Butta-Knife Love


One need look no further than the title of OutKast’s 1994 debut to see the influence of Isaac Hayes on Atlanta’s Dungeon Family (OutKast, Goodie Mob, Witchdoctor, et al.). ‘Kast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was an obvious nod to spreading Hayes’s “Hyperbolicsyllabicesquedalymistic” from his Hot Buttered Soul. It was all there in the music theory: the spiny bass intros, elongated instrumental segments, slumped-out rhythm sections. But the sound of Organized Noize Productions, the DF’s musical triumvirate of Rico Wade, Pat “Sleepy” Brown, and Ray Murray, has always been closer to that of their neighbor Curtis Mayfield than any thing else.

Which isn’t to say that they have a “sound,” per se—you’d be hard-pressed to find a unifying thread in their output. OutKast’s “Return of the ‘G,”‘ Goodie Mob’s “Cell Therapy,” En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go,” and TLC’s “Waterfalls” quickly come to mind as four songs that could not be blended together, even by a disc jock as inept as Funkmaster Flex. See, like Shaft, dem boys dere got demselves a theme; what us uppity folk call ethos. Their guiding belief is simple: Make some new shit, make some next shit, make some good shit, and make it all at once.

After sitting out for all but four selections of OutKast’s shamelessly adventurous Aquemini, ONP return with a vengeance on Dungeon stalwart Cool Breeze’s debut, East Points Greatest Hit. “‘Cause all we do is stack, stack/And organize this noise and everybody know that,” Breeze (a/k/a Freddie Calhoun) raps on “Good, Good.” “Plus we testin’ out this new sound/Everybody done put it down/So now we breakin’ up some new ground.” If ONP evolved and re birthed G-funk at its apex with South ernplayalistic, they invert it on “Good, Good.” The synths hum low and far away, almost an afterthought, while nimble Transformer-like scratches make their way throughout. Those damned scratches come back to carry on a conversation with a guitar twang in “E.P.G.H.,” produced by OutKast’s Mr. DJ. On both songs, basslines play counterpoint to the action, sorta like moving to the far side of the bed when that 10 p.m. booty call you wished had hopped in a cab around 2 a.m. decides to spend the night.

Then there are tracks that bear little semblance to anything put underneath nigga vocalization before. “Ghetto Camelot” features medieval horns battling a trombone solo, some thing that warbles like a lava lamp after a couple ‘shrooms chased by a handful of speed. The bassline on “Cre-A-Tine” hits the gut like the Loch Ness monster humming her young to sleep. Here, narration is sup plied by an automaton whose sole purpose is to repeat “I got people,” while Breeze runs down a litany of urban archetypes: “I got people who make dirty money/…with taps on they phone/…who don’t wear gold/…that don’t do shows/…who don’t bust flows/…they bust fo’ty-fo’s.” To paraphrase Phife Dawg, it’s not only the lyrics that Cool Breeze writes, it’s his delivery. He maximizes each syllable, drops small dollops of Southern smoothness into ordinary clauses, and has the ability to agitate nonchalantly, like a made man in an Elmore Leonard novel.

Never have all the members in one crew been so diverse: Breeze is not interested in the intergalactic-spirituality-meets-jism-in-your-mouth philosophies of OutKast, Goodie’s nationalist boogie, or Witchdoctor’s faux hoodoo. He’s the guy who originated the term “Dirty South,” and the Atlanta he’s representin’ isn’t the south west S.W.A.T.s but East Point, where the locals apparently spend all day payin’ homage to the Calhoun family and feasting on College Parkay and other g.r.i.t.s.—the butta girls from College Park and girls raised in the South. And, though there’s a Hannibal Lector–like twinge coming from equating sex with “cuttin’up,” lines like “I’ma still chop and dice you up like we were at the Waffle House” are harmless nut-clutching bravado.

The blaxploitation lick comes full circle on “We Get It Crunk” and “Hit man”—tracks so groovalusciouslyth umpedoutlaidbackstyle that Hayes may hang up his chef’s hat and apron, stop singing to white women, and track down these younguns with now day gangsta-leanin’–type soul. The amped-up Dungeon jamboree “Watch for the Hook” chops up Neil Young’s “Southern Man” into adrenaline like Redman dicing Just-Ice’s “Cold Get tin’ Dumb”—chords attack hard and quick like karate cuts, then fold out into a short tune, only to ante up for more abuse. It’s the big beat of the ’80s for ’90s niggas who have been there, done that, and find it hard to get excited about anything, the antithesis of sleek and chic party jams where you can bust a move without breaking a sweat—what drum ‘n’ bass would do if it were interested in jump-starting brain waves instead of beating them into submission. This is how they do it in the South: Like all of East Points Greatest Hit, fitting theme music for cool cuttas and bad mutha shut-your-mouths alike.