Image via Sleepy Brown/Instagram
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Caleb Catlin wants to live in the reality where Young Dro could’ve and should’ve been one of the best rappers ever.
My granddad was a mack. Every notion that you have about what 70’s R&B and its overall aesthetic appeared like, my granddad was that. I spent years trying to figure out what made him so cool. Was it the buttoned down white silk suits with the shoes to match? Was it the glistening Rolex and the sparkling chain on his chest? Was it the strut in his walk that made him undeniable or the beaming grin that dazzled every man and woman who he met? Granddad did everything to instill his knowledge of The Game to me. He’d always ask me how I was doing with the ‘lil girls at that school.’ In some sense, The Game is nothing more than building bulletproof confidence that makes you irresistibly charming. He fit the part. But as much as I theorized about what made him who he was, he always told me I had to have that soul.
As cliche as it is, granddad was right. No matter how much I’ve fruitlessly interrogated components of soul, I can’t break down its true meaning. You either know it or you don’t. Sleepy Brown knows it better than anyone. The son of the multi-talented Jimmy Brown, lead singer for Soul group Brick, Sleepy was blessed to see his dad perform alongside masters like Cameo and Funkadelic. As a child, he was enamored by the Jackson 5, even role playing as its sixth member, “Patrick Jackson.” But ultimately, the idea of making his dad proud made Sleepy want to pursue music. “It was the love and passion that goes with it,” he says. “I used to see my dad and think I wanna be just like him. My whole career was just me wanting to make my dad proud – that’s my whole career, my purpose.”
The soul Sleepy Brown gleaned from his childhood altered decades of Southern music. But his career took off after a chance encounter with Rico Wade at a beauty salon, after their mutual friend T-Boz of TLC introduced them. Later, he met his other future partner in Organized Noize, Ray Murray at a studio session. With Ray’s mind for sampling and the group’s combined affection for 70’s soul, they crafted music that was tailored for Monte Carlos cruising the Atlanta streets.
By the time Outkast came into the picture, the Dungeon Family vision was already fully realized. Sleepy recalled his first time meeting Andre and Big Boi when speaking with Complex in 2016: “They were different from the beginning because at the time little dudes in high school weren’t rocking bald heads and dressing like that. It immediately caught my eye. Each verse they spit was like 45 minutes a piece, and they kept going back and forth. We were very impressed from the very start.”
Andre 3000 and Big Boi were the perfect storytellers to match Dungeon Family’s distinct vision for Southern music. Their muggy debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is a red clay traditionalist’s perfect album, something of a tour guide for those uninitiated in southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. ATLiens, Aquemini, and Stankonia widened the scope of how the entire region could be considered. It reflected the entire crew’s absorption and embodiment of the funk and the intergalactic soundscapes that had been pioneered by cosmic kings, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and Isaac Hayes. Cadillacs Devilles were their spaceships, strip clubs and the Texacos on every corner offered portals into different dimensions. Big Boi summed up the Aethos best: “Sir Luscious got Gator belts and patty melts and Monte Carlo and El Dorados.”
Of course, there are few acts to rival the importance of Outkast when we think about southern music. Still, the Dungeon Family exists to most as *vaguely gestures* Outkast. You might even get a sprinkle of Goodie Mob if you’re lucky. If Outkast existed as the spokespeople for Atlanta and the South’s greater worth, they needed the proper amplifiers to broadcast what the South is all about. Sleepy Brown was always at the center, the purveyor of cool. He reunited with Big Boi on The Big Sleepover in 2021, welding massive fur coats and Braves hats with alien textures and soundscapes. I spoke with Sleepy about his numerous, fascinating solo ventures, the legends he worked with along the way, and his strong relationship with Big Boi that helped craft The Big Sleepover.