Soul music: it’s a term that’s overused and misappropriated. Soul music has nothing to do with upbringing, nothing to do with color, nothing to do with beats. Soul music is music that hits the heart as much as-or more than-it pleases the ears. It’s not a term that’s used too much in the genre of hip-hop, although artists from Common to Jay Z to the Beastie Boys have made deeply soulful records over the years.
Goodie Mob’s first album-released nearly twenty years ago-was called Soul Food. The Atlanta quartet was at the forefront of a movement; which was to give the South some respectability in hip-hop. Along with their musical brothers OutKast, they changed the perception of the Southeast from being a home for booty-shaking one hit wonders to an area where some of the most futuristic, mind-expanding rap was being made.
After taking a bit of a break to accommodate the solo whims of rapper/singer/force of nature Cee Lo, Goodie Mob is back, and they’ve returned with a message, and an album, that hip-hop sorely needs.
Age Against The Machine is about many things. It’s about getting older in the world. It’s about getting older in the music industry (as should be made obvious from the title.) It’s about the South’s troubling racial history. It’s about mentorship. It’s also about dating white girls and showing off the exemplary lyricism of Khujo, Gipp, T-Mo and Cee Lo. It’s certainly about more substance than the average hip-hop album circa 2013 is. Now, I hate being that guy…you know, there’s a lot of good music out there, there’s a lot of good rap music out there, and it’s not like good hip-hop music with substance no longer makes it to a mainstream audience (I see you, Kendrick Lamar.) With that said, Age Against The Machine gives me more substance, more life, than 98% of hip-hop I’ve heard in the past couple of years.
In light of the success that Cee Lo has obtained outside the group (three well-received solo albums, 2 albums as half of Gnarls Barkley, six Grammy Awards,) it’s a bit challenging to look at Age Against The Machine as a democratic project. And the truth is that Gipp, T-Mo and Khujo are all incredibly talented emcees, and each member gets a chance to shine over the course of the album. However, it’s hard to suppress a personality as large as ‘Lo’s, and it looms large over Age Against The Machine. His singing and emceeing (is it possible that Cee Lo has been overlooked as the GOAT singer/rapper?) is outstanding. A standout track is “Nexperience,” on which Cee Lo (much like on The Roots’ “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)”) takes the storied “N-word” and recontextualizes it in a way that most musicians-hell, most people-are incapable of doing these days.
Also worth checking out-the bouncy “Amy,” which is the closest relative to Cee-Lo’s solo work and the most obvious radio track, the story-song “Ghost Of Gloria Goodchild,” and the album closer “Father Time,” which can be construed as a father talking to a son, or on a wider scale, a group of grizzled vets trying to school the new jacks on game. Production-wise, Goodie Mob doesn’t have Organized Noize in tow anymore, so Age is sonically different than their previous work. It’s more synthesizer-based, more futuristic, with some songs containing epic, must-hear-this-in-surround-sound music that could almost double as a movie trailer. Age Against The Machine is a relatively guest-free album, which is a rarity for hip-hop these days. Janelle Monae provides a disembodied, robotic vocal part to first single “Special Education,” and T.I. delivers a hot 16 on “Pinstripes.”
It’s all good to nod your head every once in a while, after all. Music has more than one purpose. However, there’s a lot to be said for substance, and Goodie Mob’s return takes a socially conscious worldview, great storytelling and years of experience to make for 2013’s best hip-hop album. Soul food, indeed.