The corner of Conrad and Lakewood Terrace in Atlanta’s Lakewood Heights neighbourhood is unassuming. There are a few houses with ample yard space, a Boys and Girls club a block up the street and, depending on when you visit, a blanket of dull brown leaves covering the ground. Since the millennium, the house was owned by a woman named Mary who wasn’t aware of the property’s history. As of January 19th of this year, the house and lot are owned by Big Boi, one half of the funky player duo Outkast with Andre 3000. Everyone familiar with that space just calls it The Dungeon.
Well, technically, The Dungeon is the half-finished crawl space that serves as a makeshift basement beneath the floor. It’s also where Outkast recorded their first album, 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, a smoky, carousing introduction that would define their music in the early 1990s. The Dungeon was owned by Rico Wade’s mother at the time—he was one of the three members of production collective Organized Noise (pictured above), with Sleepy Brown and Ray Murray, who soundtracked Outkast’s first three albums—and it served as home base for groups like Goodie Mob and P. A. (Parental Advisory) as well. By all accounts, the Dungeon was humid. “Dank”, as affiliated singer Peaches puts it in the 2016 Netflix documentary on Organized Noise. Other members of what came to be known as The Dungeon Family use words like ‘musty’, ‘dark’, ‘creepy’ and, as Andre says on “Hootie Hoo”, “smoked out always”. This bleeds into the production. You can hear the humidity in the drums, the dust pops off the keyboards when chords cascade across the track and practically smell the weed in the air from the first scratches on tracks like “Ain’t No Thang”.
Peaches open Southern by announcing what to expect over the next hour, “nothing but king shit, all day every day”. The jazz sample and slightly alienized voice mix with the characteristic slang to put forth an image of Atlanta as southern but foreign. You’ve heard the way they speak but this manifestation isn’t what you’ve come to expect. Whereas Outkast’s later work would dive deeper into the experimental and pop threads they’re known for in pop culture, Southern was young, reckless, and stoned because the smoke breaks between the bullshit were the only thing keeping them going before music. On “Myintrotoletuknow” Big Boi talks about the looming stress of rent and Andre chimes in with the danger of summertime in the south. This explains later tracks like “Crumblin Herb” where Sleepy Brown sings the hook, “There’s only so much time left in this crazy world / I’m just crumblin’ herb”.
There’s a balance on the album though. It’s not got high for the sake of getting high. Cee Lo Green on “Git Up Git Out” warns “don’t spend all your time trying to get high” and this just scratches the surface of the critical examinations found here. “Call of Da Wild” is an exploration and destigmatization of mental illness in black men, while Andre 3000 also points out the discrepancy between school funding in predominantly black and white schools in the Atlanta area. “Welcome to Atlanta” points out that at the time the Georgia Dome, where the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons played, was flying a Confederate battle flag. It’s conscious without any of the performance or artifice. They present life in Atlanta as it is. Make some time today to crumble some herb and give Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik a spin.