"What you niggas know about the Dirty South?" asks the refrain of Goodie Mob's seminal, term-coining 1995 single "Dirty South." In the mid-'90s, the question piqued the interest of listeners across the country tired of mainstream rap's obsession with Los Angeles and New York ,and the beef between Tupac and Biggie. Soon, along with fellow Dungeon Family group OutKast, Goodie Mob was putting Atlanta on the national map with a southern-fried hip-hop sound that helped define the genre for years to come.
Now, more than a decade since their heyday and almost that long since their last tour together, the original members of the group — Cee-lo, Khujo, T-Mo and Big Gipp — are back on the road. But don't call it a reunion, says Cee-lo. "It's more of a continuum," the MC and vocalist tells Xpress. "What people done witnessed over the last 10 years is a testament to our elasticity. We were stretched out but not separate."
Although they won't admit to officially breaking-up, the '00s saw the emcees focus on a number of other projects. Gipp released Mutant Mindframe and later collaborated with Nelly's St. Lunatic family. Khujo released a pair of solo albums and teamed up with T-Mo to form the Lumberjacks. In 2004 Gipp, Khujo and T-Mo worked together on One Monkey Don't Stop No Show. But none of their efforts compared to the success Cee-lo found with Gnarls Barkley. A collaboration with multi-instrumentalist/producer Danger Mouse, their 2006 debut St. Elsewhere went platinum and earned them two Grammys. Rolling Stone recently went so far as to declare their song "Crazy" the best song of the decade.
In time, however, the urge to make music and perform together again with his childhood friends in the Mob proved irresistible. "We're coming all the way up from nursing school. We've been around each other all our lives," says Cee-lo. "We're really having fun. This is a second child to us — we've been privileged and empowered and compassionate about having another opportunity."
Asked if the tour marks a full-fledged return or if it's more of a way for them to test the waters, Cee-lo insists that the Mob is back to stay. "This is sailing the waters," he says. "We're multitasking between fulfilling the obligations of a tour, and also thinking, and creating, and socializing about new ideas and new music and new material. So of course there's an album in mind and in the works. It's a process, slowly but surely."
Cee-lo says the current shows have the feel of a live mix tape, with the MCs offering remixed versions of their classic songs. "It still continues to be organic and atmospheric," he says.
Adds Khujo, "We're also bringing some of that old soul, that old funk that has inspired us to be who we are today. So it's like we're doing a tribute to all the fallen soldiers plus the ones that inspired us. So when you come to the show you're not only going to see a 'rap' show, you're going to see it all, all genres of music, all types of talent being displayed."
While hesitant to name names, members of the group cite disdain for what they hear on the radio as part of what's motivating them to make music, seeing themselves as once again offering a fresh alternative to mainstream rap. "Rapping is talking at a tempo. Hip-hop is culture and cultivation, consciousness and consideration. It's embodying everything that it is and that one intends it to be, and that's in our playlist," says Cee-lo. "It ain't about following nobody else's path, it's about blazing a trail."
The MCs also say their gritty mix of combativeness and consciousness continues to be inspired by the struggles and tough realities of life on the streets of Atlanta. "Rap and hip-hop comes from urban areas. So there's a lot of angst, there's a lot of animosity, there's a lot of anger, there's a lot of energy, there's a lot of urgency, and attack," Cee-lo says, later explaining that he sees Goodie Mob's music as a tool in an ongoing fight against ignorance that's just as important now as ever. "It's not hard to keep the urgency because we still care and we're still compassionate. And we still gotta fight, we still gotta fight — fighting for our rights, fighting for our lives and fighting for the future."
[Jake Frankel is an Asheville-based freelance writer.]
who: Guerilla Union presents Goodie Mob, featuring Cee-Lo, Big Gipp, Khujo and T-Mo), with B.o.B.
where: The Orange Peel
when: Saturday, Feb. 13 (9 p.m. $30/$32. www.theorangepeel.net)