Album Review: Age Against the Machine by Goodie Mob

Goodie Mob is a hip hop group from Atlanta consisting of Big Gipp, Kujo, T-Mo and most famously Cee-Lo Green. They are known for their association with and fellow Dungeon Family Collective Members Outkast as well as their distinct brand of music which mixes rhymes about crime, poverty, racial injustice, drug dealing and spirituality, with an overall positive message and soulful choruses (usually sung by Cee-Lo).

The group is mostly known for their early releases, Soul Food and Still Standing, which are now considered classics of southern hip hop. This year, the group reunited for the release of Age Against the Machine, which is the first release with all it’s member since 1999’s World Party. In the mean time the various members have pursued other projects, and Cee-Lo has since won 5 Grammy awards, become a host on The Voice, and done very popular work as part of Gnarls Barkley.

As such the members of Goodie Mob are in a much different place, than they were when they released their most acclaimed material together. They are no longer a group that is fresh off the street, but a group of guys who have been well known figures in the music business for many years now. As such this album reflects this, as it makes little attempt to sound like the music of their classic era. For this reason Age Against the Machine feels very forward looking, mature, and self- aware (as it’s name suggest). It also has a level of experimentalism, that I would never have associated with or expected from this group (which has generally followed a very straight forward approach). Overall, the new album is all over the place and a bit of a mixed bag, but where it is strong it sounds great, and even the weaker tracks are still quite interesting.

The album opens with an intro from Big Rube with rhymes celebrating the reunion of Atlanta’s iconic rap group, it gets into a pretty good groove, but ends only a minute into it, before being fully realized. I personally think this track would have been great if the Goodie Mob members got their own verses in it. I found “State of the Art (Radio Killa)” and “I’m Set” to be fairly forgettable club friendly tracks, by have admit the production on them sounds quite good, with one featuring an epic string arrangement and the other featuring a James Bond film style horn section.

“Power” is the first of many songs on the record oriented around Cee-Lo’s singing. It features a hooky chorus and Cee-Lo’s critique of the concept of “white power” and racism in general. It also feature the rather honest statement “It’s not about black and white it’s about Cee-Lo Green”. Despite it’s subject matter, musically it sounds like it would have been more at home on a Gnarl’s Barkley album than a Goodie Mob release. This is also true of the anthemic “Ghost of Gloria Goodchild” which tales the story of a girl who died alienated her family and ultimately lost her life, due to her need to express herself through hip-hop.

For me the album really kicks into gear with “Valleujah”, which is a song about overcoming obstacles and persevering. It features an extremely catchy chorus, sung by Cee-Lo and rhymes from himself and other members of the group. It has a very spiritual feel, and is probably the closest track on the album, to what I would have imagined a reunited Goodie Mob as sounding like. My one objection to it is that it bad mouths atheists in the line “The industry is full of cleptos and atheists”. I know these guys have a religious side to them, but bad mouthing a minority, that I am part of seems hardly necessary.

Other strong tracks include “Pinstripes”, which has a nice feature from TI and a beat that features bizarre operatic Fa-la-la-la-la vocal parts, and “Special Education”, which has a very industrial sounding beat and chorus sung by Janelle Monae. The latter is about the concept of being special or unique and feature the lines: “I’d rather die than to not be distinguished. The outsiders have no desires to be equal When V.I.P. stands for “Very Insecure People”. I found this admission of insecurity to be something many will likely relate to, though I do think whole general theme of being special is a bit overused in the media.

Another favorite on the album is “Kolors” which is strong lyrically, and has a chill, washed out, psychedelic sound, that is way outside the box. It features a jazzy trumpet part, and subtle use of piano, and tape effects that bring to mind The Beatles’ Revolution 9. The song has no chorus and each member gets a verse. The beat does not actually drop until halfway through Cee-Lo’s verse. It sounds very experimental, but has an ambient quality that it works quite well, with it’s reflective subject matter.

“Nexperience” and “Both of Me” are two very racially charged pieces, that have lines critical of apathy among black Americans. The former starts of as a guitar heavy almost Led Zeppelin-like rocker, while the latter is a laid back rap piece, that has a similar feel to Kolors, but with much more blunt language.

At the end of this stretch of racially charged songs is the power pop song “Amy” which seems to come straight out of nowhere. It is sung by Cee-Lo and gives a positive account of a teenage romance between the presumably had with a white girl. This song is so upbeat and so hooky, that it may be the least Goodie Mob like song on the album. The song feels very affectionate, and does a great job a countering the taboos of interracial romance, while managing to be a completely over the top pop song about teenage love.

“Amy” is followed by “Understanding”, which is a slow jam, with an R&B chorus performed by Cee-lo’s female protege V. Aside from the female vocal’s it is one of the closest songs to their old style on the album. “Uncle Red’s (Interlude)” is minute long piece, presented in the form of a bedtime story about the drug trade. It has a chimey beat and sounds great. I truly wish they had done more with it.

The album closes with “Father Time” a solid group rap piece about, the concept of fatherhood, many consider it a high point of the album. On deluxe editions of the album, two bonus tracks were included. The first of these “Eye Know (She Came Home)” is a fairly forgettable piece but the second “Southern Girl” is bluesy, southern fried, piece that features over the top lyrics and is quite fun.

Overall I found this to be a solid release. It is not as definitely not as good as Soul Food or Still Standing, but it does not need to be. I especially respect this album, for it’s forward looking experimental feel, and it’s deliberate decision not to try to recreate the sound of the groups previous works, but to explore new territory.

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