hop sound.

“So once we start to get into the in-depth part of that, we realized how dynamic our music could possibly be with us incorporating the hip-hop drums. It’s very important. Yes, we use live music, but we didn’t abandon hip-hop… cause we was just learning hip-hop,” he said.

“We was just studying in New York, the drum sounds and how to manipulate kick snares and highs. And we felt like changing drum sounds would make each song its own song. So that’s what kind of helped us, not only you know, have success in the music industry… it made them respect us.”

Rico Wade on finding the sound

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens called Wade a musical genius who “left an indelible mark on music and culture around the world, and for that, the South will always have something to say.”

Atlanta rapper Killer Mike posted an Instagram tribute thanking Wade for accepting him into the Dungeon Family collective and for his mentorship, friendship, and brotherhood.

OutKast posted an image of Rico Wade’s name in block letters with a simple caption, “We love you.”

Wade is survived by a wife, two sons, his mother and a host of siblings.

LaShawn Hudson contributed to this story.