Photo: Goodie Mob is, from left to right, Khujo, T-Mo, Cee-Lo and Big Gipp.
Photo credit: Courtesy of The Chamber Group
Goodie Mob is a quartet from Atlanta, Georgia, that debuted in 1995, when New York and Los Angeles dominated rap. The group came out of The Dungeon Family, a loose collective of musicians including OutKast and Organized Noize that favors humid production and heady subject matter relayed with flair. Their songs, like "Soul Food," "Cell Therapy" and "Black Ice," helped establish the South as hip-hop's Third Coast.
Then Goodie's most idiosyncratic member, Cee-Lo Green, cannonballed into the mainstream with songs like "Crazy" and "F--- You." Cee-Lo's pop success put Goodie Mob on pause. Seven years after that song altered the group's course, they've come back together, they say, as men, with the purpose of re-balancing the total sound and message of rap music, particularly what's now coming out of their hometown of Atlanta. All four musicians — Cee-Lo, Big Gipp, T-Mo and Khujo — spoke to Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley about the songs their kids listen to, the difference of opportunity for pop musicians compared to hip-hop musicians and why they named their new album Age Against the Machine. And then they started handing out dating advice.
Hear the audio version of the conversation at the listen link and read more below.
FRANNIE KELLEY: Why Age Against The Machine?
CEE-LO: The title?
CEE-LO: Oh, because it's not rage, it's age. Because it's experience and inside a war of words wisdom is the weapon of choice.
So, at this point in our career, after all that we've accomplished — we've become elder statesmen if you will and we've just come back to better the balance and even a better balance between us personally. It's something that's imperative, it's urgent and I believe that information is equality. So I think it will balance the playing field. That make sense?
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Absolutely.
KELLEY: Can you tell us some moments on the album that illustrate that?
CEE-LO: I think the album's long play does that; it's most certainly our intent. Of course, it's not something that you can rush into. It's not even something that — I don't even know if you can accomplish with just one album.
But I would like for our peers and any aspiring artist to be inspired by what could possibly be a milestone achievement. If we can make a stride in the right direction, if we could make a quantum leap and truly make a difference independently — inventive — I think that we could pave the way for more people to come down. Because I believe that music should be the gift that keeps on giving. It should be a legacy, you should be preparing your benefactor if you will.
That's the difference between — and I'll play a race card once. Music is communal — it's not just corporate, it's not just commerce — it's communal. And so as far as our community — our households are broken and our families are broken. And from what my observation has been, the difference between the black and white experience is inheritance. Apparently we have to start over time and time again. And so we want something that is timeless. We're old school but our approach and our attitude is antique because it will appreciate if you appreciate it.
KELLEY: Are you talking about accumulating capital or are you talking about cultural —
CEE-LO: Oh, well definitely you have to have some working capital. You have to be able to afford to give charity. But we do talk about that exchange: giving, sharing. Sharing the information, which is priceless as well. Each experience should — or could — translate as an intellectual property.
A lot of the music — a lot of these stereotypes that are depicted and perpetuated time and time again is the spoils of so much success. I've heard people say "I'm suffering from success." And it's cool. Everybody wants to embellish a bit upon the truth, make it a little bit more interesting, make it more entertaining. That's fine. Almost everybody is rich enough to fund a revolution out of pocket, but there's no movement.
MUHAMMAD: I feel like the theme for Goodie Mob has been consistent since Soul Food. Trying to make the difference. You guys are 18 years into the music business — and seen a whole lot, done a whole lot — when you come with this album how do you really make that impact?
CEE-LO: It's no different from y'all Sha — the Native Tongue collective. It was a conglomerate, a smaller society — but it wasn't a secret society. You guys were very outspoken about being eccentric, and being original and being individual and unique. It became a mainstay but it was so — it was an onslaught of that urban alternative with the Tribe, Black Sheep, Queen Latifah, Jungle Brothers — Done by the Forces of Nature is one of my favorite albums of all time.
MUHAMMAD: Mine too.
