I’ve written my fair share of anniversary pieces this year and for me it’s like being a kid in a candy store. 1995 was very kind to hip hop and it’s a year jam-packed with most of my favorite albums. From Mobb Deep’s The Infamous to Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, the nine-nickel gave us classics upon classics. It was that abundance, though, that pushed other releases arguably on par to the back burner of revisionist history.
That’s the case with Goodie Mob’s Soul Food. By 1995 hip hop was dominated by an East Coast resurgence, preceded by the West Coast making a heavy dent in the culture. The South was largely unnoticed nationally and even Outkast hadn’t gotten their full due after dropping Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik a year earlier.
Soul Food is similar to Southernplay; that is if you were to dip Big Boi’s Coup De Ville in giant fryer and serve it with some mac and greens. It was quintessential Southern hip hop before that was even a thing and presented a very staunch political message trumping most of what was being released at the time. During a time heavily overflowed by Gangsta Rap, Outkast’s Dungeon Family counterparts held their own by being the wise country cousin from around the way spreading knowledge to youngins not trying to hear it.
Even the album’s singles were politically charged. “Cell Therapy” is a staunch warning to listeners about government overreach and call to a new world order. It also addresses the deprived lifestyles of those in Southwest Atlanta. People from the city and surrounding regions are still largely ignored as a majority of the South is either at or below the poverty line. The same was the case back then.
On the LP’s title track, the quartet trade verses reminiscing about growing up and working through the grit. Bars from Cee Lo Green’s first verse pretty much sum up the song and album: “Everythang I went through I appreciate the s**t because If I had went and took the easy way / I wouldn't be the strong n**** that I am today / Everythang that I did, different thangs I was told / Just ended up being food for my soul.”
Rap has been largely superficial for a while, especially when it comes to the South. While most rap about what they have, Goodie Mob yarned about what they didn’t have. Soul Food’s message was something only to be rivaled by early Geto Boys and would be the chapter between Outkast’s debut and landmark albums like ATLiens and UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty.
The album is as flavorful as the title implies. It’s a smorgasbord of Southern soul seasoned with the kind of awareness unparalleled at the time. We’re in a time now where the South has been demonized. Where Atlanta is the epicenter of the tired conversation of “who killed hip hop?” and “why the ‘90s were better.” Both are subjective statements, but what isn’t opinion is that the South isn’t lyrical. Soul Food disproves that sentiment.
On “Dirty South” T-Mo raps, “See life's a b***h then you figure out / Why you really got dropped in the Dirty South / See in the 3rd grade this is what you told / You was bought, you was sold.” It’s these kind of stirrings that paint the picture of Black oppression and foretell an element of American culture yet to be rectified. That’s why it’s so important.
In ‘95 8 Ball & MJG gave us a little more trunk knock and some “Space Age Pimpin’” with On Top of the World while their Memphis contemporaries Three 6 Mafia spawned the eerie and occult stylings of Mystic Stylez. Though both are great in their own right and sonically foreshadowed where rap was headed on a production tip, Goodie Mob’s album set a social precedent.
Perhaps it’s because the Mob’s catalog is brief, or that members aside from Cee Lo failed to make a mainstream name that Goodie Mob doesn’t get its just due. Maybe it was ATLiens and Aquemini’s release shortly after that took over the alternative hip hop lane leaving Soul Food in the dust. Whatever the case, the fact remains that it deserves more recognition, or at least a re-listen.
Soul Food was released two decades ago Saturday (November 7). It’s country, but tells the story of our country. It’s not all golden chicken and cornbread. You might come even up on something rough. But once you’re done eating, you’ll feel full. That’s Goodie Mob’s kind of cooking. Hop in the whip, drive somewhere far – preferably where farmland or open space is in abundance – and hit play on it one more 'gin.
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Watch: Soul Train Awards Rewind! Cee-Lo Green –– Best Male R&B/Soul Artist in the video below.
(Photo: Raymond Boyd/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
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