In 1995, Goodie Mob released their debut LP Soul Food, an album that wasn’t only soul-stirring, introspective and wise beyond its years, but one that helped define and establish the soul of Atlanta hip-hop. Deeply familiar in its homegrown wisdom and searing in its socio-political commentary, Soul Food introduced Atlanta natives Big Gipp, Cee-Lo, Khujo and T-Mo as sharp commentators and gatekeepers of the truth. So it makes sense that exactly 25 years later, during possibly the most jarring year in modern American history, Goodie Mob is back with a new album, aptly titled Survival Kit.
“This kind of atmosphere brings out the best in us,” Gipp says. “I think it’s our best work.” It’s a few days after the presidential election, and it feels as if the country is teetering on the brink of chaos. It’s already been a hellish year and heading into December, Gipp has some advice. “For people hearing Survival Kit, we would say this: ‘It’s about to get wintertime. Go get you a deep freezer so you can store food. And go get you a generator for your house so that if that power goes…’”
He trails off with a head shake and a short laugh, though his smile is genuine. If you’ve listened to Soul Food or their stellar 1998 follow-up, Still Standing, you know Gipp’s line of thinking is expected and so is his humor. That’s the thing about Goodie. Yes, they’re leery about the world, but they’ll sit down at your grandma’s table and break bread with you while they put you up on game. Gipp skydives into otherworldly realms on songs like the rap classic “Black Ice,” then comes back to earth to chastise you for littering a few interludes later, and Survival Kit showcases these complexities as much as any of their early work.
Produced entirely by Atlanta’s Organized Noize (Sleepy Brown, Rico Wade, Ray Murray), this go-around they weren’t holed up in the Dungeon in East Point while they worked on music, although Cee-Lo explains that at one point, they did find “a hole in the wall” where they could be “away from the mess and scrutiny.” Seclusion wasn’t hard to manage since the group recorded Survival Kit during the pandemic. Given the group’s long history of warning about days like these, its creation and release feel eerily appropriate.
“I think we were inclined by the opportunity and commanded by the circumstance,” Cee-Lo says, who’s experienced massive success since his early days with Goodie, both solo and with Gnarls Barkley. “Basically, at the end of the day, there’s never a better time than the here and now to do something that you wanted to do. Something that you’re able to do, and in that process, remind your audience and the industry, and the world at large that you are here for reason and purpose. Our purpose is not solely to entertain but to also convey that message, and make that connection with the people.”
The 16-track project includes songs like lead single, “Are You Ready” featuring Chuck D, and the lurking, piano-heavy “Calm B 4 Da Storm,” and while Dungeon Family peers Big Boi and Andre 3000 don’t give fans a long-awaited Outkast reunion on the album, they do show up separately on “Prey 4 Da Sheep” and “No Cigar,” respectively. Overall, Survival Kit isn’t as haunting as standouts like Soul Food’s “Cell Therapy” or Still Standing’s “I Refuse Limitation,” but it’s still persuasive in the urgency of its message: hold on to your integrity, even in the face of hardship.
The lessons infused on the album are ones that the group’s been forced to apply throughout their decades-long career. Their relationships have been tested, but through their successes and roadblocks, including a temporary split in 2002 following the lackluster reception of their third album, 1999’s World Party, Goodie Mob has always managed to return to their core friendship. The unique bond they’ve forged resonates throughout this project, their first since 2013’s Age Against the Machine.
“We’ve been connected for a long time. We love music—that’s what the initial attraction was in the first place at the Dungeon,” T-Mo says, explaining that he met Khujo at Maize High School in Atlanta, Gipp at summer camp and Cee-Lo in elementary school. “We’ve just been connected for a very long time, which is awesome. That’s part of what keeps us wanting to be around each other, and tolerating and loving each other.”
Just as the group’s relationship has transformed with time, so has the city they love. When Goodie first emerged in the mid-90s, representing the College Park and East Point neighborhoods, shouting “Ben Hill been real” on records, Atlanta’s rap sound was mostly undefined outside of bass music. The influential collective Dungeon Family (which featured Goodie Mob, Outkast, Organized Noize, and other Atlanta rappers) established themselves not only with their spiritual, guttural sound, but in Atlanta’s music history. As the city has morphed under the weight of gentrification, so has the music.
“When we were younger, we were speaking in Atlanta code talk, but now Atlanta is an international city,” Gipp says. As “old Atlanta” as they are, Goodie Mob has not been left untouched by that transformation. Though their message remains roughly the same, their delivery and sound are a bit more subtle in its approach.“We just did what came naturally to us,” Gipp says. “We didn’t try to follow trends. We didn’t call up the youngins and say, ‘Yo, let’s do a song together,’ even though we coulda done all that. But we knew our people and our fans wanted to hear Goodie and Organized Noize.”
With hip-hop undergoing a growth spurt of sorts, and artists like Busta Rhymes, Royce Da 5’9 and Little Brother carving out a lane for themselves as elder statesmen of hip-hop who have devoted listeners invested in hearing their experiences as grown men, Goodie Mob find themselves in that similar position. They aren’t teenagers rapping in their homie’s basement anymore. They’re grown men with full-fledged solo careers and responsibilities that extend beyond music. And as for speaking on the state of the world? They feel “morally obligated” to always deliver their brand of truth.
“We gotta speak on it,” Cee-Lo says with a smile. “We got the opportunity, we’re independent, we have the ability, we have the desire and the platform, so why wouldn’t we? Hip-hop is more accessible globally than it’s ever been, but maybe the content itself is at a lower vibration. As long as we co-exist to be a counterbalance, we’ll always be relevant and relative.”
Survival Kit is out now via Organized Noize / Goodie Mob Worldwide
Jacinta Howard is an Atlanta-based culture and entertainment journalist, and a popular contemporary romance author. A former entertainment editor at Upscale magazine, she has been published at Thrillist, Atlanta magazine, XXL, The Source, and HipHopDX, and believes there’s an Andre 3000 lyric to fit any situation. You can follow her on Twitter.