“Before you can rebuild, you’ve got to destroy / And these walls gonna come tumbling down / These walls gonna come tumbling down.” Over 20 years ago, on the song “Rebuilding” from Goodie Mob‘s 1999 album World Party, the Dirty South trailblazers unknowingly provided the steps necessary for change in America. Simple, yes. Effective? It’s yet to be determined with the recent power shift (though even that’s in jeopardy) from a terrifyingly foolish fascist to a senile neoliberal — a marginal improvement at best. It is doubtful a Joe Biden presidency will yield radical enough change. Still, Goodie Mob’s unbeknownst rally cry to tear it down has never resonated more true than on Survival Kit, their first album in seven years.
Just as this new record speaks to current headlines, one can look back on much of Goodie Mob’s catalog and deem them prophetic. Unfortunately, their seemingly clairvoyant musings have recently caused them to come across as angry old men with ‘I told you so’ attitudes, hence 2013’s clumsy mid-life crisis of a record, Age Against The Machine. Yes, even rappers and singers as legendary as the frenetic four of Big Gipp, CeeLo Green, Khujo, T-Mo are susceptible to a dud or a few. From 2000 to 2013, the Mob released two flaccid attempts at a sound they’ve pinned as their own, pairing it with lyrics that aged a lot faster than their graying hairs suggested. But thankfully, on Survival Kit they’ve stopped the finger-wagging, dropped their canes, and weaned themselves off their painkillers and antacids.
Unlike their 2013 ‘comeback’ album, which saw cranky aging men fumbling away through bars, Survival Kit encounters four wise seers willing to lead this next generation of rambunctious change-seekers through the chaos all around. To unify the front for change, Goodie Mob is back to making music that captures the camaraderie and synergy that made them so easy to rally behind in the first place.
It’s nice to see the formidable chemistry of Goodie Mob on full display again, but this classic camaraderie extends far past the four on Survival Kit. From featuring Andre 3000 and Big Boi – separately – to reuniting with long-time collaborator and producer Organized Noise, Survival Kit is a near-full Dungeon Family reunion. It’s the equivalent of the Avengers reuniting one final time across multiple galactic dimensions to defeat Thanos. For Goodie Mob and the entire family, their Thanos is the dreadful plagues that continue to fester society – systemic racism, an oppressive government, and now, Coronavirus. But as age continues to slowly creep into frame, winning the battle becomes more daunting.
Needless to say, Survival Kit is everything you would like to hear from a group of artists battling off father time. As it lingers, breathing down their necks, the record makes its grand entry with the Chuck D featuring “Are You Ready”. This doom-ladened opener perfectly captures the apocalypse we find ourselves overwhelmed by; it’s grungy, wobbly, urgent, and made incredibly menacing thanks to Chuck’s foreboding hook and CeeLo’s explosive opening verse: “Standing in the middle of harm’s way / Were all of the guns play / No father home affects the feng shui.” If you’ve ever worried that CeeLo softened into a pop star, this track alone will eradicate those fears.
As death and age loom above the four, Goodie Mob remains focused on the now. It just so happens that the ‘now’ says a lot about the past, and unfortunately, the future. Khujo even reminds us on the combustible banger “Frontline” that the shit-show year of 2020 features the same storylines from long ago, just with slightly different characters: “Anarchy, confusion, still lootin’, still shootin’ / Police abusin’, still no solution to the problem.” As Khujo dominates the track with a tone-setting verse and a rabid chorus that’ll get listeners’ blood pumping and fists clenched ready to punch a Nazi – I mean cop – Big Gipp and T-Mo go back-to-back with their own uniquely impassioned performances, peppering listeners with more images of destruction and decay: “smoke bombs, fireworks, truck full of bodies/ Race war party, live from the frontline / Rubber bullets flying, corona in the air.”
Twenty-five years after releasing their debut, it is clear Goodie Mob can still cut through the veil of society’s shortcomings with a hot blade. They’re prophetic but never pompous about it – on this record, at least. However, with 16 tracks and a near-hour run time, they make a wise decision by occasionally easing off the socially-conscious raps, breaking up the heaviness with some stupid, feel-good fun here and there. After all, this record is titled Survival Kit, and what would a survival kit be without tools for reprieve?
Though the record’s unbridled energy is almost perfectly reflected on “Frontlines”, the real excitement begins when Outkast – the duo, each on a separate track that is – make their grand re-entrance. “No Smoke” kicks of this mini-Dungeon Family get-together with Andre 3000’s yearly appearance under the limelight. Here, he breezes through Organized Noize’s hypnotic trap atmosphere with ease; he’s lackadaisical but never sleepy, and that’s good enough considering we rarely get to hear from him these days. The Big Boi-featuring “Prey 4 Da Sheep” hears the other half of Outkast wax poetic, dark and drab; however, the track is easily one of the most listenable and infectious thanks to Organized Noise’s slick and bouncy beat that harkens back to the type of stuff they used to lay down for the rapper during Outkast’s peak.
Listeners are also treated to some super smooth G-Funk cuts like “Me Tyme” and “Back2Back”, both of which slap harder than anything they’ve released in 20 years. Like many other moments on Survival Kit, this pair of tracks brandishes the genius of Organized Noise, proving that even though their star has dimmed over time, no one can conjure sounds so simple but effective like the long-time Goodie Mob and Outkast collaborators. Of course, each one of Goodie Mob spit to their imagination, fitting their bars to Organized Noise’s beats like a glove.
I’m sure Goodie Mob wouldn’t blame listeners for writing them off after nearly 20 years of less-than-stellar output. Still, it’s so refreshing to hear hip-hop legends of this inimitable magnitude firing on all cylinders again. In reverting to a blueprint and producers that helped make them so enjoyable to begin with, alongside having found a moment in history that makes their level of conscious hip-hop vital again, Survival Kit marks a most-welcomed comeback.