CEE-LO: So is Low End Theory, so is A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing so is De La Soul Is Dead. You feel me? I'm all the way back to Lakim Shabazz — I'm a true head and it's really about culture and reminding. We've got so much access internet-wise, so much access to our past, present and future, but nobody goes back, nobody remembers and I think we're just coming to a close in the day and I want to make sure that I drive some points home. Q + A is very, very important to me because these quotes, these ideals in these forums here are what's truly immortalized. Songs, music — some of these things are dismissable. You feel me? But what you state and what you stand for here, at the round — this will last.
MUHAMMAD: Absolutely. So let's go for a song like "Vallelujah," what was going on?
CEE-LO: OK, I know I've talked enough to come into it so I want either Khujo, T, or the OG Big Gipp speak and then I guess we all can answer that.
T-MO: It is my favorite song.
MUHAMMAD: Talk about it.
T-MO: To me it depicts our journey as a group and where we've come from and how we started and some of the trials and tribulations that life has take us through.
CEE-LO: Uphill battle, huh.
T-MO: Yeah, it's been an uphill battle straight up. To me that song kind of depicts faith, and how believing in it you can get to a certain place, you can get to that mountaintop. Just like the King had a dream, the Mob got a dream too, of acquiring certain accolades in this game. And I just feel like with all the work we put in it's time for us to get our just due.
MUHAMMAD: I'm glad that you guys have a dream cause my first question was, "Do you guys still dream?" And I ask that — I want to kind of stay on the Age Against the Machine — but I thought about that only because the start of Soul Food was "Free." I think any artist dreams — if you're not a dreamer then there's a problem. Where you guys are right now, what is the dream?
CEE-LO: "Vallelujah" — being in the valley literally is that common ground — it's where we all begin. When we talk about ascension, we talk about height, we have to talk about the law of physics. We have to talk about the altitude, and you have to get acclimated. It's even harder to breathe at the top. You understand what I'm saying?
There's a lyric of what Jo says: "There's so much hate because they don't want to see the next man make his escape." Because it's like, if you have a plan, why not propose a plan to everyone, you know, where we all escape?
But this is when we have to become really technical and very brutally honest in saying that all men are not created equal, all artists aren't created equal. Maybe equal in opportunity but not equal in ability. Or equal in aspiration. Some people don't want it bad enough. And I believe that life in general — art or otherwise — is directed and driven by what you desire. It's really, "What do you want?" And apparently, with the artists of today, we want no responsibility.
MUHAMMAD: So then are you directing some of this record to your peers and your contemporaries?
CEE-LO: Definitely, because we need to be able to share the space, this is a time-share. We want to be a window of opportunity in the smoking section. Can you dig it? And you know what they say about the smoking section? The smoking section is certain death. It 's certain death because not only are you smoking your own cigarette you're getting somebody else's secondhand smoke. You're doomed. You feel me?
CEE-LO: So, and to answer your first question, yes, you can dream. And it is possible to dream with your eyes open.
MUHAMMAD: So what do you guys dream after 18 years? Age Against the Machine, you putting that out?
CEE-LO: That's a dream come true. That's — August 27th a dream come true on that album. But I'm sure we have more than one.
KHUJO: Of course. The dream is now — is to uplift the culture now. Instead of it just being something you can just go buy and put it in your car; you done with it; go get another CD; you done with it. Because at the end of the day, people are pouring their lives into the music. That's what soul is. You pouring your hurt, your happiness, everything you been through in life, you putting it into your music to make it real. And some people they don't want to be real, they just really wanna be out here just to get the fast bread, the women and all the other material stuff you really can't take with you when you gone. But once you come of age, like Age Against the Machine, we know that we're standing for the civil rights of hip-hop right now.
MUHAMMAD: So needed.
CEE-LO: It's imperative. It's urgent. And when we talk about community, we go back in as a rescue unit, if you will. We were initially gonna name the album Salvation Army. We even got as far as doing a song called "Salvation Army" but it didn't make the album. And I say that not to say that we wish to be martyrs but even us being coordinated, we consider this to be wardrobe — dressed for battle.
MUHAMMAD: It felt good seeing you guys. My first sight, I was like, "Oh yeah."
KELLEY: Can we describe for our audience what everybody's wearing right now?
