Review: Goodie Mob’s ‘Age Against The Machine’ Is Funky And Frustrating

The long-thirsted-for reunion LP makes for a sometimey listen

Fourteen years after Goodie Mob’s last true group album, 1999’s sparsely attended World Party, Khujo, T-Mo, Big Gipp and, yes, Cee Lo Green, finally return as a unit. Think of all the rap acts that have burst on the scene and flamed out in the time it took for the guys who made “Dirty South” a staple in rap’s lexicon to hole up in an isolated studio—in Portland, Jamaica—and rediscover their chemistry with Age Against the Machine.

Scores of solo efforts and outside collaborative conquests later, the Goodies may be pushing 40 and a couple eras removed from the immersing themselves in Organized Noize’s dungeon, but when the four horsemen gallop in the same direction, their confidence and creativity clangs like thunderclaps.

Let’s start with “Pinstripes.” Produced by Get Cool and featuring an in-form T.I., the album’s most accessible banger is all Red Bull flows and machine-gun drums, laying to waste the ethereal moans you’ll hear if your ears squint hard enough. It’s the type of controlled chaos that brings to mind the energy fellow ATLiens OutKast deployed on “Bombs Over Baghdad.” But it’s also a standard seldom reached elsewhere on an LP that is as disjointed as it is bold.

“These niggas rapping over the same ol’ beats,” goes a portion of the hook on “Pinstripes.” And if the mission is to sound like nothing on the radio, the Mob succeeds. The textures, moods, tempos and subject matter of Age not only vary from what the FM dials up, but from one song to the next. With a harsh editor, Age would make an incredible EP.

“Special Education” tackles bullies and promotes pride in outsider status, but it also brings singer Janelle Monáe—a Dungeon Fam affiliate before her solo career really took off—full-circle. The detective horns of “I’m Set” add funk to the emcees’ bluster, and a beautiful/haunting minimalist loop by Malay and KP on “Kolors” accentuates some near-spoken-word introspection on gang culture. It’s these group efforts, using all four voices, that stand out.

But there are missteps, the primary one being whoever’s idea it was to break up the unified Goodie tunes with songs bellowing to be slotted on a Cee Lo solo singing project. The worst offender is “Amy,” a happy ode to the first white girl that Mr. Green fell for; it’s a fun piece of cheeky pop, in the vain of “Fuck You,” Cee Lo grinning through a hook that may be offensive to someone, I suppose. But it stands out here like a porcupine in a petting zoo, threatening to ruin the afternoon for everyone.

Better is the prodigal son’s “Nexperiance,” wherein the frontman examines his own fame and thumbs the scuffs on his dancing shoes: “I changed my clothes/But I kept my nigger nose,” he rhymes, returning the discussion to race—a Mob theme since the group debuted in ’95.

Thankfully yet frustratingly, Age ends on a strong note. Survive some of Green’s indulgences, and you’ll find “Understanding”—a fresh take on the relationship between man and woman and other woman. It’s powerful, honest stuff. The writing is succinct and slick. And the beat, cooked up by Floyd the Locsmif, would sound at home on Goodie Mob’s 1995 debut Soul Food. —Luke Fox