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"Are you a racist, sir?" CeeLo asks with a half-joking tone.
"I ain't racist. I understand what y'all are doing, but it's like, a little shocking."
While CeeLo tries to convince the room it's going to be a hit, Gipp backs him up with a speech about how his daughter, who goes to school with kids of all races and sexual orientations, has challenged him to open up his worldview. But it's a stark contrast from the late-'90s Goodie Mob that tended to paint white America with a wide brush. "Now if we don't speak on stuff like that, then we not being the Goodie Mob," Gipp says. Still, it's an admittedly stark contrast from the '90s-era Goodie Mob that rapped about the legacy of racist "crackers" in a state that still flew the Confederate battle flag.
In an industry that has a history of turning its antagonists into accomplices, music fans tend to fear that the rebels of our youth will age out or sell out. But being grown men with families to support and legacies to leave has given Goodie Mob's members a different perspective on life than they had in their teens and early 20s. It's funny how we as fans grow and change but don't always allow our cultural heroes that freedom. The acknowledged struggle for Goodie Mob will be gaining broader acceptance without looking like it's compromising too much.
"We're trying to appropriate and accommodate and make it more palatable, because it's not easy to make four large black men not be intimidating," CeeLo says to a room full of knowing laughter. "They be scared of me by myself, you know what I mean? So, I've had to smile real bright and let 'em know I was smart and I was savvy. But it's all for the sake of the advancement of our culture. Because it's still black music; I'm still a black artist, no matter how you slice it. My commercial success is critical success as well. So I don't want y'all to think I'm out there shucking and jiving for no goddamn body. That ain't even what I do, that's not how I play with it."
They're also eager to redeem Southern rap, and Atlanta's hip-hop legacy, in particular. "Look at Atlanta," says Gipp. "We built this city on intelligence and pushing the envelope. But when we gave it to the drug dealers, what happened?"
"Niggas got high," Goodie's A&R director Kawan "KP" Prather chimes in on cue.
"And our kids are suffering from it, not us," Gipp continues. "That's why we have to be smart about the way we present our music. We can't just throw it in people's face; it'll scare 'em. We don't want to run off the money."
Gipp also goes out of his way to give CeeLo credit as the creative force behind the group's best choices, from conceptualizing and sequencing the group's first two albums to coming up with the cover photo and title for Soul Food.
"Nobody in music right now would've gained this kind of success and come back and fucked with the brothers like he did," he says. "So man, if he can't be commended for that — if we can't be commended for what we're trying to do — then fuck it then, man. Put your money into that other shit. I hope you live good tomorrow."
As his words settled in later on, I recalled that phone interview with CeeLo from three years ago and how I'd hesitated to tell him what I really thought of his solo music. I wondered what I would say if we had that conversation today. I'd probably say that I want to see them win, regardless. Because at this point, hip-hop needs Goodie Mob more than Goodie Mob needs hip-hop. And if Age Against the Machine succeeds in giving the group the commercial lift it's long deserved, that could be food for the soul as well. If not, at least I still have the original recipe on CD.
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