The Smooth and the Gritty
Dig beneath the long shadow the diamond-selling OutKast, beyond the happy-go-lucky Cee Lo you see getting his green on primetime TV; you'll find the true soul of Atlanta's legendary Dungeon Family swirls in the hearts of four men who wore their politics on their sleeves, who'd rather bite back than bite their tongue. "As far as music, we're being leaders. And bigger than that, we being examples for them folk, no matter what colour they are. Sometimes the misfits do win," Big Gipp told Pound magazine ten years ago.
Through car crashes, spoiled record deals and a decade-long breakup to makeup, Goodie Mob have persevered, their paradoxical blend of the church and the gutter, the smooth and the gritty, proving that the message is bigger than the messengers. "If a person feels, like, outside of the group he may be able to garnish more out of this business than he was able to garnish inside of a group, you have to give that artist the opportunity to go do that," Gipp said of Cee Lo's stab at solo stardom. "If you not a fan just because one man's not in the group, or you're questioning the group, then you're not a true fan anyway. When you heard him, you heard the group. He's only one voice out of four people, and I feel that numbers always rule." The numbers are back in ATL's favour with this month's release of Age Against the Machine.
1972 to 1992
All four members of Goodie Mob — Thomas "Cee Lo" Callaway, Cameron "Big Gipp" Gipp, Willie "Khujo" Knighton, Jr., and Robert "T-Mo" Barnett — are born in Atlanta, GA and raised in the Southern Baptist church. Both of Cee Lo's parents are ministers, and the soulful crooning he would later ride to solo fame is evident in his early rap compositions. Cee Lo's father dies in 1976, when the boy is two years old. In 1990, Cee Lo's mother, also a volunteer firefighter, is paralyzed from a car crash. She dies two years later. Her death becomes a defining moment for the singer/rapper, who enters a depression he will later express through song.
"Shy-D, Raheem the Dream, Kilo, Sammy Sam — they were the four artists from the early '80s makin' records that I could say were from Atlanta and that I could go into the club and see," Big Gipp would tell Pound in 2003. "Southern hip-hop only deals with the bass. It's about the beat, and it's about how the beat makes you feel. It's not about using big words; it's about how you use small words, the feeling you use when you say them words."
The four meet while attending southwest Atlanta's Benjamin Elijah Mays High School, named after the civil rights leader. TLC's Rozanda "Chilli" Thomas, another future beneficiary of local production crew Organized Noize's beats, is a peer. Khujo raps with Gipp, among others, in a group called Sixth Sense in high school. "I came up with white friends," Gipp says, "but I never went to school with anybody that was white. My whole school career was spent with black people."
T-Mo and Khujo enrol in Atlanta's Morris Brown College, a black liberal arts school; they perform as the Lumberjacks. Cee-Lo and Big Gipp, the latter involved in a band called the East Point Chain Gang, link with the others at Organized Noize's basement studio, nicknamed the Dungeon.
1993 to 1994
The Goodie members officially form in 1993. "This dude named Raymond Murray — he was one of the original members of Organized Noize — he taught me how to rap from scratch," Gipp says. "He used to write my raps, and we used to do songs together. He really taught everybody. He was a real deep hip-hop head, like Native Tongues, EPMD, Poor Righteous Teachers. He was really into that lyricism. For him to be the producer and also a rhymer, he was like Yoda."
Goodie Mob — a backronym for "the Good Die Mostly Over Bullshit," as expanded on the song "Fighting" — formally arrive on fellow Dungeon Family group OutKast's seminal debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Recorded in Organized Noize's now-legendary basement studio, "Call of da Wild" and "Git Up, Get Out," two of the platinum LP's most uplifting tracks, feature Goodie members rhyming alongside Andre 3000 and Big Boi about resisting temptations to drop out of school and do drugs and using your time to pursue your passion. The latter, featuring a scene-stealing Cee Lo and Big Gipp, becomes OutKast's third single and, according to the L.A. Times, Southernplayalistic's highlight. Goodie Mob begin work on a full-length.
Be the first to comment