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To Campbellton like Camelot 

Even in Darkness, the Dungeon Family dreams the impossible dream

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In most versions of the Arthurian legends, the story ends badly. Sir Lancelot, the knight with the most star quality and skills, becomes a rival to King Arthur -- almost by accident, doomed by circumstance. Arthur's wife, Guinevere, falls for Lancelot, and the trouble that ensues leaves Arthur mortally wounded and the Knights of the Round Table destroyed.

"We're all leaders," Murray says, "but relating it to a castle or a kingdom, Goodie Mob are like royal soldiers, the ones who stand closest to God. OutKast are like the emissaries, the ones that go out to spread the word. And everybody else in the Dungeon Family plays different roles. Cool Breeze is on the street, his stuff is raw, unadulterated. His particular leadership is for people who identify with that. We all associate with a million folk and we try to make them leaders, so they can make another million leaders. So we can change the world."

While Organized Noize has enjoyed steady success working with outside artists (TLC, En Vogue, Bubba Sparxxx), they've continued cultivating new acts to carry the Dungeon Family flag. Young second-generation rhymers pop up on records -- including Backbone's debut album earlier this year and the track "Curtains (DF 2nd Generation)" from Even in Darkness. While these MCs, including the reggae-influenced Killer Mike and the Latino rapper Boulevard International, show promise, only Cool Breeze protege Slimm Calhoun has scored his own album and hit song -- through OutKast's recently activated label, Aquemini Records.

Indeed, OutKast has proven to be the branch of the Dungeon Family with the golden touch. With the 1998 album, Aquemini, the duo crossed over into the pop realm with its hit "Rosa Parks," and began to formulate an empire of its own with Aquemini Records and its recording studio, Stankonia. Last year's multi-platinum and critically lauded Stankonia album and "Ms. Jackson" single turned OutKast into major stars, their faces gracing magazines and driving international tours.

Increasingly, Dungeon Family tracks -- including the majority of Stankonia and four of Even in Darkness' 14 tracks -- are actually created at Stankonia by ET3, the production company consisting of Dre, Big Boi and OutKast's DJ David "Mr. DJ" Sheats. Now, as the dynamic Even in Darkness promises to shine light on the family as a whole, Wade acknowledges the possibility that it might get overshadowed by Big Boi & Dre Present OutKast, the group's new greatest hits album, which arrives the first week of December. After all, L.A. Reid's Arista, the label putting out both releases, will need to prioritize its promotional efforts.

Still, it would be inaccurate to characterize the growing disparity between the commercial success of OutKast and its Dungeon peers as a source of tension -- the family remains united, fiercely loyal to each other and almost completely free of openly aired drama.

"People are trying to see who's doing what inside the organization," Murray says, "trying to define the leaks and the cracks and the holes. And you're never going to find that. The tapestry is so fucking interwoven."

But as any sibling can attest, imbalance takes its toll one way or another.

By now, the group of Dungeon Family veterans congregated in the studio control room has grown to include Big Rube and Khujo. Dre and Big Boi might have been here, too, but they had to fly out to L.A. to shoot a video for one of the greatest hits album's three new tracks.

Meanwhile in the lounge, where the group of younger cats has grown as well, the video of OutKast's first hit, "Player's Ball," pops up on BET. Excited, the second-generation MCs crowd around the screen to catch glimpses of their older friends, circa 1994. In the control room, no one moves to catch the video, in which some of them actually appear. As Wade's attention is drawn away by a game of Playstation football, the conversation returns to Camelot.

"Not to sound like we're patting ourselves on the back too much," Rube says, "but just to put it in some extremely short terms, we almost singlehandedly stopped gangbanging in Atlanta." When the Dungeon Family first emerged, he explains, Dr. Dre's The Chronic reigned in the hearts and minds of Atlanta hip-hoppers.

"Young kids were associating the gangbang style with hip-hop," he continues. "Next thing you know you have gangs popping up, like Crips and shit. But when we came out, the young kids had something to look up to that wasn't necessarily gangsta. It was like putting a fire extinguisher on the fire that was starting.

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