Now, two decades later, Brown is embarking on a solo venture, headed up by his own 13 Black label. (“I’m betting all on 13 Black, everything on this label!” he jokes about the name.) Having made the switch from Atlanta to Las Vegas, the first fruits of the label will emerge next month when his own solo album, titled Sex, Drugs & Soul, is released; it’s a project Brown says is meant to act as a soulful soundtrack for “Chilling out after the club, like late night music.” So ahead of Brown’s album, Hive got the singer to look back on producing under the eye of Pebbles, the time Ice Cube sampled his father’s band, and the day Busta Rhymes hipped the Dungeon Family to a conspiracy theory book that would change the sound of the debut Outkast and Goodie Mob albums.
Can you remember the very first time you produced a song?
The very first song I produced by myself was kinda funny: I kinda made a bet with myself that if I could remake the Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets” over by myself then I could consider myself a producer. My dad was in music — he was in a group called Brick — and watching him grow up, that was my inspiration. I never really had a music lesson; I couldn’t tell you a chord, but my grandmother told me certain things. I was taught by my family. I was 17, 18-years-old when I did “Between the Sheets.” I played each part: The chords, the bass line, I did the beat. I just wanted to see if I could make it just like it sounded. I had to have something to challenge myself to do. Once I did that, it kinda gave me confidence.
What did you use to produce the song?
I used to walk around with a Casio keyboard and a drum machine and a four-track recorder. So that was like my little studio.
What was the hardest part of “Between the Sheets” to recreate?
The bridge. But once I had that, it was on and poppin’.
You mentioned your dad’s band, Brick. Lots of hip-hop artists have sampled them, right?
Oh, yeah, like Kid ’N’ Play sampled him, and I remember when Ice Cube sampled dad [for “No Vaseline”]. That, for me, was a classic. When [Ice Cube] sampled dad I had the biggest smile on my face. Everybody sampled Brick, and every time they were sampled I would call my dad.
How did your dad feel about rappers sampling his music?
He loved it. It kept Brick alive. To this day, my dad is still on tour and that’s because of sampling. Until it’s been sampled, a lot of people have never heard the music. I’ve seen that happen myself.
Have you ever played around with sampling Brick yourself?
I actually have. It was a couple of songs, but they never came out. Everybody used the “Dazz” song, so I didn’t know if I wanted to sample that, so I looked into the other records he had done.
So what was the first official production you were part of? Was it the TLC Christmas song?
Oh, yeah, so it was. That was the first, I’d say, that I produced, TLC’s “Sleigh Ride.” That was a nervous day for me ’cause I remember [TLC’s manager] Pebbles wanted us to do the record and we had the whole night to put the record together. So we went home and put the record together and everybody was like, “Cool.” Then we went to the studio and she did not like it at all! She was like, “You have to do something right now, make the song again.” I was super nervous — I had to walk outside, take a breath. Me and Ray started doing a beat and we played a baseline and we got the song. It was the best but the worst day, ’cause I had to produce in front of my boss on the spot.
It must have been a valuable learning experience, though.
Yeah, trust me, if you gotta build something right there and they don’t like it, why, that’s a hell of a test.
How did that opportunity to produce for TLC come about?
It came about ’cause we all were friends with T-Boz from TLC; we went to the same skate ring. She always knew we did music. I don’t have it any more, but way back in the day I got songs from me and T-Boz just producing stuff from that equipment I told you about. When T-Boz got a break to be in TLC, she told Pebbles about us. We had a meeting with Pebbles the next day. We were just staring out, but she took us under her wing, introduced us to L.A. Reid, and that’s how it jumped off, because of T-Boz.
Were there any other producers you looked up to at the time?
