One monkey might not stop no show, but Cee Lo (famously dissed by One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show, his former group’s 2004 album, after he jetted to solo stardom) has returned to resuscitate the righteous bond the Goodie Mob once shared for a long-overdue comeback 14 years in the making.
The sound of “one-for-all” teamwork that cemented the Atlanta quartet’s music as the gold standard for Dirty South hip-hop is back as well. Big Gipp, T-Mo, Khujo and Cee Lo are about to serve up an updated version of the Dungeon Family funk they started way back in 1991, still heavy with the throb of trunk-rattling crunk. Last week, Goodie Mob previewed Age Against the Machine (due August 27), the group’s first album together since ’99, at Sean “Diddy” Combs’s Daddy’s House studio in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City.
Old Goodie Mob classics like “Cell Therapy” and “Soul Food” blasted through the studio speakers as music journalists, bloggers and record label folks noshed on sushi, washed down with shots of chilled saketinis. The group, perched side-by-side on stools, appeared to be older, wiser and clearly more comfortable with letting Cee Lo do his thing as the group’s pitch man.
Clad in square black shades with a matching black tank, the former (and future) coach from The Voice brought his trademark mirth to the festivities. He sipped on a green cocktail and flashed his high-wattage smile as the host (Shaheem Reid, formerly of Vibe and MTV News) reflected on his own memories of interviewing the group back in the day, with a mixture of awestruck nostalgia and deep respect.
Cee Lo, a natural jokester, dropped hilarious one-liners (“I have a ranch, y’all! I wear leather shorts!”) that immediately loosened up the vibe in the posh studio and ignited fits of laughter from the assembled bloggerati. When he wasn’t hamming it up for the cameras to document the group’s reunion for his upcoming TBS reality series, The Cee Lo Life, the new album’s primary producer was offering his deadpan critique of the current state of rap music. (“The bar has been set so low,” he said, “it’s like Lord of the Flies out here.”)
Admittedly, and a bit annoyingly, only snippets from Age Against the Machine were played, actually making it a bit difficult to decipher some of the wordplay. But it was easy to imagine songs like “Vallelujah” or “I’m Set” (“That’s that war drum sh!t!,” said Cee Lo) rocking the bells this summer in clubs and stadiums alike. Goodie Mob’s collaborations—with Janelle Monáe on Age’s first single, “Special Education,” and T.I., who brought his A-game on “Pinstripes”—feel natural, like hearing an ATLien family reunion with some new in-laws.
The lyrical content was all over the map too, but in a good way. Songs about hip-hop ageism and internalized racism (“Jesus was a Black man/Judas was a ni§§a”) bobbed and weaved around zany erotic fantasias like “The Ghost of Gloria Goodchild,” a Cee Lo Green fable about a seance that he says is loosely based on Footloose.
A good balance of high-minded philosophy and lowdown fun has always been Goodie Mob’s stock in trade. After “Amy” finished playing to a slightly muted feedback from the crowd, Lo replied, “Silence? The new hate? ‘Amy’ wasn’t meant to be racial, it was just meant to be provocative. It was about a ménage I had with a Black girl and a White girl.”
Slick and irreverent as ever, Cee Lo alternately made a point to remind us that he’s the group’s deferential youngest member while surrendering a fair share of camera time to the Mob: Gipp’s low-key earnestness, Khujo’s lucidity, T-Mo’s stoic cool. In fact, Cee Lo took the utmost care to big up his brothers, pointedly defending T-Mo against recent blog criticism panning his rhymes as the group’s weakest link.
But it was Khujo who offered the group’s definitive mission statement: “We been fightin’ against the machine since [1999’s] World Party. Age Against the Machine is all about wisdom. Experience against the machine.”