Why Goodie Mob’s Soul Food’ is the greatest Atlanta rap album of all time
The money. The power. The trap. The New South. The War on Drugs. The Red Dogs. The Dixie flags. The Million Man March. The Atlanta Child Murders. The black mecca. The 20th anniversary of ‘Soul Food.’ The South Had Something to Say.
The money. The power. The trap. The New South. The War on Drugs. The Red Dogs.
The Dixie flags. The Million Man March. The Atlanta Child Murders. The black mecca.
The 20th anniversary of ‘Soul Food.’ The South Had Something to Say.
Three weeks before the release of Goodie Mob’s debut album, Robert “T-Mo” Barnett, Willie “Khujo” Knighton, Jr., Cameron “Big Gipp” Gipp, and Thomas DeCarlo “CeeLo” Callaway boarded a bus. With Soul Food mixed, mastered, and submitted to LaFace Records, it was time for the group to take a trip. Joining them for the ride was the entire Dungeon Family. But this was not a typical promotional tour. Far from it, in fact. The destination was Washington, D.C., where the up-and-coming First Family of Southern hip-hop would join a crowd of like-minded black men conservatively estimated to number nearly one million.
The Million Man March climaxed on the afternoon of Oct. 16, 1995 with Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan issuing a call for atonement, reconciliation, and personal responsibility after a decade of decimation in the black community from crack, crime, and the War on Drugs.
Just two months prior, Andre 3000 of OutKast had issued another cultural challenge of sorts at the second annual Source Awards. In the bosom of hip-hop, at the Paramount Theater in New York City’s Madison Square Garden, he and Big Boi collected their Best New Artist honors to audible boos from the crowd. With OutKast quite literally cast aside as bicoastal tension brewed between East Coast label Bad Boy and West Coast stronghold Death Row, Andre dropped a prophetic bomb: “I’m tired of folks, youknowhatimsayin, them closed-minded folks. It’s like we got a demo tape but don’t nobody want to hear it. But it’s like this: The South got something to say and that’s all I got to say.”
When Soul Food hit shelves on Nov. 7, it presented a resounding response to both Farrakhan’s plea for spiritual rebirth and Andre’s premonition of Southern redemption. The members of Goodie Mob had the audacity to speak in their own Southern dialect about their own Southern reality from their own Southern point of view. The result was an album so hyperlocal in content that those who lived outside of I-285 missed half the context.
Ironic, ain’t it, how times have shifted. Now Atlanta is the center of the hip-hop universe. Our biggest musical exports rap in drug-addled drawls so thick even we can’t understand them. But before there was Dirty Sprite, there was the Dirty South. In 1995, Atlanta was a city on the make, full of Olympic hopes and Miami dope, scheming politicians and connected businessmen, Red Dogs and Dixie flags. Goodie Mob aired it all out over a narrative of death and reawakening.
The album may not have reached the platinum success of OutKast’s debut, but it was more meaningful. Soul Food became the first hip-hop album to canonize “the Dirty South.” It trumpeted issues of social justice alongside the trials of the streets. It chastised Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton in one verse, and corrupt former city councilman Douglas “Buddy” Fowlkes and Governor Zell Miller in another. It was spiritual and Southern gothic; an album of mourning, equal parts haunting and healing.
In a genre full of bluster, Soul Food stripped away all pretense to reveal the souls of young black men coming of age in the hood. It took intellect, passion, poetry, madness, and a political awareness that often bordered on paranoia.
“It was our version of gangsta music, with some sense though,” says producer Rico Wade, one-third of Organized Noize and Dungeon Family co-founder. “We took a stand with Goodie Mob. We needed to show that we are conscious. And the backdrop of it was dark because it was street. Niggas had come up in some pain.”
Plenty of rap has come out of Atlanta over the last two decades — the entire discography of the most popular hip-hop duo of all time included. But no album has reflected and dissected the city of Atlanta with more honesty than Soul Food. It upholds the tradition of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. while simultaneously ripping apart the mountaintop mythology of Atlanta as the proud black mecca. Without the record’s soul-searching introspection, OutKast might never have made the leap from post-pubescent players to out-of-this-world ATLiens. And Southern hip-hop might still be questing for the depths of its soul.
