Before he stroked a kitten like a Bond villain on NBC’ s The Voice, belted out a “Forget You” duet—dressed like a peacock—with Gwyneth Paltrow at the Grammys, and sang that ubiquitous line, Does that make me craaaaazy, CeeLo Green was a member of the seminal hip-hop group, Goodie Mob.
The Atlanta-based act formed in 1991 and, along with their contemporaries, Outkast, were at the forefront of “Dirty South” hip-hop movement that brought Southern rap into mainstream consciousness. Goodie Mob’s name is a backronym standing for “The GOOD DIE Mostly Over Bullshit,” and the group, comprised of emcees CeeLo, Big Gipp, Khujo, and T-Mo, rapped about weighty political and social issues like racism, ethnocentrism, and good ol’ fashioned discrimination. After the group released three albums, including its classic debut, Soul Food, CeeLo left the group to pursue other projects. But now, all four original members are back for their first album in 14 years, Age Against the Machine, available on August 27.
I heard you guys were the first to coin “Dirty South.”
CeeLo: Well, when we were all coming together in ’94-95, Goodie Mob was featured in two halves: myself and Big Gipp on a song called “Git Up Get Out,” and Khujo and T-Mo on “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” off Outkast’s debut album. Those two songs made it official that we were the forefathers of Southern hip-hop. There was a group that Big Gipp was in prior to joining Goodie Mob, East Point Chain Gang with Cool Breeze, and Cool Breeze was actually the one who came up with the title, “Dirty South” for the song off Goodie Mob’s debut album. And it ended up having an awful lot of staying power.
How long did it take to make Age Against the Machine?
Big Gipp: It took about three and a half years, and that’s only because of the success my brother [CeeLo] had on so many other levels. But while he was off doing his work, we were still putting together songs and ideas.
CeeLo, why did you decide to leave Goodie Mob in the first place?
CeeLo: We had decided to take the time to explore the individual things we wanted to do. World Party was released, and we had three consecutive gold albums, so we felt it was the ideal time to try other stuff out. Khujo and T did some things, while me and Gipp were signed to Arista Records before it folded under the advisory of L.A. Reid. And we had some creative differences—not so much personal—and the creative differences made us lose sight of the things that once bonded us together. We had always communicated throughout and have been friends for so long, so eventually we got over it, but success in other areas did cause a prolonged hiatus. I think we would have returned a lot earlier.
As far as the creative differences go, the first couple of Goodie Mob albums seemed to tackle important social justice issues, and then World Party was more pop-oriented. Is that where the differences were—the approach?
CeeLo: Yeah, it has a lot to do with my own personal indifference. I am more partial to what we had done prior, as opposed to trying to expand and say we didn’t just live in that box. We were being advised by executives and people who wanted to add on to our sound—to make it more commercial—by taking some different strides.
Big Gipp: Also, we were a little tired of being on the road for so long. With each album, we were on the road for two years straight. And, like he said, the label came in and asked us to do different things, and it was hard for us to sleep knowing that we had other hands in the kitchen, when before, it was just us in the kitchen.
Goodie Mob was the first group to use a Kanye West-produced track on their album—the song “Rebuilding.” Now, the two big rap albums out are West’s Yeezus and Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail. Which one do you like better?
CeeLo: If I had to pick one, I would say Magna Carta. But you know, there’s validity in all expression. Most extensive careers have that dark period—that discovery album, that art album—and now this serves as two in Kanye’s illustrious career, with 808’s and Yeezus. I think when any disappointment comes up … when you’re disappointed in someone’s work, you’re reminded why you’re a fan. Now, if the art is imitating life … ‘Ye may be in some emotional instability, and it becomes interesting in that way—you begin to wonder about the person and the personality, and lose sight of the music itself. This could also mean or imply that the music wasn’t commanding your attention, and if it wasn’t, the quality of the music may have suffered because of whatever emotional instability you may be in. But I think they both are successful enough, monetarily and materially, for both of those albums to be recreational. And Jay, on the other hand … he just bought his albums, didn’t he? So I guess our opinion doesn’t matter on his!
Age Against the Machine returns the group to the social justice themes it tackled on its first two albums, Soul Food and Still Standing. “White Power” is a fascinating song.
CeeLo: Well, “White Power” is a sarcastic way of speaking on stardom and the larger audience I’ve been able to acquire through The Voice, Gnarls Barkley, and so forth. My audience had broadened immensely, and I’m one of the only black artists out that far, and we come from a very politically charged background, so I’d be the last guy to attain that level of celebrity, so I have attained a bit of my own “white power.” And it’s just about poking fun of, and making a mockery of the status quo. I even looked on the Internet and tried to find some white supremacist groups that we could do the song with. I wanted to revolt and make mockeries of those stereotypes and that separatist kind of attitude, and show a common ground.
And Goodie Mob has a TV show coming out, right?
Big Gipp: It’s on TBS and called The Good Life. It’s reality-based, and we’re just letting cameras into our personal space and you get to see how we deal with each other, and how we deal with our lives on a daily basis—having been in this business for 14 years. It will probably come out in February.
CeeLo: It will actually be the first reality-based show on TBS, and they’re based out of Atlanta, and we’re Atlanta’s native sons, so it makes sense.
As elder statesmen, what do you think about the state of hip-hop? It seems to me to be very image-conscious, and you even have ex-prison guards and the like feigning street cred.
Big Gipp: One thing about life, though: you can only tell a lie for so long. So, the images that people are using to trick the masses, you’ve gotta keep that charade up, and sooner or later you’ll get weak when it’s not real.
CeeLo: We don’t judge, but we acknowledge that acting and performing music are very kindred spirits. You write something down, go into a recording booth, and reenact the emotion onstage. At one point in time, there was a code of conduct: creed and credential. And I’ve said this before on Twitter, but hip-hop was once an Ivy League institution, and now it’s become a community college—you don’t need any qualifications to come on in. And, quite frankly, it can be a little embellished-upon. There’s a low entry level, and it’s become monotonous and congested. All you need to do is be able to rhyme “cat” and “hat,” and you can become an MC. But executives have a lot to do with the larger agenda to emasculate and colonize. I believe hip hop is being used in some mass way to influence underachievement. Maybe these individuals may not be aware of the larger agenda, and how they’re being puppeteered, but if they are, that’s even more shameful.
CeeLo, what’s going on with the new Gnarls Barkley album?
CeeLo: I’ve got three Gnarls Barkley songs already done! Danger Mouse has been working with U2 for the past few years, so I don’t know how it’s going to sound. He did Broken Bells, Norah Jones, Black Keys, all these different projects. But the Gnarls Barkley I know, and the Gnarls Barkley people know and love, is all about the texture, samples, and headspace he was in. I’ve been trying to get him to divide his attention a little bit more!
Now, since The Voice is coming back, we wanted to play a little “word association” game. So just give us one word to describe each of the following, ready? OK, here we go.
CeeLo: The first word that came to mind is “precious.” Adam’s precious, man. Wait, let me retract that. Adam is very competitive.
CeeLo: The best.
Big Gipp: Never liked ‘em!
CeeLo: [Laughs] Impersonal.
Big Gipp: Young heartthrob … the girls like him.
CeeLo: Cock rock. [Laughs]
Big Gipp: He do dope. Just say “dope.” Or “cheater.”
CeeLo: Designer drugs.
Big Gipp: American hero.
Big Gipp: Racist.
CeeLo: Not guilty—apparently not guilty.