The Bomb Squad was like my idols, dog. What they was doing with the first Ice Cube album, the Public Enemy stuff, Leaders Of The New School – it was just all that different stuff and it was incredible. The way they’d take samples and make totally different songs, they were like my heroes! Me and Ray used to sit around listening to their music in awe, trying to work it out. And still to this day I’m impressed by how they took little one second samples from songs and made them into all the same tune, like they would mix together perfectly. I don’t know how they did that. Normally when you sample something it’s just one sample, one note, or maybe a voice, but never another record! It’s insane how they do that. If you listen to the first song on [Ice Cube’s] AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, it’s insane how they did that.
Did you try and imitate the Bomb Squad sound on any of your early productions?
[Organized Noize] were doing a rap group called Parental Advisory with LaFace Records. They were on Pebbles’s record label … and they didn’t want to pay to sample things but we wanted to just get a bunch of noise and different sounds. So if you listen to Parental Advisory’s album [Ghetto Street Funk], dude, that album is just us playing all the sounds that we came up with and smashing them together. It’s totally weird; it’s dope. So that record, honestly, came from like trying to make a Bomb Squad style album.
What was the Atlanta hip-hop scene like at the time? Were you guys involved with artists like Y’All So Stupid, who were signed to Dallas Austin’s Rowdy Records?
Well at the time it wasn’t an Atlanta scene that much. Hip-hop was more north, it wasn’t Atlanta yet. It was cool, but our own thing with Outkast was to call out different spots in Atlanta, ’cause that’s what New York and Los Angeles was doing, just calling out where they was from. At that time, hip-hop was, I don’t know … in Atlanta it was New York, that’s what it was, a New York kinda thing in the Y’All So Stupid days. It was a New York kind of rap group.
So what was the moment when you felt like you really created a signature sound for Atlanta hip-hop?
There are a lot of songs that didn’t come out that we did with Outkast; there’s some stuff that’s in a vault that never came out. But when we did “Player’s Ball,” that kinda let me know that we was on to something. Once we did that the door was opened up to exactly what each one of us brings to Organized Noize. Where we went with the album [Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik], it’s so Organized, so Dungeon Family. We had that sound for it.
What do you remember about those first studio sessions with Outkast?
It was just a bunch of us in the studio, we slept there and everything. We got there and put our ideas together: That album was everybody, not just Outkast, not just Organized Noize, it was Big Rube, it was everyone. That’s probably one of the best experiences of my life ’cause everybody was hungry. And we were just trying to represent the A. We just wanted to do the best album that represented our city. For some reason at that time New York did not respect anything coming out, like we could not get play. Our idea was we wanted to get respect. We wanted to walk in as the A-Town boys. We didn’t want to be looked over. So that was our mindset. So we just made sure that every song on that album was really special.
Can you remember the first New York artists that did give you respect for your music?
Busta Rhymes. We were working at Dallas Austin’s studio and we always used to see him. Actually, he was the one that introduced us to the book Behold a Pale Horse [by Milton William Cooper], about the New World Order. He was the one that told us and Outkast and Goodie Mob about that book and that’s the reason why [Goodie Mob’s] Soul Food was what it was. That’s ’cause we read that book. If you listen to Soul Food, yes sir, that’s that book. At the time when Busta came in the studio, we was finishing up Outkast’s album doing a record called “Deep.” He came in like, “Yo, have you read this shit? It’s crazy! Read this book!” It set a whole new mind-frame to that album for Goodie Mob.
What was the direction of Soul Food before Busta told you all about that book?
Soul Food was just what it said — food for your soul, down home goodness. It was what was going on in the south at the time. It kinda turned into another level when we got that book.
You’ve worked with a lot of hip-hop artists throughout your career. Which one has impressed you the most in the studio?
I like working with Ludacris a lot. He’s just professional and quick; he gets it, he gets it done. He’s the best. And Pharrell, man, that was dope for real. Really just getting a chance to work with him, you see the man is just insane. He had a studio booked out, he had all the rooms taken, and he’d skateboard to each room to work with each artist, all overlapping. He’s insane with it, definitely insane with it. That was special.