Soul Food gets its just due as a classic, but it’s also one of the most important social documents of the late-20th century. Equally inspired by personal trauma and political strife, the album made a conscious effort to wake the world up to Southern hip-hop while waking the South up to the dire state of the world.
“I felt like we were more activists than artists,” CeeLo told Complex in a 2013 look back at the album. “At that time, we were fighting for the civil rights of Southern hip-hop to be counted.”
At once past, present, and prescient, this is the album that went beyond merely putting Atlanta on the map. It grappled with the identity of the city in ways we’re still too busy to appreciate.
“Lord it’s so hard, living this life
A constant struggle each and
— CeeLo, “Free”
In an era when gangsta rap ruled, most mid-’90s hip-hop albums were known to start with a bang. Not Soul Food. It begins with a cry for freedom. Over the sparse gurgles of a Hammond B3 organ, CeeLo does something nearly unprecedented in the genre: He unearths the Southern tradition of old Negro spirituals for a solo gospel intro. On “Free,” CeeLo sings of his desire to shake off the shackles of a world where mental and spiritual enslavement have replaced the physical kind. It’s bookended by the heavenly chorus heard on the album’s closing song, “The Day After,” where angelic voices sing: “I’m so happy we made it, I knew one day we would. All these years of struggle, were never understood.”
In between the two, all hell breaks loose.
A narrative slowly emerges on Soul Food in which a seemingly lost generation is cast as the protagonist in a psychodrama of its own undoing. If OutKast is baby baller music, this here is inner-city blues. Word to Marvin Gaye. Just one year after lacing Big and Dre with ‘playalistic Cadillac grooves, Dungeon Family founders Organized Noize (Ray Murray, Sleepy Brown, Rico Wade) conjured a sound palette for Soul Food that created the perfect contrast for the more mature Goodie. Dark, soulful, and contemplative, it bumps like dystopian funk.
“Thought Process” grapples with the senselessness and stress of the everyday hustle, as Khujo makes what is possibly hip-hop’s first reference to “the trap.” Cool Breeze challenges the stereotype that Southerners are too slow for the streets with a dope boy anthem full of “Dirty South” pride. “Cell Therapy” gets downright apocalyptic with its New World Order wake-up call. “Live at the O.M.N.I.” twists the name of Atlanta’s former sports and entertainment complex into a critique of mass incarceration that doubles as an uplifting call for unity to “One Million Niggas Inside.” The Mob even pays homage to the nucleus of the black family with its own Dear Mama ode “Guess Who.” And the title track puts a literal spin on the album’s theme with a celebration of the best “Soul Food” dishes.
As the album pulses forward, a eulogy unfolds that becomes a metaphor for the myriad ways in which young black men are losing their lives and minds daily, while much of society ignores — or exploits — the systemic cycle.
When CeeLo pauses on “Fighting” to break down the Goodie Mob backronym — “Goodie Mob means the Good Die Mostly Over Bullshit” — he’s speaking of death as a phenomenon both physical and spiritual, personal and communal.
To get a sense of what made Goodie Mob special, you have to travel back in time to the woods of Southwest Atlanta in the late-’80s and early ’90s. Back to when T-Mo and Khujo toted ax picks and called themselves the Lumberjacks. Back to when Big Gipp mobbed around town in an ‘84 sedan Deville, steady bouncing down Campbellton Road. Back to when CeeLo was a badass preacher’s kid, known to slap folks across the face with little provocation. From the beginning, the members of Goodie Mob epitomized the S.W.A.T.S. (Southwest Atlanta Too Strong).
STILL SERVING: “Bankhead Seafood, making me hit the door with a mind full of attitude. It was a line at the Beautiful. JJ’s Rib Shack was packed, too.” — Big Gipp, “Soul Food”
Like a lot of young men who came up in that era, they felt the lure of the streets.
When Khujo raps about being “out in the trap” on “Thought Process,” he’s spitting from life experience. But he also attended Morris Brown College for a couple of years with T-Mo, before transferring to Atlanta Area Tech (now Atlanta Technical College). Even as OutKast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik began to move up the charts, the members of the Mob still juggled various side hustles and low-wage jobs to stay afloat.
