Goodie Mob’s “Soul Food” Introduced the Dirty South. 20 Years Later, It’s Still Got the Recipe.
On November 7, 1995, Atlanta Hip-Hop group Goodie Mob released its debut album, Soul Food. Cee Lo Green, Big Gipp, Khujo, and T-Mo blended conscientious lyrics with Southern sensibilities, and many Heads claim the LP featured the first use of the term “Dirty South” in a Rap lyric. The album would prove to be a harbinger of forthcoming Hip-Hop from the region, helping to pave the way with artists like Outkast to make the Southern United States as big of a Rap contender as the East and West coasts. A little more than 20 years later, the LaFace Records release is being rightfully remembered by the group’s founding members and its fans as historic and unprecedented on a nationwide scale, but also a very personal example of hometown heroes just doing what they did best, embracing distinction and eccentricity as badges of honor.
In the two decades since its release, Soul Food has proven itself to be only an appetizer, the first mainstream introduction to Southern Rap and, as Big Gipp and Soul Food production team Organized Noize‘s co-founder Rico Wade shared with Watch Loud, it was only a reaction to already existing conditions. “There was a revolution going on in music itself, says Gipp. “We had always had heroes in Atlanta like Raheem The Dream and Shy D and Ichiban Records. But once L.A. Reid and Babyface really got a swing of they thing and really started showing us how to make records, that was the first time that we could say that we were playing ball on a national level.” Goodie Mob played ball, running it so far down the court that an entirely new school of creativity was forming, one that changed the way LaFace was viewed as a label. Gipp explains: “You have to remember: there’s a first wave of LaFace artists that didn’t sell any records. The second wave started with TLC, Outkast and us and that was a new beginning for Atlanta.” It wasn’t all salutations and accolades from the rest of the country, however. As Rico Wade remembers it, upon the release of the album the group still had an uphill battle. “Goodie Mob had been introduced. Cee-Lo had just got ‘Rap of the Month’ in The Source [for his verse on Outkast’s ‘Git Up, Git Out’]… But we had also just won The Source Awards and got booed in New York. So they were confident, but we were still fighting that battle for New York.”
Soon enough, however, it became evident that Goodie Mob’s genuine and clearly defined individuality would come to be deeply appreciated in New York, a town known for being a tough crowd but also a crowd which values authenticity and talent. Gipp remarks “We already knew what they was gon’ say in New York. But our thing was…you not going to be able to say we can’t rap; you not gonna say our beats is your beats and we not doing what y’all do. We gon’ do our own thing and we got the nuts to do it and we talented enough to do it.” Do their own thing they did, and the group famously went on to release “Cell Therapy,” their first single against what would have perhaps the more sound, logical, and safe choice for a lead single – “Thought Process,” which featured Andrew 3000. Despite “Cell Therapy”‘s controversial history – “the label’s apprehension and an MTV ban” – it’s the group’s signature track and emblematic of prescient creative decisions that continue to make Atlanta (and the South as a whole) continuously bold and unique in its sound.
Atlanta’s bold and unique history exists beyond its musical output, and artists like Big Gipp understood the tremendous responsibility that came with being a visible artists from that city. “Martin Luther King Jr. is from Downtown Atlanta…for us, that meant something. We grew up with Civil Rights leaders…when we made music, we actually felt like we had to do something to make those guys proud of us. That’s why it’s always been a message in our music, because we always felt like they were listening. And if they were listening, we wanted to make sure that we represented what an Atlanta Black man and what the culture of Atlanta is to the world correctly, Gipp shares. The group’s former manager Bernard Parks credits Goodie Mob with bringing that great sense of pride in Atlanta’s history to a mainstream audience upon the release of Soul Food. “Really, at that time, Atlanta had no identity. And Goodie Mob defined it,” argues Parks.
20 years later, the group’s influence is hard to ignore but for the most part it isn’t remembered outside of the group’s relationship with Outkast, the more commercially successful of the two. As Watch Loud points out, “20 years later, the anniversary of Soul Food passes with nary a special or tribute. No documentaries or anniversary concerts,” but Big Gipp is not phased. “It’s just the joy of still being able to be a force in music in a business that’s not designed for us to make it that long” that he holds on to. “Especially being from my era. It’s just great to know that our fans know that we’re still together, the business hasn’t torn us apart, our kids still hang together and we still cool. And I just don’t think it’s no other group of men that came in the business at the ages we did and they still together like this.”
As Atlanta’s Rap scene continues to shine with artists like Childish Gambino, Lecrae, Janelle Monae, Raury, and Rome Fortune building upon ATL’s rich history, Soul Food may suffer from a strange irony. At the time of its release, it was deemed too left-field, weird, and disconnected to its critics, but the aforementioned Atlanta artists have each, to some extent, built or themselves a huge following based on exactly that – ignoring road markers and instead opting for the quirky, different experiences they have each celebrated through their music. After all of these years, Soul Food still deserves a place at the head of the table.