What a year it has been.
In this crazy mix of politics, panic and pandemic, some clarity has emerged. People are demanding change, and it's happening whether the powers-that-be embrace it or not. So it goes without saying that Goodie Mob's Survival Kit arrives in a heady time. In a year when Americans have grappled with the coronavirus, a dramatic and anxiety-inducing election, and ongoing racial conflict;, the four members of Atlanta's most famed quartet believe that the kind of music they've crafted is more than necessary — there's a sense of urgency.
"We realized that 'Cell Therapy,' the actual song, came alive," Gipp says, referring to the group's classic debut single. "It made us recognize that something that we said...twenty-five years later, the world got to see what 'Cell Therapy' meant. We said we've got to go in and write the next chapter of the book."
That book was started in 1995, when four emcees came together to form Goodie Mob. Announcing that "God Is Every Man Of Blackness" on their debut album Soul Food, breathing mystical life into southern Black experience with their stellar sophomore album Still Standing, and continuing with a discography that is as eclectic and outside-the-box as the four men themselves, Goodie Mob's legacy is cemented. But they are not resting on any laurels.
Survival Kit is Gipp, T-Mo, Khujo and Cee-Lo's return as Goodie Mob after seven years working on their individual projects. Re-teamed with longtime producers Organized Noize and reinvigorated by the current cultural climate, the foursome is reminding everyone that the South still got something to say.
"We going back to the roots," T-Mo boasts. "We took our time with this album. We understood the void that we filled back in the days and we understand the void that we can fill in 2020 and 2021."
Gipp echoes that sentiment. Goodie Mob has been around for 25 years and the group is still focused and improving.
"I gotta come back and show y'all how to do it at this age," he says with a laugh. "And do it gracefully and still be ahead of what you think is poppin!'"
Goodie has dropped two singles in the run-up to the album's release, the Chuck D-assisted "Are You Ready?" and the explosive "Frontline." Both songs carry the group's tradition of topicalty, and the album has no shortage of commentary. And part of why Goodie Mob has always resonated is because they don't talk at their audience, they are their audience. T-Mo is quick to remind everyone that Goodie Mob has never preached from a mountaintop; these are men who represent relatability.
"I grew up listening to 2 Live Crew and N.W.A.!" he says with a laugh. "It wasn't all positive music! We heard all that."
That element of everymanism is what drives their appeal; what makes Goodie forever significant is they also set a high standard with their art: always creative, always unique. And now, with a few more gray hairs and a lot more life experience, they are still sharpening their swords.
"I grew up in Hip-Hop. Ain't nobody young can beat me at this shit," says Gipp. "I love how they do it! When I do it, it's just a little different. You can learn something from the way I do it. Because the way that the game is set up now, they took all the substance out so they can sell you nothing."
Substance is what thrust Goodie Mob to the forefront of southern rap in the mid-1990s, when Soul Food cemented them as signifiers of Atlanta consciousness. "The A" can definitely make you turn up, but it can also make you sit down and think. It's been a cornerstone of Goodie Mob from the very beginning.
"It was always the struggle of four Black men," Khujo explains. "Coming from different walks of life: East Point. Southwest Atlanta, Northwest Atlanta. So in a sense, that broke all the stereotypes that Black men can't get together to do business. 'The good die mostly over bullshit,' but you had four men come together to put their city on the map."
The new project was recorded against the chaotic backdrop of 2020; the summer prior to its release, the city of Atlanta was rocked by protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Along with the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the shooting of Jacob Blake, there has been a firestorm of outrage and activism demanding revolution and reform.
"We're being exterminated," Cee-Lo states. "And we [can] aid and abet an agenda of genocide by our attitude and ignorance and lack of identity and origin. I think being a 'nigger' is being utterly accepting. No ambition. No aspiration to grow. Some have convinced themselves that being a nigger is a natural state of being when it's a taught and learned behavior. [But] if it's clinical, then it can be cured. There has to be a revolution of the mind."
Goodie Mob's reputation for commentary is well-earned. These four never have a shortage of perspective, and even as their home turf has always been branded the land of bass music or trap music or stripper music -- Goodie has remained Goodie.
"When we do music, it's some magical force that makes us rap the way we do," muses T-Mo. "I went into the studio and tried to rap a ratchet song and I just couldn't do it!"
"I remember the label asking us [years ago]: 'Man, y'all don't get y'all dick sucked?'" Khujo says with a laugh.
It's hilarious to think that anyone would try to mute the message when it clearly has so much power; but that's often what makes the gatekeepers nervous. Nonetheless, with Survival Kit, Goodie Mob once again takes the bullhorn to try and rally the people with information.
"When you get this Goodie Mob album, you're going to be able to live and get something off of it. Organized told us 'we proud of y'all,'" Gipp says. "All the substance [the public] ain't gettin,' they'll get out of this album. The smart people gon' find it. The rest of y'all are part of the matrix! Y'all will get to it sooner or later."
The pandemic weighs heavily, and Gipp wants fans to understand this music is to help get your soul through it. Because nothing will ever be the same.
"For those who want to hear some real shit, don't nobody do it better than Goodie Mob," he feels. "Everybody who knows how to make club songs and pop songs, it's your world. But with the matrix going down, and it's back on this blue collar shit? I got you beat, homes."
As they now look back and look out over the Hip-Hop landscape as elder statesmen, the Mob is still trying to speak to the people and for the people. "Grown folks rap" isn't new, but it's visible right now in a way that feels refreshing if you happen to be one of the many Hip-Hop heads who are now navigating middle age. But beyond any generational specifics, what Goodie Mob has to say has always been universal.
"Information is the truest form of equality," Cee-Lo says. "Which is why they burn books and burn down libraries."
The good may often die over bullshit, but these brothers remain; steady and intact. Survival Kit is a testament to longevity and clarity of vision.
"I think this album is just as important as Soul Food was when [it] came out," Gipp shares. "It will give you survival techniques that you can live by when the quarantine comes back."
Cee-Lo shares that spirit.
"I believe that music is a means to inform and entertain us, [but also] to equalize us and level us up," he says.
"If only we were better listeners."
* HEADER CREDIT: Goodie Mob 2020 photo shoot. (Photo by Nina Karetova)