CEE-LO: Oh, we're wearing black and gold Mob attire. These are actually the first mock-ups of a clothing line that we're working on collectively so we're just kinda spreading our wings. But they so fly I couldn't wait to wear em so it's like, "Yo, let's just wear em."
KELLEY: Black sweats, gold glitter is what I see.
CEE-LO: It's an act of selflessness. We kinda call it the private school approach. We are all in equal understanding of a certain class and curriculum. We're alumni.
KHUJO: It speaks unity without even saying anything.
CEE-LO: And it's also a disclaimer. Like, there's more of us. Ain't no "I" in Mob.
KELLEY: And so how did you guys come together now, I mean Gipp you said babies always get in the way — that was the delay?
GIPP: No, I think it was just the time that we all started doing — like Cee-Lo and T said we had started working on a new album I think it was 2005, 2006. At this time, when we started working on the album for the first time Lo had got music from Danger Mouse. So in the same week that we started working on the new Goodie Mob album, Cee-Lo got the new music from Danger Mouse, and he recorded "Crazy." After he recorded "Crazy" he went to Europe.
Me and Jo and T and all of us — we continued to make music because he was like, "Yo bruh, I gotta go and do this right quick." And we was just glad that we had been able to go back in the studio as us and get all the media, all the friends —
CEE-LO: Notice he said "right quick" but it ended up being — because no one knew what to expect. At the time I was a free agent so we were doing the new Goodie Mob album, I was doing what became Gnarls Barkley and I did a project that was shelved with a producer Jazze Pha out of Atlanta called Happy Hour. And it never came out, but I was doing all three of those projects at the time. Continue, OG I'm sorry.
GIPP: And then, once he left, that's when we had gotten to — really as a group and as men — sit in a studio and started conceptually putting together Goodie Mob. So anything that was a past problem — we resolved that. When he left to go to Europe we was cool. Even the time it took to get back together to finish the album — or start the album again — we had been talking the whole time. He had been throwing concepts back and forth, and we all just stayed in contact. So we kept moving, you know, we kept doing what we were doing, but we already had made our commitment to come back and do Goodie Mob.
MUHAMMAD: What was it that brought that commitment? Cause I'm trying — as we do this Microphone Check — not to talk about my experience so much, but I feel like if you don't have a sense of purpose than there's no point. And that's just my personal feeling.
GIPP: That's the sense of purpose because we're sitting in Atlanta and we watching what our not being active in what we helped build — what it turned into. The scene and the music of Atlanta — everything that we fought for, as far as, having to come to New York first and get booed for y'all. Having to come up here and people say, "I don't understand your dialect. Your music will never get played on the radio up here." We went and fought all the battles for all of the ones that came after us. It's still funny when we get off the plane and we can hear southern rap on New York! Like, it sound like Atlanta here. They don't even understand when it wasn't like that.
MUHAMMAD: You make a record like "State of the Art" — I know that had to come from — I'mma say frustration.
CEE-LO: It's frustration, but I think creatively it's symbolic of a conflict of interests. So that's the controlled chaos that you hear and also [it's] "State of the Art (Radio Killa)." Nothing against radio, but we have something against propaganda.
CEE-LO: Perpetuation and hidden agendas. So the way that track is done, it makes a mockery of format. It keeps changing. It's ricocheting off of the walls; it won't stay the same. It's not a radio formula, but it's in a radio time, cause I think it's only a minute and some change. So we were kind of thinking it was like a little, what they call a sizzler for an action movie. It's like a trailer if you will. That's what I was thinking.
MUHAMMAD: Still in pursuit and fighting for the balance. So is everyone here fathers? Are you all fathers?
MUHAMMAD: whose child is the oldest, and what's the oldest age?
CEE-LO: Gipp got the oldest.
MUHAMMAD: What's your oldest?
GIPP: She's 17.
MUHAMMAD: What is your 17-year-old listening to?
GIPP: When she's in L.A. she listens to a lot of rock music and a lot of soul music. Now, when she's in Atlanta, it's totally ratchet. It's depending on where she is, if she's in L.A. she's on some Valley Girl, soft rock, anything like that. Bruno Mars, that kind of thing. She get to Atlanta, man, it's Migos.
