The Smooth and the Gritty
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.
With OutKast having perked ears internationally to the lyric-rich rap coming from ATL, Goodie Mob's debut, the Organized Noize-orchestrated Soul Food, is received warmly. Allmusic.com and RapReviews.com give it a perfect score; The Source doles out four (out of five) mics. Doesn't hurt that the perfectly paranoid lead single, "Cell Therapy" — with its creepy piano loop and Cee Lo's "Who's that peeking in my window?/ Pow!/ Nobody now" hook — becomes an instant hip-hop classic, catapulting to No. 1 on Billboard's rap chart. OutKast guest on separate songs, the Big Boi-assisted "Dirty South" adding a fresh phrase (first coined by DF's Cool Breeze) to the hip-hop vernacular that will remain 18 years later. A seven-year-old California MC named Fashawn writes his first rap to an instrumental of Soul Food's title track. "In New York, in L.A., it's money, business, all the time. But in Atlanta it's about soul, the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Elijah Mohammed," T-Mo tells Spin. "We have more of a spiritual influence, and that shows in what we say." The gold album is dedicated to Cee-Lo's late mother, Shelia J. Tyler-Calloway.
1996 to 1998
In 1996, Goodie Mob donate "Blood" to the AIDS-benefitting America Is Dying Slowly hip-hop compilation. After contributing "Decisions, Decisions" to DJ Muggs' all-star compilation The Soul Assassins: Chapter 1, in 1997 the group record and release the weighty Still Standing, described by Allstar as "68 minutes of anger, empathy, love and soul." Again, the production is handled mostly in-house, with Muggs adding an assist, but the sound and aesthetic are darker, more experimental, more aggressive. Funk and rock grooves infiltrate the soul; the urgency of the message is amped up. The o in "Mob" on the record sleeve contains a silhouette of a hanged man; the o's in Goodie are replaced by cuffed hands. "After you dance in the clubs, then what?" Gipp asks Billboard. "There's got to be another mission." The critically acclaimed Still Standing goes gold without a crossover single, and Goodie Mob score a spot alongside Fat Joe, Common and Afrika Bambaataa in Sprite's Voltron campaign.
While touring, Goodie Mob come across a church bus full of children that had caught on fire. "It was right at the end of an off-ramp, so we pulled our bus over, we got off and were helping get the kids off," Gipp says. "The kids were counting each other, and they was like, 'There's still two more! There's still two more!' I was running back on the bus, through that fire, to get them kids, man. That was some real shit to me. People don't even know about that. That was some shit we ain't really never talked about, it was so personal to us."
Since the Mob's debut, Dungeon Fam and LaFace label-mates OutKast have dropped two CDs that hit No. 2 on the Billboard pop charts, and a third is on the way. Crunk originated in the South but has dominated clubs globally. Feeling pressure to move units and club goers and not just critics' pens, Goodie Mob return with World Party on Arista, the crew's lightest and worst offering to date. Loyal fans see the record as a step toward selling out; the social responsibility so prevalent on Still Standing takes a backseat; the song "All A's" even gets homophobic: "The world would be a better place to live, if it was less queers," raps Khujo. Unhappy, Cee Lo leaves the group before World Party wraps to pursue a solo career. Despite a TLC feature, the Party no one attended peaks at No. 48 on the charts and limps to gold status. Arista drops the crew from its roster. Still, Party gives a young producer named Kanye West one of his first major label production credits ("Rebuilding"), and future Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel tattoos the song title "Get Rich to This" on his left arm. All four Goodie members cameo as the criminal Not-So-Goodie Mob in the Ben Stiller superhero comedy Mystery Men and contribute a bouncy jam, "Hat Low," to the soundtrack for Eddie Murphy's claymation TV series The PJs. Cee Lo joins another group-bolting double threat, Lauryn Hill, on Santana's "Do You Like the Way," from the band's multi-platinum Supernatural.
2000 to 2001
Goodie Mob appear without Cee Lo on producer Muggs' second Soul Assassins compilation; "This Some'n Too" grabs an Al Green loop and goes for the throat. T-Mo drops a rare solo album, 2 the Fullest, featuring Sleepy Brown and Goodie members sold only on tour. The extended — and underrated — Dungeon Family group album Even in Darkness features Goodie Mob members performing in various combinations alongside Andre 3000, Big Boi, Sleepy Brown and Bubba Sparxxx.
2002 to 2003
A car crash forces the spiritual Khujo to have his right leg amputated below the knee. His independent solo debut, The Man Not the Dawg, features Andre 3000 production but garners little attention. Cee Lo makes his solo debut; Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections reinforces his ability to carry concepts by his lonesome. Though not a commercial smash, the diverse album is well-received by fans and critics. Along with Tha Alkaholiks, Cee Lo guests on Danger Mouse and Jemini's "What U Sittin' On?" — a collaboration that lays the groundwork for big things to come.
