Once, the South brought two of the greatest MCs of all time, with all the tools to be the greatest ever, in two of the greatest groups of all time…Before one put on a coon costume cigar store Indian outfit and buckdanced in front of a teepee…Before old hoes’ trill work was renovated to family twerking…Before one of them popped his Soul to a fuck you jolly hexmas sleigh ride…Before wigger R&Bers thicke in mud (Miley Urinary Debris)could bite and tell the court Gaye went back to the future to bite him…It was when Outkast’s Andre 3000’s wasn’t supposed to shuffle prance and sing gooey wop and Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo wasn’t supposed to write America’s top fodder. Dre had an insight and subtle cleverness that, like Rakim’s best, led you back to study its content and its poetic verve. Cee-Lo, on the first two Goodie Mob albums (1995’s Soul Food & 1998’s Still Standing), achieved a lyricism that was as daily as today’s slave narrative and profoundly and beautifully spiritual able to uplift those trapped in mystery to look to their own Godly Blackness. Listening deeper, Cee-Lo is one of the few MCs with every raw talent and developed skill an MC could have. But the 2000s happened…
The 2000’s saw at least three MCs with every gift to be G.O.A.T. never offer the material to be such. BIG PUN returned to the essence before the 2nd month of the decade was over. We immediately lost one of the most balanced experiences we could ever hear on wax. A brother from the root of Hip Hop’s beginnings –the BRONX—draped in its culture, through the spirit of ever developing intelligence (PUN was one of the most well read and intelligent MCs one could ever meet) and embedded first hand in all of the violent activity that affects our Latino and Black brothers. No flow, topic, cadence, tempo, charismatic turn or break could challenge him…except himself. Lauryn Hill, with a blessed voice of pure Soul – beauty and hurt note by note, brought elegance to the lyrical verse of the most supreme depth. As a lyricist, her merging of lyrical dexterity and agility is unparalleled with a songbird voice to hook it to brain or balladeer it to heart. The industry and a lack of support that all our Black women deserve to flower as an artist and/or life giving Earth was not there. After her emotionally exposing and lyrically exploding live album she sadly drifted away during the 00’s.
Then there is Cee-Lo. In proper Hip Hop musical history the South, as a general wax giving populace of the 00’s, was a piece of shit wasteland. There is no fucking need for scholarship. If we could experiment and musically blow the South off the map during the 00’s more children may have read more books and found their place as great men—that old militant dream of niggas to God. Or the man at the label would provoke the pure embrace of the dated 808’s, simplified jingle as verse and coon tactics from another impoverished region of this United States Ghetto. Cee-Lo was the anamoly—brother from the backwoods with cornbread and collard greens to fuel the thoughts that challenge and the observations that inspire, shame and acknowledge us to better change. His inflections are emotive peaks spread through verses that relate first person tales inside oppression. His characters (i.e. “I Refuse Limitation,” “They Don’t Dance No Mo”) fluctuate in pitch, resonance and tempo to contour the facial images of them we have in our mind. His spirituality told us to respect our greatness (“God is every man of Blackness”), depict our savagery (“the fact is you ain’t a nigger because you black/You a nigger cause of how you act”) and reached an epic proportion to see the glory of Art (“It’s immortalized forever, on wax CD’s and cassettes/And when someone goes to the store and purchases it for ten/The life cycle starts all over again/And I was granted this music as my soulmate, to procreate/And give back what I was given, a life worth living…”). But the 00’s revealed that the MC with the most gifts can be used to make the most of pop rifts. And Cee-Lo’s abilities, as they are expressed through MC verse on break, was slowed to a halt. From Soul singing more on his solo LPs to then just straight using his song writing gifts to hook the universe around his middle finger, Cee-Lo the MC also did not have the work output to be GOAT.
Yet these GOAT talents in all of Cee-Lo’s newly adapted ways and classical gifts is merged to lead Goodie Mob’s return on Age Against The Machine. A rare Hip Hop LP of pop appeal with songs dazzled together it isn’t the rugged bars on bars the Soul Food and Still Standing classics are. It is literally their 3rd LP, the weak World Party, made right. It is Cee-Lo’s pop mastery experience of the last decade plus applied to a quick-fire LP with hooks, loops and memorable themes that Cee-Lo, Big Gipp, T-Mo and Khujo all strive in with liveliness and vigor.
Lyrically, the pop platform that Cee-Lo brings only lets the other Goodie MCs rhyme with more power and the themes are delivered now with a sardonic defiance that must be respected. It jumps from “Amy” heralding a pop ballad for the Black man’s lust for the white woman for all the wrong reasons and the hypocritical taboo of it all imposed by society to the slow funk of “Special Education” highlighting the disgusting prevalence of clone artists and robotically controlled listeners. Cee-Lo is often the most vicious noting how they, with pop success, as we without, are still treated as niggas (“Nexperience”), reclaiming his ghetto Soul passes (“Kolors”) as Big Gipp and Khujo excel with verbal complexity. They expose insights with clever wordplay (“Conceived in the South at a special time/Covered in leaves of gold/Scripture written in scrolls/Spoken so clearly in tongues/So my children would come/Look around/Can’t you see/The industry—they look like me” – Big Gipp) mixed with satirical hooks that are incredibly clever in rhyme styles (“I’m Set”) insightful skits (“Silence…The New Hate (Interlude)”) and clear themes on each song from an abstract presentation (“Kolors”) to an overt declaration (their legacy in retrospect on “Father Time”). Even with less serious matter as “Understanding,” detailing the place of one’s mistress, Khujo exemplifies Goodie’s ability to wax sincerity. Age..is an MC performance of substance’d style as opposed to the substance’d extended lyricism with substance they achieved their greatest peaks with.
Musically, few tracks can survive on their own as instrumentals yet work as the vessels they are intended to be. The burping bass grooves, thumping bass drums and skipping break on “Valleujah” needs the MCing it gets while “Father Times” metal tambourine’d snare and sharp bassdrum is tough bop work. The tough rock of “Nexperience” oscillates with Cee-Lo’s emotions. The drumroll march of “Come As You Are” leading into a stomping wail and the frenetic oddities of warped violin and digital beat thumps on “State of the Art (Radio Killa)” turn the tracks to an entire play production for their ideas. The counter snare work guiding lovely jazz airs of fluting chants and sunned horns on “Kolors” and Cee-Lo’s reverberating chorus on “Ghost of Gloria Goodchild” are the best of the musical innovations.
Age Against the Machine is Goodie Mob with much to build on turning their gift for pure verse into hooks, gimmicks and pop tracks to deliver it all. The GOAT gifts of Cee-Lo and the powerful talents of Big Gipp, T-Mo and Khujo are not used for evil; rather, they are used evilly to make a deep Hip Hop album without much of Hip Hop MCing and almost no breakbeat gems. If Hip Hop ever really became a pop music of respect, it would sound like this.