Goodie Mob – Group That Put Atlanta on Rap’s Map
Depending on who is writing the history book, 1995 was either a great or frustrating time for Goodie Mob. That year the Atlanta foursome released its debut masterpiece, “Soul Food” (LaFace), one of its city’s defining hip-hop documents. The rest of hip-hop, though, was preoccupied with sounds from the coasts. While New York and Los Angeles were slugging it out, Atlanta was building its infrastructure, one that would eventually take over the genre.
So in one way, at least, it was 1995 again at B. B. King Blues Club & Grill on Friday night, when Goodie Mob arrived, following several years of fracture, as part of its reunion tour. Around 1:45 a.m., the 1980s New York hip-hop standout and nostalgia exploiter Slick Rick left the stage after his opening set; with him went about half the crowd.
And just as in 1995, all of those people missed out. Dressed in grays and silvers, with a female D.J. in a reflective tinsel wig and matching unitard, the Goodie Mob — Cee-Lo, Big Gipp, T-Mo and Khujo — were exuberant and comfortable, happily taking their rightful place as oft-overlooked pioneers.
In a set that lasted just over a half-hour, there was an electric, angry “Dirty South,” one of this group’s, and its city’s, crucial anthems. Played back to back, “Soul Food” and “Black Ice (Sky High)” were seductive and misleadingly humble. Cee-Lo’s rubbery wheeze was in fine form on “Goodie Bag” and “In da Wind.” Big Gipp, who rapped so slickly he was almost mumbling, performed his kaleidoscopic verse from the Nelly hit “Grillz”; with his Sgt. Pepper get-up, he was a reminder that Andre 3000 from Outkast isn’t Atlanta’s only style eccentric, or even the first.
Even Goodie Mob’s most banal single, “Get Rich to This,” was grounded by Khujo’s blunt aggression, and on the jagged “Cell Therapy,” T-Mo was virtually manic, in keeping with the song’s flared eyebrow.
Such a compressed set, in time and sound, couldn’t really do the group justice, though. “Soul Food” was a paranoid, creepy, flamboyant and somehow comforting album, one of the first to understand Southern rap as not dependent on what was happening in the rest of the country. (Another Southern innovator, the gothic Houston gangster Scarface, had been scheduled to perform, but didn’t.)
After “Soul Food,” Goodie Mob released another excellent album, “Still Standing,” and a stone-cold clunker, “World Party,” before things began to crumble. Cee-Lo went solo and eventually found success as part of the oddball future-soul outfit Gnarls Barkley. (At B. B. King, Cee-Lo, inevitably, sang Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” — in the dark, for emphasis — but he needn’t have: the crowd of loyalists was there for the pre-Gnarls Cee-Lo.) Goodie Mob’s split was marked by injury — Khujo lost the lower half of his right leg in a 2002 car accident — and animosity: the first post-Cee-Lo album was called “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.”
The foursome is getting along now, but while Goodie Mob was quibbling, Atlanta gave itself over to gangsters, corner boys and dancers. If there was a battle for that city’s soul, Goodie Mob didn’t quite win, leaving it as a group that is respected if not always clamored for. But given that, this show was a resounding success. Not a homecoming, or even a hero’s return, but a reminder of just how lively the margins can be when people have their backs turned.