“I was going to hair school during the day,” Gipp says, “then going to work at a warehouse at night, then going to Dixie Hills to sell drugs with Khujo and Backbone. That was the real shit. That was the routine.”
Their time in the trap, mixed with the minimum-wage jobs and educational pursuits, combined to create something much more seasoned than the narrow subgenre of trap music that defines Atlanta today.
They represented the average, working-class Atlanta cat. And they made music with a message the streets could identify with because they weren’t preaching from a place of privilege or playerdom.
“That was the psyche behind the album, too,” Gipp says. “If you listen to Soul Food, it’s obvious that we done did some of this shit. Don’t go out and do this shit. Some of this shit, it’s gonna backfire. You’re not going to live from it.”
“The ideas and conclusions expressed in this work are mine alone. It is possible that one or more conclusions may be wrong. The purpose of this book is to convince you (the reader) that something is terribly wrong. It is my hope that this work will inspire you to begin an earnest search for the truth. Your conclusions may be different but together maybe we can build a better world.”
— Milton William Cooper, Behold a Pale Horse
“Who’s that peekin’ in my window? Pow! / Nobody now.”
— Khujo Goodie, “Cell Therapy”
When purported Naval Intelligence officer Milton William Cooper’s book Behold a Pale Horse was published in 1991, it quickly became the manifesto of choice for U.F.O. theorists and anti-government militia groups. But it also carved out an unlikely fan base: hip-hop heads.
The Mob was in the middle of a Soul Food recording session one day when Busta Rhymes, who was working in a nearby studio, burst in to drop a copy of Pale Horse on them. “That really turned us on,” CeeLo told Complex in 2013. “We passed that book around. Gipp read it. I read it. We all read it individually. We sat around and talked about it, discussed it, debated it.”
Among Cooper’s 500-page screed of conspiracy theories, including one linking JFK’s assassination to a federal plot with extraterrestrials, were others that hit closer to home, such as the theory that HIV/AIDS was a tool of genocide created by the government to kill off the black population. It makes sense. Especially considering America’s history of using African-Americans as medical guinea pigs without consent during the well-documented Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.
Now that hip-hop’s Illuminati suspicions have been reduced to a near-comical infatuation with Jay-Z’s dynasty, the New World Order seems like old hat. But nobody was smiling when “Cell Therapy,” the first single from Soul Food, dropped in ‘95.
Wade’s offbeat drum pattern and Khujo Goodie’s surreal hook and opening verse combined to put a Southern Gothic spin on the approaching millennium. Gipp forewarns of a cashless society where implanted computer chips replace legal tender. T-Mo raps about “the New World plan to freeze the planet without the black man.” And CeeLo translates the threat into terms instantly relevant to the hood when he wonders aloud if the gated entrance to his family’s drug-infested apartment complex “was put up to keep crime out or keep our ass in.”
MASS INCARCERATION: The Atlanta City Detention Center, which opened the same month of Goodie Mob’s debut release, earned a subtle mention from Gipp on “Thought Process.”
Fear and paranoia have always been byproducts of black life in the South. The KKK, one of America’s earliest domestic terrorist groups, made sure of that. It’s the reason why many within the black community still consider the Klan a more plausible perpetrator in the unsolved cases of Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered Children than the bespectacled black man with the afro and slight build named Wayne Williams who was convicted in two related cases in 1982.
The serial murder spree between 1979-81 targeted African-Americans and tore a hole through the collective psyche of black Atlanta. At a time when the city seemed on the verge of unprecedented racial prosperity, the boogeyman that had long haunted the hopes and dreams of Negroes below the Mason-Dixon reappeared.
When Andre of OutKast refers to the convicted killer in the last verse on “Thought Process” — “Only thing we feared was Williams, Wayne/Never thought about hitting licks or slanging ‘caine” — it sets the tone for an album that promises to delve deep into the dark side of the black mecca.
The official count for the Atlanta Child Murders is around 29. But the 1984 Pulitzer Prize-nominated book The List estimated a total of 63 additional unsolved deaths, including 22 that occurred after Williams’ imprisonment. Georgia State University’s Maurice Hobson, Ph.D., believes there are even more based on his independent research.
