This is a story that begins two decades ago. It’s a story of friendship and camaraderie. It’s a story of brotherhood. It’s a story of loyalty. I met these guys on the heels of the success of “The Art of Organized Noize,” a documentary produced by McGhee that recently made its Netflix debut. But the mood was somber. Both Rico Wade and Orlando McGhee were grieving the loss of music industry legend Prince, having barely recovered from the blow that was losing hip hop great Phife of A Tribe Called Quest just a few weeks earlier. Orlando reminisces, “I told my daughter that I saw Purple Rain for the first time at the Rialto.” The photographer takes a moment to lighten the mood and the stories start to swirl around the studio.
Rico Wade is an executive producer and was one of the founders of Organized Noize in the beginning of Atlanta’s Golden Age. To set this scene, remember that twenty-two years ago, Outkast released Southernplayalistic, the soundtrack for the youth of many of us who were raised in the South and others who headed to Atlanta and southern states to attend college in the Centennial Olympic age. Cruising down Peachtree to attend the Black College Spring break was the norm.
Orlando McGhee was a child who grew up in Carver Homes. He bounced between Southwest Atlanta and Southeast Atlanta, the oldest of three boys. He is a graduate of Brown High in the West End of Atlanta. He attended Savannah State and then Hampton University before landing a gig in the as Special Assistant to the Chief Operating Officer for the City under Mayor Bill Campbell. In the meantime, he also worked as an intern in the music industry and met Wade and the Dungeon Family. He did street team work and promos for Organized Noize.
When Rico Wade first started out it was thought that in order to earn the respect of the record label, you had to already have your office together. So that’s what they did at Organized Noize. Nesha Kemp asked Wade if he knew Orlando, one of the hardest workers. “Because she said that, I’ve always felt a certain loyalty from him.”
“Nesha Kemp sent me on an errand to the studio at the house,” says McGhee. It was being around Kemp and learning from Dee Dee Murray Hindler, who showed him the entire game and deal points, and how a budget works, that made all the difference. “I don’t know why she did it.” Perhaps she could see the potential in McGhee that he could not yet see himself. He continued to work for Mayor Campbell through the end of his term and eventually started work on the Attic Crew independent project, working with some guys from Southwest Atlanta when Lil’ Scrappy and Trillville were discovered in the audience at one of the concerts. Orlando managed Lil’ Jon and did product management and managed DJ Drama, DJ Cannon and the Aphilliates. “Eventually I caught the eye of Tom Wiley at Warner Brothers and it took me six months to leave BME because of my loyalty.”
While he was there at Warner Brothers, he worked for seven years with some great artists, including Mike Jones, E-40, Taleb Kweli, TDE with Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar.
“Rico probably doesn’t remember this… We have a friendship along with a business relationship. Jason Brown and myself got together to do some promotion of the history of Organized Noize. Rico was writing a book and we had the idea to make a movie but there’s a lot of money involved there. So that’s how the documentary came about. We said that when we do it, it has to be completely honest. It brought a bond back amongst the guys: Sleepy Brown, Goodie Mob and Outkast. These guys were legends out of Southwest Atlanta and East Point, out of Tri-Cities High School.”
Wade goes on to say, “Orlando was one of the reason’s that my cousin Future got signed. He was on the inside of the record industry and I remember him calling me and saying ‘Congratulations! I heard your cousin just got signed.’ When I called, Future said he hadn’t signed with anyone but rather just took some meetings. When I got back to Orlando, he had a list of people who wanted to set up some meetings with Future.” And the rest, as they say is history. Wade stated that timelines are very important and as he transitions more to the executive or “suited” side of the business, this helped him stay connected to the streets and Future, who is one of the hottest artists out right now.
McGhee is everything there is to love about South Fulton. A Cascade area resident, he spends his weekends coaching T-ball in Ben Hill. He strives to give his children a balance that he never really had, the best of what Atlanta has to offer while staying rooted in the community that made him a successful executive in the music industry. He drives his luxury vehicle to the barbershop in our neighborhood and the kids wonder if he’s a rapper or an athlete. But rather as a business man, he is proud to give children another type of role model. “Southwest Atlanta is one of the most affluent areas in the country for African Americans and all the stars lived here including Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson, Dominique Wilkins, Evander Holyfield, and Hank Aaron,who lived right across the street from Rico Wade’s house. It’s so important to me to live in the community and provide the visual role model for kids just like me that are growing up without much.” It’s the friendship between these guys that has lasted over the decades and provides the ongoing bond that effects our community in a positive way that even changes the current musical landscape for the better.