Happy 20th Anniversary to Goodie Mob’s second studio album Still Standing, originally released April 7, 1998.
By 1998, everyone knew that the South had something to say. With Atlanta, Georgia at the beginning of its rap renaissance, artists from the area were demanding to be taken seriously and had the chops and material to back it up. And leading this charge was the Dungeon Family, and their potent one-two punch of OutKast and Goodie Mob.
The Goodie Mob—shorthand for “The Good Die Mostly Over Bullshit”—were the blue collar workhorses of the Dungeon Family crew. While OutKast seemed like majestic superheroes, Goodie Mob were the approachable street-level cats that people from neighborhoods throughout the country could relate to. They rhymed about fighting to raise themselves out of dire economic straits. They raged against the crooked constructs of the ruling powers. Few groups were able to describe the Struggle as well as Goodie Mob did during their heyday.
The group was an exercise in contrasting styles coming together to form a greater whole. Goodie Mob had four distinct emcees with four distinct personalities that coalesced into a force of pure lyrical power. There was the deep, guttural baritone of Cameron “Big” Gipp, the sharp, energetic presence of Robert “T-Mo” Barnett, the gruff, growling snarl of Willie “Khujo” Knightson, and the gospel-tinged silky Southern drawl of Thomas “Cee-Lo” Calloway.
The quartet’s debut album Soul Food (1995) was an absolute classic, and solidified the group’s rep as consummate every-men. They followed it up three years later with Still Standing, which stands side-by-side with the top sophomore albums in hip-hop history. It’s just as good as Soul Food in terms of overall quality, and may be a more complete and well-constructed experience. If nothing else, the group took it to the next level lyrically, especially Cee-Lo, who moved himself into the upper echelon of emcees with his performance on the album.
Goodie Mob excelled at depicting the trials and tribulations of Atlanta’s lower-income community in a way that other acts rarely delved into. For “They Don’t Dance No Mo,’” Still Standing’s first single, they examine the changing dynamics of the city’s club culture. Each member spits a short eight-bar verse, each using a double-time describing how dancing at these clubs often becomes secondary to starting beef with other attendees, and how nights can often turn violent in a moment’s notice. Nonetheless, despite the song’s theme, the synth-heavy track had club appeal and became a genuine hit.
“Fly Away” is the most laid-back track and most consummately “Southern” song on the album. It’s also a testament to the pride they possess for their city of origin. Over funk-filled guitars and keys, they reflect upon how the poverty they were raised in shaped their existence. “What you know about the banana and mayonnaise?’ Gipp asks at the beginning of the song. “Slices of toasted bread on a napkin?” T-Mo then describes the sights and sounds they witnessed on a daily and nightly basis while growing up, as Cee-Lo issues a stern warning to those who would belittle his city of birth, assuring them that his southern hospitality only goes so far.
“Beautiful Skin” is a touching dedication to the pursuit and preservation of love. While Gipp raps about successfully finding the love of his life, T-Mo and Khujo ponder their difficulties in finding the right partner and maintaining a strong relationship. The track, helmed by Dungeon Family-affiliated producer Craig Love, is a dense endeavor held together by layered guitar lines.
While all four members of Goodie Mob come correct on Still Standing, Cee-Lo delivers an all-timer of a lyrical performance. Not only is it the best overall performance over an entire album by a Dungeon Family emcee, but it is also truly one of the greatest performances by an emcee on a hip-hop album, ever. No exaggeration.
People who were introduced to Cee-Lo in the 2010s presumably know him for the mega-hit “Fuck You.” As a result, the Cee-Lo that appears on Still Standing must seem like an entirely different artist. Two decades ago, he was one of hip-hop’s strongest lyricists, and with each verse, he could and did put a unique thought in the listener’s head. Truthfully, it’s hard to reconcile the guy who’s now recording innocuously goofy parody songs and showing up at the 2017 Grammys painted gold with the guy who crafted the thought-provoking and vivid performance on this album.