The African-American Studies assistant professor has been rewriting the history of Atlanta to include the dirty truths buried beneath the legacy of Olympic glory and economic gain.
He calls himself a Dirty South scholar, the definitive thinker on the subject of the Black New South. And he credits his intellectual course of studies to the early music of OutKast, Goodie Mob, and the entire Dungeon Family.
“The reason I’m an academic is because the music gave me purview into how to study,” he told his students during a recent lecture. After opening the class with footage from the historic 1990 proclamation naming Atlanta host city of the 1996 Olympics, he concluded with a verse from OutKast’s “Git Up, Git Out” in which Goodie Mob’s Big Gipp raps: “And crooked ass Jackson, got the whole country/Thinking that my city is the big lick for ‘96.”
Hobson’s forthcoming book, The Legend of the Black Mecca: Myth, Maxim, and the Making of Modern Atlanta grapples, in part, with what he calls “the Olympification of Atlanta” as well as the legacy of former Mayor Maynard Jackson.
BLACK MECCA ARCHITECT: Mayor Maynard Jackson laid the groundwork to make Atlanta capital of the Black New South.
Elected Atlanta’s first black mayor in 1973, Jackson helped transform Atlanta into the black mecca. Through affirmative action, he increased the amount of city contracts awarded to qualified minority firms by more than 35 percent in five years. Black Enterprise credited him in 2009 with creating more black millionaires than any public figure in modern history.
The unprecedented level of cooperation between the city’s black political structure and white business elite helped trigger a reverse migration of African-Americans who returned to the South, and Atlanta in particular, en masse.
“This is what I call the Black New South,” Hobson says, remixing former Atlanta Constitution editor Henry Grady’s post-slavery vision of New South prosperity to include African-Americans. “What happens is you’ve got this onslaught of interlopers that move into the city — black folk who bought this whole black mecca idea hook, line, and sinker. But the people that are here — particularly the overwhelmingly poor, unemployed, high-dropout-rate folk who are on public assistance — get none of that love. And so what happens is Goodie, when they come out, they articulate that voice of the black masses. And it serves as a counter-narrative to this whole black mecca piece.”
As Big Gipp puts it on “I Didn’t Ask to Come:” “I feel cold inside like a man sitting on pavement/Under the bridge of I-20 West, the stress/On the face of the man, cursin’ out the atmosphere/But nobody close enough to hear.”
Around the time Atlanta won the bid for the Olympic Games in 1990, a third of the city’s black population lived below the poverty line, among the highest in the nation for a major metro area according to the Brookings Institution. A few months prior to the big announcement, 200 homeless squatters occupied Downtown’s 80-year-old derelict Imperial Hotel. The building’s owner at the time, noted Atlanta developer and architect John Portman, was busy constructing a $445 million merchandise mart next door.
It’s the classic tale of two Atlantas: one defined by Olympic opportunity and dreams fit for a king; the other shaped by perverse poverty, displacement, and the record income inequality that persists today.
By spring of 1996, the city had developed a solution for its homeless problem: one-way bus tickets out of town. Project Homeward Bound, operated by a local United Way-affiliated agency, became viewed by many as a blatant attempt to rid Fulton County of homeless transients before the Olympics by offering them free bus tickets to their home cities — as long as they promised not to return.
It’s just as Gipp predicted in a line from “Thought Process” the year before:
“Somebody don’t want my face in this place for ‘96 shit, slick.”
“Every day somebody gets killed. What’s the deal?
It’s 1995 and a nigga wanna live
The type of life that people dream. I want things
A crib, a car, while living the life of a king.”
— T-Mo, “I Didn’t Ask to Come”
King Bean never lived to see the release of Soul Food. But he inspired the album’s direction, even in death.
When T-Mo got the call that King Bean had passed, he misunderstood at first. Maybe Bean’s sister meant his friend had just passed a big test, he thought to himself, not literally passed away. Bean had danced with Goodie Mob when the group was just a duo consisting of T-Mo and Khujo. No sooner had the four-man crew signed its deal with LaFace Records, than King Bean unexpectedly died while on the basketball court one day.