MUHAMMAD: What do you want the 17-year old to get out of "Father Time"?
GIPP: You cannot be who you need to be until you can understand who you want to become. That's all I want people to understand about "Father Time."
CEE-LO: You tell it, man, you ain't got to grow up but you got to grow older.
MUHAMMAD: You gotta know where you come from too.
T-MO: Got to.
GIPP: These kids, it's more followers out here — no leaders. Where the leaders? No leaders — as soon as a trend or soon as these kids see something on TV — our thing when we grew up, soon as we saw something new we were looking to start something else new. These kids look — whatever people do, every night on the Internet and instantly bite it. That was Rule #1 in our hip-hop book. No Biting. But since it's no rules anymore, like brother say, it's anarchy.
CEE-LO: "All y'all are biters. All y'all moves are wack." Y'all know where that come from? That's Beat Street.
GIPP: That's why right now music itself is suffering, and especially urban music. In a minute it will be no urban department, it will be just pop music. And once this s—- turn to all pop, man, we doomed, man. Cause that's nothing but fantasy, plastic and not real.
CEE-LO: Fantasy at its finest. But then let's talk about that. Let's talk about real and make-believe. Cause it ain't fake.
So let's talk about that, like, let me think of a cool pop song. Let's — listen to how they set up the Bruno Mars record [he hums "Treasure"]. You repeat that cadence twice then "Ohhhhhh" — and I'm shouting him out because I love this record.
But then they gone make Meek Mill rap his heart out — for free! You see what I'm saying? Like 30 bars, for free, on a mixtape — to get hot. Then you get the major deal off of the acknowledgement of a talent, but we have lost the art of song structure and conceptualizing complete thoughts as far as albums — long play, events, epic sagas, you feel me?
So we have to rely on reality. But on the other end — up the line, up the echelon to where imagination is an intellectual property, these are the lies that live forever. I'm talking about Superman. Marvel Comics — how long has that been in print? I'm talking about — ain't nothing real about The Transformers, but it's the best lie you ever seen.
Why can't we be imaginative? Why is life so literal where we live? And that's what songs like "State of the Art" are — just be imaginative, even for just the sake of it. We're willing to take some risks. 18 songs on a album — all 18 ain't got to be a club banger — s—-. Are you in the club that long?
MUHAMMAD: I understand where you coming from, but I think other artists' ambition is not to be an artist. They're just opportunists.
GIPP: Because once somebody said that it was cool — that you didn't have to respect art, and it's cool to be a drug dealer. And you can be bigger than the art.
CEE-LO: Jay Z said it! That was his disclaimer on — I forget what album it was but one of the early ones: "I'm not a rapper, I'm a hustler that just happens to rap." That insults the integrity of what we trying to do here.
I get it — as a take on it, a spin on it. I can dig it. But everybody's emulating that bar.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, and what they fail to understand is he really is an artist.
CEE-LO: Of course he is.
MUHAMMAD: So they're copying without really understanding that there's a true painter holding that brush.
CEE-LO: They're copying swag, and swag is standing still.
MUHAMMAD: So, where you guys are now, and, with the album, as it is as a whole — what's up with "I'm Set"?
KHUJO: Man, "I'm Set" for me is like — little brother coming back in ushering in the OGs and just really letting the people know that don't know T-Mo, Khujo or Big Gipp, and just really introducing us again. It was a real hard track, man, Cee-Lo came up with the idea for it and it just really looks like our theme music. We're like heroes to some people out here in Atlanta — matter of fact, globe, so heroes need theme music.
CEE-LO: "I'm Set" for me is saying I will not go any further alone. I stop here. I go back, and we go forward. And so it's selfless because I don't shout myself out in the hook. For anybody who hasn't heard "I'm Set," the hook says, "I'm set. What up. I got Jo, I got Mo and I got OG Gipp. I'm set." It's just crew love. And the set — "the set" is slang for gang. And the set is where it goes down — it's action on the set. Or there's quiet on the set, you feel me?
MUHAMMAD: I'm really happy that you guys are back together. This album — it's different in terms of, it's not following anything, but I don't ever think y'all did. There's a lot of freedom in your music, and there's a lot to hope for, a lot to fight for.
