Live from the center of the earth
Seven light years below sea level we go
Welcome to Stankonia the place from which all funky things come
Would you like to come?
— "Intro," Stankonia (2000)
A tour of Stankonia with Mr. DJ is like weaving your way through a hip-hop frat house. From the outside, the industrial complex and former home of Bobby Brown's Bosstown Recording Studios on Antone Street doesn't look like much. But Mr. DJ remembers that particular street as "studio row."
I'm told that beyond the lobby, bar, and dance performance spaces is where the real "magic" happens. At this particular moment, Mr. DJ is more into explaining the stories behind each individual room. There's the B-Room, aka "the spaceship," where most of ATLiens, Aquemini, and Stankonia were recorded. Final mixes happened in the A-Room, including Stankonia. Each room carries a different smell. Mr. DJ's corner, aka "the honey hole," smells like Kush, EVOL liquor, and Black & Milds.
Rico Wade's cousin, Mr. DJ started off as the man on the ones and twos for OutKast. He gained production chops on ATLiens and Aquemini. With Big Boi's push, the two rappers and their DJ formed Earthtone III, a production collective modeled after their Dungeon Family mentors Organized Noize.
Before Earthtone III moved into the studio, Mr. DJ and OutKast had been using the word "Stankonia." The first mention came from Andre. "We used to say music is funky," Mr. DJ says. "Dre was always good at being ahead of the curve a little bit so it went from 'funky' to 'stank.'" Once the move-in was official, renaming Bosstown Stankonia was a no-brainer.
Earthtone III went from boys to men coming together to record what some fans argue is the most complete OutKast album of all time, Aquemini. Featuring lead singles "Rosa Parks," "Skew it on the Bar-B," and "Da Art of Storytellin' (Part 1)," Aquemini marked the growth of Mr. DJ and OutKast both as musicians and people.
"Big's aunt died, she was like his mother," he says. "We were having kids. We were turning into adults, had adult problems. Not that all the albums weren't real truthful, but that was a real album."
Stankonia followed Aquemini and would be the last project Earthtone III recorded as a trio. Each artist was at his creative max, Mr. DJ says.
Stankonia sparks Mr. DJ's last great OutKast recording memory. It involved a brotherly disagreement over "B.O.B.," a song they almost left off the album entirely. The creative difference stemmed from Andre adding a funked-out synth effect over the bassline in the song's final moments.
"Me and Big, we looked at each other like, 'Man what the fuck is this nigga doing? We looked at him like, 'Nah man that doesn't sound good,'" Mr. DJ says. "Long story short, the effect stayed."
At that point, "Everyone wanted to express themselves differently and be credited for everything that they did as well, so we decided it would be best if everybody had their own production company," he says.
2003's diamond-selling Speakerboxxx/The Love Below found Mr. DJ and Big Boi in Stankonia working on one side, while Andre was in Los Angeles crafting The Love Below. The double-disc, separate-record project won the Grammy for Album of the Year.
While he only produced one track ("Buggface") on 2006's Idlewild, Mr. DJ found his niche with Camp David, his own label and company, as well as working with the likes of Mos Def and Common.
"Stankonia and the name, it's a symbol of Atlanta because we were the first ones to claim Atlanta and make Atlanta be respected on a larger scale," he says. "Stankonia symbolizes that."