“He was really one of the first close friends that I ever lost,” T-Mo told Complex in 2013. “He was our road dawg.”
Bean was also a street king.
“He was advanced,” Gipp says with an air of respect that conveys the awe certain dope boys inspired in the streets back then. “This has always been a d-boy city. This has always been a drug trafficking hub for the South. So if you were around those kinds of cats, they always had a little bit more flavor than you. Bean was the kind of cat that was gonna have on Ballys and shit.”
When crack hit Atlanta in 1985, it altered the inner city for good. The Miami Boys followed close behind, bringing semiautomatic weapons and a drug turf war to many of the city’s 37 public housing projects. Nothing was the same. Public Safety Commissioner George Napper responded by creating the notorious Red Dog anti-drug police unit in 1987. That same year, the city of Atlanta suffered 207 murders. Less than half of that number were committed in 2014.
The Red Dog blitz used by the APD squad to bum rush suspected drug traps and stash houses was based on an offensive play taken straight from the University of Georgia Bulldogs’ gridiron playbook. There’s a reason why the “Red Dog” skit on Soul Food is over in 24 seconds flat. That was often all the time it took.
“One to the two, the three, the fo’/Them dirty Red Dogs done hit the do’,” Cool Breeze raps on “Dirty South.” “And they got everybody on they hands and knees/And they ain’t gonna leave until they find them keys.”
DIRTY GAME: “See, Martel Homes, that’s my claim to fame. Where I learnt my slickest tricks in the dope d-game.” — Cool Breeze, “Dirty South”
Within the first four years of the unit’s existence, drug indictments more than tripled in Fulton County. Charges of excessive police force rose, too. By 1992, several Red Dog officers had been fired by Police Chief Eldrin Bell following internal investigations over mounting police brutality allegations.
Though King Bean did not die a violent death, his untimely passing fit into a larger narrative. Young black men in the ’90s were increasingly portrayed as endangered targets of a widespread conspiracy to destroy them or societal threats to be policed and warehoused into prisons.
RED DOG: Former Chief Eldrin Bell led the Atlanta Police Department during the beginning of the Red Dogs’ controversial reign.
Tough-on-crime rhetoric was all the rage. President Bill Clinton pushed through passage of federal three-strikes-and-you’re-out legislation in 1994. The law enforced life sentences for violent offenders with three felony convictions. Georgia passed an even tougher referendum that year, when then-Democratic Governor Zell Miller realized his best hope for reelection would be to double down on the federal mandate with a “two-strikes” state bill. “Ain’t none iller than Miller/Wanna one-two your ass,” Gipp raps in “Thought Process.” “No more life, what you gave is the past.”
Gipp’s verse serves as a coded critique of mass incarceration. As new correctional facilities sprouted around the nation, the Atlanta City Detention Center opened Downtown at 254 Peachtree St. the year of Soul Food’s release. Gipp acknowledges the new jail in an often-misinterpreted line meant to highlight the pervasive prison industrial complex: “They got some new suites down Peachtree/Left wing for the Feds, right wing for the hardheads,” he raps, distinguishing inmates facing federal charges from local.
Twenty years later, the War on Drugs is increasingly viewed as a failed effort, fiscally and socially. Even conservatives are pushing for sweeping reforms to the criminal justice system today, as critics acknowledge the inherent racial disparity of America’s drug policies and the devastating impact on communities of color.
Former President Clinton has also apologized in hindsight for the “three strikes” law. “I signed a bill that made the problem worse and I want to admit it,” he told NAACP conventioneers in Philadelphia last August while campaigning for his wife, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. But he also reminded current critics that the loudest outcry over crime in the ’90s often came from black community leaders. It’s a fact that’s often ignored today in light of the criticism aimed at the Black Lives Matter-led focus on police killing African-Americans. For decades, the black community has been at the forefront of fighting crime within the community. That was the main motivation behind the Million Man March. And it continues today, despite “black-on-black crime” being exposed as a loaded misnomer.