The best example of Cee-Lo’s skills on display here is his verse on “Gutta Butta,” the album’s finest song. Over a solid bassline and drum-track, bolstered by sprinklings of piano, the group describes the various perils that come with living in the slums of Atlanta. Cee-Lo contributes the final verses that explores similar themes to André 3000’s verse on OutKast’s “Elevators.” Rapping with a smooth conversational flow, he explains that despite having a record deal, he’s working hard to survive just like everyone else. He then describes being confronted by a crew of car-jackers while driving home, and resolving to let cooler heads prevail and not let the situation end in bloodshed. “This sad, of course I’mma be mad,” he raps. “Well here you can have it, Godammit, if you want it that bad / You would try to take from me, my n***a I ain’t no star / I value both of our lives more than this car.”
The sparse “I Refuse Limitation” is another of the album’s highlights. Over muted and spare horns and guitars, Goodie Mob rap about their struggle not to let their circumstances of their births dictate their destiny. Cee-Lo is again the star, as he demonstrates his ability to create a clear and lived-in story rap. He illustrates his repeated efforts not to succumb to the temptations of selling drugs in an environment where his lack of education restricts his options. His detailed description of the multitude of hurdles he must face to make it living off minimum wage makes the inevitable fall that much more tragic.
This isn’t to say that the other members of Goodie Mob are superfluous to the success of Still Standing. In fact, Cee-Lo doesn’t appear on a pair of the album’s standouts. “Black Ice,” produced by Mr. DJ, concerns the unforeseen dangers that can hurt those who aren’t paying attention to their surroundings. Gipp delivers three short and sweet verses, before both members of OutKast appear and close out the song in memorable fashion. While Big Boi admonishes aspiring rappers to be serious about their hustle, André 3000 examines the decay of the drug trade that exists under the picturesque appearance of some Atlanta neighborhoods. He raps, “Ain't a thing could explain what pertains / To cocaine and sustaining reign / See summer rolls around, n***as holla ’bout change / Then they steady move them ki’s like Bob James.”
T-Mo produces arguably the album’s best beat on “Greeny Green,” a shimmering, almost majestic guitar-driven track that’s evocative of warm Southern days. T-Mo, Khujo, and Dungeon Family member Witchdoctor all reflect on the tactics that they use to survive the rough life on the Atlanta city streets. “Inshallah” serves as a dedication to the group’s strength and resilience in the face of adversity. All four emcees use short, clipped phrases and flows to describe how they use their spirituality and faith to persevere in an environment where death can be a very real possibility. The gospel influenced track is produced by both Organized Noize and DJ Muggs, the latter of whom featured Goodie Mob on his Soul Assassins (1997) compilation.
The album closes with the title track, as the quartet further explain the struggles that they face to live on the straight and narrow while the temptation to do wrong remains strong. Cee-Lo finishes the song with an unsurprisingly strong final verse, lamenting how he’s left to chronicle the lives of those who weren’t lucky enough to find a way to rise above their dire predicaments. He rhymes, “It’s amazing, how the streets do the majority of raising / Of children who end up dead before hearing what you said / And it’s sad, so all I can write about is what I had / Interpretations of life good and bad with a pen and pad.”
Still Standing would prove to be the high water mark for Goodie Mob. A year and half later they followed-up this album up with World Party (1999), an unsuccessful grab at pop appeal. Cee-Lo left the group soon after to pursue his solo career, leaving the group aimless. They pieced together a pair of albums afterwards, including 2004’s One Monkey Don't Stop No Show without Cee-Lo and the 2013 comeback album Age Against the Machine featuring Cee-Lo’s return, but neither of these rivaled the quality of what the group had previously created.
Regardless of what came afterwards, Still Standing remains a special album. Goodie Mob captured the soul of Atlanta like few other artists and albums did, which is why the album remains memorable to this day.