What Millennials Should Know About… Goodie Mob’s ‘Soul Food’

VIBE spotlights music’s most essential timepieces for Gen Y. You gon’ learn today

Goodie Mob
Soul Food (1995)

Elevator Pitch: Fifteen years before his inauguration as a judge on NBC ratings cow The Voice, Cee-Lo was Atlanta hip-hop’s preeminent maverick. Cee-Lo and his three leather-lunged partners in dissidence—Big Gipp, T-Mo and Khujo—revitalized political rap with 1995’s muckraking Soul Food.

Peak Moment: “Cell Therapy” confronts the depreciated quality of life in Southwest Atlanta, a chokingly restrictive police state that sequesters people of color and modest means (“I wonder if the gate was put up to keep crime out or keep our ass in,” muses Cee-Lo). Amid calls for HUD reform, there’s a suspenseful, “Ice Cream”-like piano loop.

Peak Moment (Pt. 2):I Didn’t Ask to Come” chaperones us through an unsightly procession of gang funerals, making clear that premature death is a given in the banana republic that Goodie Mob calls home.

Prodigy Moment: Cee-Lo opens his verse on “Goodie Bag” with an illusion-shattering zinger (“First of all, I stand a little more than five feet fall/But we can still brawl, nigga, I ain’t scared at all”) that’s reminiscent of Project P, the pint-sized stick-up kid from Mobb Deep. Despite their dwarfish dimensions, these two do not suffer humbug gladly.

Trapper’s Anthem: The block is hot on “Sesame Street.” Young people here have little to look forward to except spiritually deleterious work in Zone 3’s under-the-table economy. Straitjacketed by a lack of options or healthy diversions, the foodies tell us they’re in “desperate need of change.”

Most Slept-On: On “Live at the O.M.N.I.,” a cordon of “one million niggas” march to Organized Noize’s emboldening congas. They’re fed up with being held in thrall to a draconian legal system—because, as Big Gipp carps on “Thought Process,” “Can’t make no moves when you in the hands of the man.” “O.M.N.I.” still stands as maybe the funkiest-ever referendum on prison culture.

Bet You Didn’t Know: Fire-belching, Native Tongues-affiliated freak show Busta Rhymes helped shape the conspiratorial worldview that informs Soul Food. It was Busta who introduced these guys to Milton William Cooper’s pulpy Orwellian thriller Behold the Pale Horse, a 500-page tome of avalanching paranoia that sees the hand of Big Brother in every domestic crisis of the 20th Century.

Synopsis: Production trio Organized Noize—the hive-mind behind OutKast hits like “Player’s Ball” and “Elevators (Me & You)”—spazzed on Soul Food. The music here is spooky, infernal and forbidding, like it was recorded in a dank, cavernous attic crawling with funk 45s and angel dust bunnies.

Everyone in Goodie Mob played their part to perfection. Cee-Lo was the group’s ideological leader, blessed with an ursine tenor and the kind of prophetic charisma you can’t teach. Big Gipp was smooth and blithely cocksure; T-Mo was a ball of pugnacious indigence, rhyming with the entranced fury of a prizefighter; Khujo had the enervated, somnambulant demeanor of an infantryman numb from all the trauma visited upon him in combat.

Together they spoke truth to bureaucratic oligarchy on Soul Food, an edifying feat of descriptive, socially critical storytelling that pressed our nation’s public health apparatus for answers. Why, Goodie Mob asked, must we go to such lengths to ostracize the poor?

Cop Goodie Mob’s Soul Food on iTunes here.