In March 2016, Netflix debuted The Art of Organized Noize, a thrilling documentary that chronicled the beginnings and rise of the legendary Atlanta musical collective of Rico Wade, Ray Murray and Sleepy Brown—Organized Noize Productions—that brought us Outkast, Goodie Mob, the Dungeon Family, and several musical productions that set the standard for the South and changed the way we listened to music.
While Atlanta had several artists making noise locally before ONP, when Outkast went national with “Player’s Ball” in 1994, well, everything changed. Platinum albums, placements on some of the biggest albums ever (ONP produced TLC’s “Waterfalls”) and albums from the collective cemented their place in music history. The documentary was a worthy review of their legacy, and one that deserved every minute of the doc.
Because it was a documentary and focused largely on the group’s rise and major successes, left out were the many lesser-known projects ONP was known for. For instance, (EJ the) Witchdoctor was mentioned briefly, and he had a HUGE hit in Atlanta with “Holiday.” Similarly, groups like P.A. (Parental Advisory), and artists like Backbone, all had hits via ONP. Even the group Mista’s biggest song, “Blackberry Molasses,” was an Organized Noize production. Organized Noize was instrumental in helping to craft the sound of the Dirty South and of Atlanta in particular, long before Atlanta dominated the game.
One such song that was omitted from the documentary but was one of ONP’s finest works of art is Lil Will’s 1998 single “Lookin’ for Nikki,” an homage of sorts to the famous strip club Club Nikki’s on what was then Stewart Avenue (now Metropolitan Parkway) in the Southwest quadrant of Atlanta.
One of my favorite lines in the documentary is when Rico Wade is talking about how songs that don’t follow radio formats would have tons of movement and you’d be listening, and three minutes into the song, everything would change, to which Rico said, “ .... AND THEN THE SHITS GETS BEAUTIFUL!”
That is the ONLY way to describe “Lookin’ for Nikki”—between the perfect bass line, the rhythm guitar and Lil Will’s vocals, it’s a song perfectly built for the strip club and riding down the street. The song opens up with Dungeon Family rapper Cool Breeze shouting out several of Atlanta’s famous venues: from Charles Disco, a now-closed famous club on the former Simpson Road; to Decatur, College Park, Southwest, Old Nat’l (Old National Highway in College Park), and even his crew of Headland Hustlers from East Point.
If you came of age or spent any time in Atlanta in the mid- to late ’90s, there are certain things you have a supremely nostalgic feeling about: Club 559, 112, Esso’s, Freaknik, Club Nikki’s, North Avenue IHOP, Kaya ... I’m almost tearing up thinking about it. “Lookin’ for Nikki” is one of those songs that represented the soundtrack to so many of our lives in Atlanta during that time. Whether you lived on Martin Luther King Boulevard (like I did), stayed in Austell, Stone Mountain, Buckhead, Smyrna, Jonesboro, Lithonia or the West End, “Lookin’ for Nikki” was part of that experience. When V-103 or Hot 97.5 (now 107.9) played this song, we all sang along like our lives depended on it.
Plus, it was perfect as a group collabo. One person could sing Lil Will’s leads. Another could handle the backgrounds during the hook, and the MOST important job was left to whoever had to hit the “Y’all ain’t ready, y’all ain’t ready.”
Organized Noize laced Lil Will with one of their finest productions, even if it never made it outside of Atlanta. While the production that they provided groups like Outkast and Goodie Mob was hip-hop and emotively addressed the styles and nuances of the individual groups, “Lookin’ for Nikki” was indisputably Atlanta. It sits in the same lane as Da Organization’s “Can’t Stop No Playa” (with all the requisite shoutouts to my side of town, in particular the Flatlands and Adamsville) and A-Town Players’ “Playa Can’t You See,” among others. Songs like Ghosttown DJs’ “My Boo” and K.P. & Envyi’s “Shawty Swing My Way” went national with the Atlanta sound, which eventually just became the national sound (fight me, bro), but those songs that stayed hyperlocal really set the standard for Atlanta and rearranged the lead early on.
I have no idea what Lil Will is up to nowadays, and I don’t know that he had any other songs of note aside from doing backing vocals for other ONP artists. A YouTube search turns up way too many artists named Lil Will (not surprisingly), and most of them aren’t my fellow ATLien.
While the song itself never blew up outside of Atlanta or, maybe, regionally beyond Georgia, Alabama and maaaaaybe parts of South Carolina (as far as I know), for those of us fortunate to be part of the Atlanta of the mid- to late ’90s that solidified its standing as a musical powerhouse and cultural influence, Lil Will and “Lookin’ for Nikki” will remain part of that experience.
If anybody ever asks me what Atlanta is like, I largely tell them that I have no idea. While it is a city that I consider home for many reasons—the way I feel when I’m in Atlanta driving down MLK, heading to my grandmother’s house, is a feeling unlike anything else that I can tie to a location; I feel pure—I’m so far removed from it that I actually got LOST on a recent trip, which had me flummoxed—and I don’t get flummoxed. (And as far as I know, this is the first time I’ve ever actually used that word in a sentence.) But what I do tell folks is that if you want to know what Atlanta was like when I was there, pull up “Lookin’ for Nikki” and feel the energy and slow roll of excitement. It’s smooth but ready for anything.
Y’all ain’t ready. Y’all ain’t ready.