Big Gipp drops his only solo LP, Mutant Mindframe, and it's splattered with Dungeon Family cameos. "To be a leader, it's hard, and it gets lonely. Because it feels like you're the only one trying to say something good, and ain't nobody listening," Gipp says. "But then somebody come out here and say, 'Kill, kill, kill/ Murder, murder, murder,' and that's the dopest shit ever said. And that discourages you sometimes to just wanna do what they do."
Cee-Lo releases his sophomore LP as a solo act in March, this time enlisting outside producers such as DJ Premier, the Neptunes, Jazze Pha and Timbaland to augment the Organized Noize and self-produced sounds. The lengthy Cee-Lo Green… Is the Soul Machine is approved by critics, earning four out of five stars in Vibe. "The way he shifts from an apologetic former gun-toting drug dealer to a discotheque lover man to a church preacher gives this album a ridiculous depth of replay," praises Pitchfork.
After a five-year hiatus, the group reforms… sort of. As Cee Lo's Goodie-free career begins to take off, T-Mo, Khujo and Gipp combine forces for One Monkey Don't Stop No Show, a title lifted from the 1955 Big Maybelle R&B song. Cee Lo is seen as the thinly veiled "monkey" — though the trio insists the monkey is the industry — as the group returns to its socially conscious roots. Monkey, which places the bulk of the production back in the hands of Organized Noize, is the first Goodie LP that fails to reach the gold plateau.
"Cee Lo gave up on us, and also Arista gave up on us. I think it was a chain reaction of Khujo's accident [and] Cee Lo not wanting to perform," Gipp says, denying beef rumours. "But I feel we're going to be stronger now, because for any kid to see Khujo go up on stage and see that he still got something to say after what he's been through, that's encouragement to those kids in a wheelchair or crutches."
Khujo and T-Mo finally release an album as the Lumberjacks. Livin' Life as Lumberjacks features three songs with Gipp and another three with Dungeon Family artist Witchdoctor but flops hard. Big Boi's Got Purp? Vol. 2 mixtape reunites all four Goodies for the first time since World Party, but Khujo later reveals the song "Hold On" was actually recorded ten years earlier. Cee Lo sings the chorus on another Danger Mouse production, "Benzi Box," with MF Doom.
2006 to 2007
Cee Lo's non-Goodie success skyrockets as his project with producer Danger Mouse, Gnarls Barkley, scores the 2006 song of summer with addictive pop hit "Crazy." The album St. Elsewhere ships triple platinum in the U.S. "Crazy" becomes the first song to top the UK charts based solely on digital sales, and stays for a record-setting 11 straight weeks. Rolling Stone names it the song of the decade, BET hands Cee Lo and Danger Mouse best group honours, and Gnarls Barkley rake in a pair of Grammys. Gnarls record a live session at Abbey Road Studios.
"[Cee Lo] surprised me every time he went into the vocal booth and sang something," Danger Mouse tells Snowboard Canada magazine. "I didn't know what he was going to do. He liked to surprise me. He always kept it a secret what he was going to do." The producer doesn't encourage Cee Lo to rap. "I just wanted to hear what he was going to do, and singing fit most of the songs better anyway. Melody just brought out a different side of the song more than rapping would've brought out the music."
All four members of the Mob appear together onstage following a Gnarls Barkley show on October 1 and promise a reunion LP is in the works. Arista attempts to capitalize on Gnarls' score by dropping a Cee Lo greatest-hits package.
"When a Gnarls Barkley does come along, even though it's not hip-hop, I'm just very happy for Cee Lo to finally get some props after years of hard work," Roots drummer Questlove tells Pound.
Khujo's independent second solo effort, Mercury, doesn't quite match Cee-Lo's SoundScan stats. Kinfolk, Gipp's Dirty South celebration with Ali, a weed-carrying member of Nelly's St. Lunatics, features appearances by Cee Lo, Nelly, Three 6 Mafia and Pimp C but fails to bring anything new to the table.
Gnarls Barkley can't match the commercial success of "Crazy" with their follow-up, The Odd Couple, but the duo's video for lead single "Run" wins MTV awards for best art direction and best choreography. The Lumberjacks link with fellow Georgia rap vet Pastor Troy for an independent collaborative CD, A.T.L. 2 (A-Town Legends 2). A third Khujo solo shot, G'Mob Godfather, with a trio of T-Mo verses, is released online. All four members perform together at Atlanta's Tabernacle following a free Nelly concert.
In September, the first official Goodie Mob reunion concert takes place at the Masquerade in Atlanta. The following month, the quartet performs the Smoke Out festival in California. But with Cee Lo riding high off his solo success, a Goodie Mob record still seems distant. "It's taking this long to do it because, first things first, we had to make [my solo success] happen," Cee Lo will tell Pound in 2010. "I had to have some confirmation to my own word of saying, 'I have a clue. I understand what should go on. Maybe you guys should trust me.' Labels, they need to see that kind of thing in dollars and cents. So I had to make Cee Lo Green work first, because then they'll see Cee Lo Green as a franchise to make something formal. Not to say that I dictate whether or not Goodie Mob happens, but it sure helps a lot."
