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There are some undeniably funny moments on the album, too — most intended, others, not so much. Take, for instance, the tracks on which the group can be heard embracing '80s arena rock.
"I'm a fan of Rush and Queen and all this big arena rock," CeeLo explains. "I wanna take hip-hop, if we can, to those big arenas. You have to envision the song you want to do by the venue you want play in. I want to go bigger, man." While performers such as Kanye and Jay-Z have already achieved arena-levels of success, CeeLo's comment is surprising considering Goodie Mob's history.
Upon dropping its Soul Food debut in 1995, Goodie Mob became the South's definitive answer to the East Coast's Public Enemy and the West Coast's N.W.A. Goodie Mob was socially conscious, streetwise, and sanctified. I prided myself on being able to rap every line of that record from front to back — every bit of Big Gipp's rhythmic rumination and Khujo's real-nigga rebellion, T-Mo's everyman frustrations, and CeeLo's Buddha-like proverbs.
The thing that made Goodie Mob different from the beginning was the group's raw street conscience. They didn't care about pissing off the wrong people or questioning the right authority figure, whether it was Atlanta's black mayor (Bill Campbell) or Georgia's white governor (Zell Miller). When the group debuted, rap as a genre wasn't married to the mainstream yet. Like any long-term relationship, that would take concessions on both sides. White America would have to warm up to the idea of being entertained en masse by Negroes With Attitudes. And hip-hop would have to learn to direct more of its hatred inward. In the next decade, both became all too eager to acquiesce.
Goodie Mob's demise over creative differences after the overly commercial World Party in 1999 brought new relevance to the meaning of the group's name: the GOOd DIE Mostly Over Bullshit. It's no secret that Atlanta rap suffered with the takeover of snap and trap rap. Even in the midst of earning its title as the hip-hop capital and sparking an industry that seems magically to reinvent itself every year with a new class of trappers-turned-rappers, the heart and soul of Atlanta rap has been on life support for at least a decade, with the South repeatedly shouldering blame for the genre's lost vitality.
Of course, the irony is that CeeLo originally left Goodie Mob because he felt like the group had abandoned its core values in a failed attempt to chase after commercial success.
"I was morally disappointed in World Party because I believe I have a responsibility with my music," CeeLo said in the 2007 book Third Coast. "I plead temporary insanity, because of what we went through, being the one who helped kick down the door and not reaped the same benefits as the rest of Southern music and culture. It was as if we were ahead of our time and turned our space ship around to come back to earth to simply fit in."
Now that he's returned as the recognized leader and creative force of the group, some of the risks he's pushing the group to take on Age Against the Machine could easily be interpreted the same way by fans. Again and again at the listening party, CeeLo and Gipp address those unasked questions and criticisms.
"When we sat down to do this album," says Gipp, "[CeeLo] said, 'We're gonna push the envelope on this, Gipp. We're gonna stretch out.' They're not gonna come back and be like, 'Oh, Goodie Mob done put out 1995 Soul Food.' Why we gonna put out the old when it's 2013?"
About eight songs into the listening session, they show us just how far they're willing to stretch out when a hook features CeeLo singing at the top of his lungs about his appreciation for his "very first white girl." He sings, "thanks for the memories." It's a humorous, radio-friendly song with a message that could have the Internets claiming Goodie Mob is down with the Illuminati. And that's deep for a group that came out forewarning listeners of Illuminati and gentrification a decade before either became all the rage. CeeLo signals to cut off the song and breaks the silence with laughter before gauging the response.
"Now let me ask all you core Goodie Mob fans, does this shock anybody? Cause if it does, it's working."
One audience member speaks up: "It kinda shocked me .... On the first album, y'all was talking to the people and shit like that. So to me it's kinda—"
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