KELLEY: Can we talk a little bit about what it was like because you said you got back in the studio as men? Was there anything different about being together as men now as compared to when you made Soul Food?
GIPP: Well, I just think we were younger, fresh out the streets. Still kept a lot of negative influences around us and we had to learn by trial and error what was good and what was bad for us.
Us being men now we can dead problems or see situations before it happens. Before something agitates us to have to relieve ourselves of the situation, we can see it coming and have that conversation. When you young you just kind of go off emotions, and I think all of us as men, now that we got kids, it helps us have to sit back think about what we gone say before we say it. We carry ourselves a bit different.
CEE-LO: Our circles are small, it's sucker-free and the grass cut low — a snake can't even sneeze.
T-MO: Much more strategic and calculated now.
KHUJO: It's real men doing this music, no kids. And that's what's going on — basically, you got young kids running the radio station right now, playing their music. How much can you really get from a person whose experiences are damn near less than how old they are?
GIPP: And think about it. Most of us — we were taught hip-hop from men. "The Message" — Melle Mel, those were men. Grandmaster Flash. All them were men. From Dougie Fresh, he was a man. From Kurtis Blow they were men. They wasn't little kids doing music. So that's why I feel like we were inbred with it. We can't change it.
I don't know how to do a kid song. I don't know how to do it. I mean, for a long time it was hard for Goodie Mob to even go in the studio and think about making a club song. It's like, "Club song? I don't listen to club music."
And especially when you listen to Chuck D half your teenage career. That was me. I listened to Chuck; I learned more from Chuck D than I learned from school at the time. I didn't know who Minister Farrakhan was until I heard him say it. So to learn that much stuff from a person like Chuck D, it is very, very hard to revert your mind to an adolescent way of thinking when you're making a record, for when an A&R tells you, "Aren't you gonna make anything for the kids in the club?" Nope, I don't know how to. I don't know how to revert my thinking.
CEE-LO: And see it's veiled. It's not worded that you're making music for an adolescent or you're being adolescent in your action. They say, "Let's try to make it more accessible."
KELLEY: Yeah, which gets complicated cause sometimes that also means "for the ladies." I have always respected and appreciated the way that you guys talk about women in your songs and the way that they are characters. But you talk about — it's all men. Every name you just said was a male name. So you're being taught by men how to talk about women? How to treat women? Or, you are men so this is how you treat women?
KELLEY: I'm saying, how did you learn?
GIPP: How did I learn? Well, I think that's just the Southern upbringing. I just think that's something that's aligned and was given to us when we could walk. You know what I mean? Respect thy grandmother, respect thy mother, even before the father.
T-MO: I was just gone say, we from really good upbringings too. That's the blessing of our lives. All us are from some well-balanced homes and some good rearing growing up, some good discipline growing up, so we knew better.
KHUJO: We got our ass whooped.
T-MO: Yeah, we got slapped in the mouth. My mama straight punched me straight in my mouth I come out the wrong way. She let me know. Be like, "Your daddy not here, I'm the man of the house." So don't think that we don't have a respect for women or we don't understand how to treat a woman in our music. We definitely have a reverence for that.
CEE-LO: No she said we did, she was just asking how did we learn that, where did we get it from.
T-MO: Oh, OK. Oh, definitely, just from growing up with good background. That unseen hand by you. I saw it though.
CEE-LO: And we want to. Women are precious, you know — we love women.
MUHAMMAD: And in keeping the community you can't just be speaking to one group.
GIPP: No, we speak to everybody. We have a song on the album this time that I think should open up a lot of conversation. Because all women are precious, but we've only spoken on one. But let's see how you take it when we speak on another.
KELLEY: You're talking about "Understanding"?
CEE-LO: Oh, that's what you was hinting at honey child? That's what you wanted to know something about? Oh, I get it now. She was going from "Beautiful Skin" — but what's happenin'? Let's talk about it girl. Don't hesitate!
GIPP: In this time in history, women move just like men.
KELLEY: I know.
GIPP: Just like how women used to say, "Aww men aint — y'all got three, four on the side." Guess what? In 2013 women got three, four, too.