Young Atlanta MC/singer B.o.B. scores a smash with "Nothin' on You" and tells Exclaim!, "Every singer, they have this voice in their head. And for some reason, Cee Lo's voice is in my head when I think about what singing should sound like."
Khujo connects with abstract producer Jneiro Jarel to form Willie Isz. Their LP, Georgiavania, is greeted favourably by critics but is soon forgotten.
2010 to 2011
In full pop mode, Cee Lo contributes to the Twilight: Eclipse and Sex & the City 2 soundtracks. "Fuck You," the solo single Cee Lo pushes to YouTube, goes viral and becomes the closest thing to "Crazy" the artist has done, in terms of invading pop culture. Racking up nearly two million views within a week, "Fuck You" — sanitized as "Forget You" — goes platinum in four countries and sets the stage for Cee Lo's first solo full-length in six years. The Lady Killer, Cee Lo's first all-singing solo LP, goes gold in the UK and earns him a spot on Saturday Night Live. He also makes prime-time cameos on American Dad! and Parenthood and lends his voice to the animated film Hotel Transylvania. Gwyneth Paltrow, who hosts SNL when Cee Lo performs, covers "Forget You" on an episode of Glee. Cee Lo agrees to join Rihanna and J. Cole on the former's Loud tour but pulls out when he commits to judge on reality talent show The Voice. He reworks the Grammy-winning "Fuck You" into "Thank You," a tribute to firefighters.
"Recently I've been opening myself back up to just kinda rapping," Cee Lo tells Pound. "What people are rapping about these days… shit, all you gotta do is just look around the table at what's going on. 'Sitting around doing an interview/ Blah, blah, blah, girl, I'm into you/ The occasions, blah, blah, blah, there's been a few.' Next thing you know, you got 16 bars of that shit. You're well on your way to having a rap song. It's like, damn. Who cares?
"A lot of rap music does that. I like it, but I just don't give a fuck about it. I don't care. You sound good. But you want me to buy it? Well, shit, I don't know. Tell me some more. But you don't have those individuals that you want to hear more from anymore. When you heard Rakim or somebody like that, it's like, oh, shit. This guy's great. He's greater than great. He might be the greatest of all time, ever. In my entire life, I've never heard anyone articulate like that. And his sound! Him, KRS-One. I used to love Brother J from X-Clan. These are the guys that made me want to rap."
Goodie Mob signs with Elektra Records and begins focus on a proper reunion LP. In July, Cee Lo tweets the name of record will be We Sell Drugs Too — a title that will be scrapped months later. The quartet performs the Soul Train Awards together in November as a tribute to Heavy D. Khujo writes Straight Out the A, a biography designed to take readers "through all the trenches for which I still maintain and overcome though this day."
In March, Cee Lo sings for Barack Obama at a presidential fundraiser, self-editing "Fuck You" to "Forget You" mid-song. He wins a couple more Grammys for "Fool for You" and cameos on "Fuck You" co-writer Bruno Mars' pop smash Doo-Wops and Hooligans. The singer croons his way through a Christmastime cash grab, complete with a duet with the Muppets. The cover of Cee Lo's Magic Moment depicts our hero taking Santa's reins in a horse-drawn, gift-loaded Cadillac convertible. Goodie Mob perform their first new single as a foursome in 13 years, debuting "Fight to Win" from the forthcoming Age Against the Machine on The Voice. The song won't make the delayed album's final track list.
Goodie Mob's album reunion is preceded by a Jimmy Fallon appearance and a pair of music videos for "Special Education" (featuring Janelle Monae) and the costume-heavy "I'm Set." Age Against the Machine, the fourth true group set, hits shelves on August 27, 18 years after Soul Food whet listeners' appetites. A fourth Cee Lo solo album, Girl Power, is rumoured to be on deck.
ESSENTIAL GOODIE MOB
Soul Food (LaFace, 1995)
Raw and warm and undisputedly Southern, the Goodies' debut bristles with ideas that surpass Organized Noize's masterful production. Anchored by Cee Lo's side-eyed bluesman hooks, Gipp, Khujo and T-Mo drop jewels for both mind and booty.
Still Standing (LaFace, 1998)
Goodie Mob's sprawling, ambitious second set is a middle finger to the government, racial stereotypes and the sophomore jinx. In an era when the only women cited in rap verses were disposable bitches, Goodie makes "conversation, companionship" cool on "Beautiful Skin" and rails against knuckleheads and baseheads. They're still in the trenches, but they got library cards.
Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections (Arista, 2002)
The breakout star of Goodie Mob spreads his artistic wings on a solo debut that features Blues Traveler's John Popper and a whole whack of Cee Lo production. Unhinged, the solo Cee Lo snatches the frontman role in the freakiest, funkiest way possible, sing-rapping his way into unexplored territory before Andre 3000 or Drake dared play the fence.
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