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Influential Atlanta Hip-Hop Producer Rico Wade Dies At 52

Big Boi, Killer Mike and Rico Wade in February 2024 (photo: Prince Williams / WireImage).

Rico Wade, the co-founder of influential Atlanta production team Organized Noise who played an outsized role in the rise of Southern hip-hop, has died at the age of 52. The news was revealed this morning (April 13) by rapper Killer Mike, who wrote on Instagram, “I don’t have the words to express my deep and profound sense of loss.”

In tandem with partners Sleepy Brown and Ray Murray, Wade spent the late ‘90s and early ‘00s in his basement studio, a space affectionately called “the Dungeon.” The crew who hung out there — a tight-knit collective of rappers, producers and engineers known as Dungeon Family — specialized in taking weird, outlier vocalists and making them into something that charmed both classic hip-hop stans and club-goers. Responsible for hits like TLC’s “Waterfalls” and En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go (Love),” and all but discovering Goodie Mob and OutKast (they produced 1994’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik as well as songs from 2000’s Stankonia), Wade’s collective was a keystone of the burgeoning Southern rap community.

More than a decade his senior, Wade was also a mentor to his cousin Nayvadius Cash, who later became known as hip-hop star Future. The artist began hanging around the Dungeon in 2001 when he was a teenager rapping under the name Meathead. Their grandfather encouraged the two cousins to work together, in the hopes that it might keep Future out of trouble. “He was at risk of being in a bad place,” Wade told SPIN in 2014, explaining that as Future grew older, his friends became involved in the illegal activity that was common among teens from the area.

“I took him out of the trap then,” he said of using Future’s early love of rap as a way to get him to spend more time in the Dungeon. “He knew he had to sit in the back and watch. He knew better than to jump in with the grown folks.” It helped that Future was guarded by nature, a quality that, when paired with his cautious curiosity, quickly became an endearing quality to Wade’s crew: “I wanted him to stay away from the drugs, the hood. I told him, ‘Don’t do that no more. Don’t be that kind of person. I don’t want you to get locked up and I think you can make a difference.'”

“They say I named him Future, but I just remember that I kept saying he was the future,” Wade continued. “I had already found OutKast then, I had already found Cee-Lo. But even then, I knew he was special.”