If we not gonna be honest about one thing, then why should you ask me to be honest about another? Now, if you ask me do I got another girl and I tell you and then you talking about you wanna leave but you not gone tell me about your secret relationship but you gone hit me with all your concerns — I think it's not fair. You still want a one-sided conversation. And you don't want to be honest about your discrepancies.
CEE-LO: Can I read you something? Me and my girlfriend are writing a book called 8 Is Enough and this is a little passage I wrote. Because this is a recurring issue. It's is right on time; she's heard this record and she loves "Understanding." I want to say this too: first, now remember now, us as individuals, we are all our own enterprises. Our own establishment. You are your own business. Can you dig it? So you have to ask yourself at some point in time when the load get a little heavy, do you want an intern, an employee or a partner in your business — and larger corporations have all three.
KELLEY: Oh, OK.
CEE-LO: Now, check it out. I wrote this, and I was trying to write it from what I had gathered from her — a woman, a very strong and successful woman. I respect her completely. I say:
"You can't be a perfect 10 so why try; no one's a perfect 10 so why lie. I suggest be an 8 at best. It's infinite possibility is a promise you can keep. But of course we — he wants what he wants, and that's perfection. But 10 minus 2 equals the figure 8 which is all you can do and 8 is enough. With this perspective in this process you can become the 2, which is his temptation and temporary fixation, then resume to the reality of the 8 that you are.
"Never stop him from searching, never stop him from working for he will literally grow old with you and you will look older than you are worrying too much and trying to hard. You said you wanted power so deal with it. You have entry in and out of his exclusive power because true power delegates. Now step away from it, look back at it and appreciate it for what it is. Bigger than the both of you but because of the both of you. Love that it is and that it lives, look the other way and preach that very same power in the other direction. Become a continuum and a conduit, a pretty little prism that color is comfortable to confide in.
"You have now sustained his and gained yours, now turn around to see him disregard himself for he has been watching your back — literally. They want to take form his power for their own selfish reasons; you have only transferred his power for greater good. It is OK, he can handle them, but he can't mishandle you. Without your outlet you provide he implodes from too much power. Help him help himself."
GIPP: Now how many of your girlfriends want to go out on a date? Hold up.
MUHAMMAD: What I get from that though — you speaking of a unit that consists of one and two. So that's —
KHUJO: Brilliant, bro.
CEE-LO: What you say mama? It ain't so bad now is it?
KELLEY: I can get on board.
CEE-LO: Thank you.
KHUJO: Great answer.
GIPP: It was simple but it was a great answer. You can share your man if he told you the truth?
KELLEY: Now I'm going on record, really?
CEE-LO: But the truth is any woman could, if a man could be honest. But if they could disclose that truth — if they allow you to know their truth they can't be so certain that men are going to act like men about it. You become boys, if you give em too much liberty.
KELLEY: That's true.
GIPP: You see there it is, that's what records are supposed to do. "Understanding" create a conversation.
KELLEY: Yeah, I mean I've learned a lot from you guys over the years. I guess I'll just keep learning more.
CEE-LO: I don't want you to feel like — we haven't given up on women — don't you think that — the queens that we were talking about on "Beautiful Skin," they are still queens — crowned. They are crowned, trust me.
GIPP: They just gotta share some time.
CEE-LO: On that note I'm glad we was able to lighten the mood a little bit, that's so great. It only goes to show how dynamic, how varied, how multi- faceted this album is.
Y'all come check this album out. Man, this is the Almighty Goodie M.O.B hailing from Southwest Atlanta, Georgia. Age Against the Machine, it is done — finalized. Ordained and understood. August 27th.
GIPP: Ok we going on tour August the 24. We got a book coming out next month, September: Cee-Lo Green's Everybody's Brother. We also have a TV show called The Good Life on TBS that's coming out. Also we're going back to Vegas in March at the Rio. Cee-Lo takes the whole gang. We go back and we do the Strip once again. We just did it one time this year — first rap group to ever have a show on the Strip. So again, we're gonna keep breaking all the rules.
CEE-LO: Hey, if we keep up this good work I might be able to afford to pay my intern!