King Bean’s funeral similarly serves as the album’s climactic intraracial wake-up call:
“Maybe his life was something that he had to give
To show me that I need to be responsible by how I live
I won’t complain about my pain
But I just ain’t gon’ let my nigga die in vain.
So Bean I’m gon’ make it for you
The cycle that these young black men keep going through
I’m gon’ break it for you.”
— CeeLo, “I Didn’t Ask to Come”
EVICTION NOTICE: “And who that miss they fee? Cause all they personal shit is sitting on the front lawn of Apple Tree.” — Big Gipp, “I Didn’t Ask to Come”
“Yeah, it’s true
Uncle Sam wants you
to be a devil, too.”
— CeeLo, “Fighting”
Imagine four Atlanta rappers in their early-20s standing at the foot of the gold-domed Georgia capitol. Camera crews are poised to capture a politically charged interview that will be piped to televisions across the country.
Seems highly unlikely today considering the state of Atlanta’s mainstream rap talent. But that’s exactly what happened in 1996. Months after Soul Food hit the streets, scoring gold sales, BET’s now-defunct youth talk show “Teen Summit” came to Atlanta with host Prince DaJour to roll with the Mob.
The episode opens with an interview at Big A Car Wash on Campbellton Road — where a shirtless CeeLo drops knowledge alongside his brethren — and ends with a soul food sit-down at the Beautiful on Cascade Road. In between, the members straight mobbed on Georgia’s infamous Confederate battle flag.
“It’s just a reminder that it still exists,” CeeLo said at the time, back turned to the flag. “Whatever that flag is supposed to symbolize — we all know what it symbolizes — it still exists: freedom, justice, and equality, everything we done walked and marched, got hung and whipped, and fought for and cried for. I can take it as a term of endearment for me and keep struggling. Without struggle, ain’t no progress. So I can take it as that, but then I can take it as disrespectful.”
From 1956 until 2001, the state of Georgia flew a version of the Confederate flag. State lawmakers initially adopted it as a defiant sign of white supremacy following a federal mandate to desegregate in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
The South still struggles to shake those racist roots. Following the murder this summer of nine black churchgoers one state over by a white supremacist who hoped to start a race war, the Confederate flag wars flamed again throughout the South. It looked like 1995 all over again.
‘WTF HAS THIS POLITICIAN DONE FOR YOU?’: Former Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich and former Gov. Zell Miller are just some of the local and national politicians skewered on Soul Food.
Twenty years ago, James Andrew Coleman was in the midst of waging an ultimately fruitless fight to banish Georgia’s Confederate flag after filing a federal lawsuit against the state.
Not even the international attention of the forthcoming Olympics could shake Georgia lawmakers from their Confederate perch. Liberal icon and former President Jimmy Carter knew better than to go against the state’s Confederate legacy. “We should take the attitude that this flag is not racist in nature,” the eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner said while the case was still pending in 1996. Former Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board member and black journalist John Head compared Coleman’s lawsuit to the absurd pursuits of Don Quixote. In what was meant to be a supportive editorial, he likened the suit to “tilting at windmills” and called Coleman’s chances “slim and none.”
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals eventually confirmed as much with a 1997 ruling that criticized the flag yet upheld its constitutionality.
When Governor Roy Barnes led the charge to remove the Confederate emblem from the state flag in 2001, he learned that old traditions die hard. Barnes became the state’s first incumbent governor to lose a reelection bid. Republicans recaptured the state’s highest office for the first time since Reconstruction. Georgia’s been a red state ever since.
This is the historical lens through which Goodie Mob’s early pro-black stance must be viewed. Of course, their “cracker” and “devil”-laced critiques of white supremacy and the capitalist power structure didn’t translate well to pop audiences.
“People think we have a racist standpoint, which is absolutely not true,” CeeLo told DaJour. “We’re more humanists. But most definitely when we’ve got to wake up with this skin tone every day, we’re definitely pro-black. And we understand that the devil ain’t no white man. The devil is a spiritual mind that’s color-blind. It’s evil white folks just like it’s evil black folks. You have to make your choice, you know what I’m sayin’. What side you gon’ be on?”
CeeLo explains how even a city like Atlanta, despite being run almost exclusively by blacks in government at the time, can still perpetuate systemic racism.
“It can be black folk working in the government, but it’s hard to walk straight on tracks that’s been laid down crooked in the first place. So as long as this system is still crooked, we’re still gonna get treated crooked,” he says.
As the interview ends at the foot of the Gold Dome, Khujo Goodie hollers “Let’s go get ‘em, shawty” before darting across the street and charging up the Capitol steps two-at-a-time while CeeLo stays behind laughing.
STEADY MOBBIN’: The 2009 reunion show brought Khujo Goodie (left), CeeLo (right), and the rest of the Mob back together after a decade.
“South of the North, yet north of the south, lies the City of a Hundred Hills, peering out from the shadows of the past into the promise of the future.”
— W.E.B. DuBois
Before there was Soul Food, there was The Souls of Black Folk.
Published in 1903, W.E.B. DuBois’ definitive work practically predicts Goodie Mob’s critical view of Atlanta nearly 100 years later, Hobson says. DuBois penned it during his professorship at the Atlanta University Center on the present-day campus of Morris Brown, where T-Mo and Khujo would one day walk in his footsteps as enrollees.
Like two bookends, The Souls of Black Folk and Soul Food frame the 20th century with a critical view of the black experience post-slavery and the future of Atlanta. But it’s DuBois’ chapter five essay, “Of the Wings of Atalanta,” Hobson argues, that draws a direct parallel to Soul Food.
In the essay, DuBois uses the legend of Atalanta as a metaphor for the city. The fast and beautiful Greek goddess would only marry a man who could beat her in a foot race. So when a suitor named Hippomenes sought the wisdom of Aphrodite to win Atalanta’s eternal hand, he was given three golden apples to trick her. During the race he laid the apples before her and when Atalanta finally slowed to pick up the third one he caught her. In the end, their all-consuming love left them both cursed for life.
“This is what DuBois says,” Hobson continues. “‘If Atlanta be not named for Atalanta, she ought to have been,’ because it ends up being a city that falls in love with money and material rather than morality.”
That long-standing critique applies today.
STOMPING GROUND: Current residents of 1365 Wichita Drive, former Southwest Atlanta home of Khujo, hold a rap quote sign commissioned by A3C Fest, featuring lyrics from “Soul Food.”
“Goodie Mob’s Soul Food album speaks about Atlanta’s autonomy. It looks at how this city has always been caught up with material wealth and what is useful in the eyes of a biracial coalition amongst the black political kingmakers and the white business elite. And what Goodie Mob asks is: ‘But what has it done for the rest of the people?’ That’s what this album’s about.”
The question remains as relevant as ever.
Atlanta’s public housing demolition, begun in preparation for the Olympics and completed approximately 15 years later, became the national model for ridding cities of public housing.
Now gentrification isn’t just a concern for the downtrodden. The lower middle-class is suffering from displacement as the city — and inner cities across the nation — transition to luxury playgrounds for the affluent.
In Downtown Atlanta, a new Falcons stadium is under construction across from Vine City to replace an old one, and an old stadium in Summerhill is being deserted by the Braves for a new one in Cobb County. Yet both of those inner city communities suffer similar disenfranchisement as they did two decades ago when the original stadiums were built in their backyards.
THE LEAST OF THESE: “I feel cold inside like a man sitting on pavement under the bridge of I-20 West, the stress.” — Big Gipp, “I Didn’t Ask to Come”
Homelessness is still viewed as an eyesore rather than a social problem. As revitalization efforts move further inward, current Mayor Kasim Reed wants to close Atlanta’s main homeless shelter with preliminary plans to scatter the homeless to smaller shelters throughout the city.
At its core, Atlanta remains the same: still suffering from racial and socioeconomic dysfunction; still padding pockets and selling out the disenfranchised; still cozying up to corporate greed and compromising its worth in the name of a come-up. The truth is no easier to digest now than it was then.
Maybe Soul Food was the canary in the mine. Maybe the members of Goodie Mob were prophets. Maybe they were just keeping it real.
Whatever the case, their message, their pain, their truths, have proven timeless. Maybe after two decades the nation can truly appreciate what they were saying all along.