Goodie Mob – Soul Food (1995) – A-
Some of the most paranoid lyrics and beats ever: Big Gipp’s only response to police brutality is silence, Cee Lo convinces himself that there has to be benefits of being poor, Andre 3000 fears the spectre of a child serial killer; the most memorable element of the production an oddball squeak throughout. That’s just the first proper song, but the album never really lets up afterwards, including “Thought Process”’ weird sound (something similar comes up in “Cell Therapy” and “Sesame Street” and “Goodie Bag”…which I suppose is one of the weaknesses of the album, the repeated elements makes an hour-long album wearying). It would be too on-the-nose right now to say something as cliché like the themes explored within Soul Food still exist today, but it is what it is. The only time the topic changes is on the mother-tribute “Guess Who?”, but Cee-Lo’s hopeful verse (might be the best verse on the album) for his mother to get better after being paralyzed from a recent car crash (“The doctor advised / The family that you might not ever talk again / But you talking so I know that you gon’ walk again”) is heavy in the context that she passed before the album was complete. So the group turns to spiritual salvation and community – I cannot think of a better album cover-title-opener combination with the content that follows and context that surrounds it than this one. Reports that the beats are funky are a lie: basslines and drums are notable, yes, but they situate the album in the present rather than actually establishing a groove. Some highlights: Cool Breeze thinking about ripping off Bill Clinton; the keyboard loop of “Cell Therapy”; the under-stated percussion of “Live at the O.M.N.I.” rallying the incarcerated; bass-lines of plenty of the songs, but “Sesame Street” and “Soul Food” off the top of my head; the uplifting chorus of “The Day After.” Best moment: when the darkness clears away briefly near the end of “Thought Process”, a single woman clapping and singing behind Andre 3000 in the empty church.
A historical snapshot of Atlanta, 1995; something like this can’t happen again: imagine anybody else right now creating a song to coin the phrase “Dirty South” and how different it would be from the one here.
OutKast – Idlewild (2006) – C+
Their worst album, and by a wide margin: this thing runs 80 minutes that feels just as long as Speakerboxxx / The Love Below because there’s maybe only 25% that’s salvageable, and the good stuff doesn’t even compare to the good stuff on that album: “Mighty ‘O’”, “Hollywood Divorce,” “Call the Law.” Elsewhere, Big Boi attempts to merge heart-felt choruses and “The Way You Move”-type horns on “The Train,” with (his own) production that ranges from pretty (the acoustic guitars) to clueless (how some parts sound like mush because of everything that’s going on); “Chronomentrophobia” is undercooked. And the sonic eclecticism that distinguished them as early as 1998 now feels like an afterthought, all in the album’s last stretch: a cutesy throwback (“When I Look in Your Eyes”), histrionic blues (“Dyin’ to Live”) and a decent Maggot Brain attempt (“A Bad Note”), all of which to no consequence.
UGK – Underground Kingz (2007) – B+
A single disc playlist would probably have been my second favorite UGK spinner ever. As intended? The reliance on eighth notes and even the guitar fills that surprisingly sometimes seemed like live instrumentation (ie. “Quit Hatin’ the South”; “Cocaine”) get wearying. Still, plenty of highlights: the guitar wails of “Swishas and Dosha” (weird to think that ten years ago Bun B was saying things like “Cars ain’t driving themselves” which is something that no one would be saying today); the choruses of “Chrome Plated Woman” which spin in my head for days after the fact; the bass of “Trill Niggas Don’t Die” and “Cocaine”; the endearing throwback of “Next Up.” And plus, the immortal “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)”, which is a top ten hip-hop song of that decade: Andre 3000’s breaking up of words (“liter-ature”; “chiroprac-tic”), Pimp C’s Zeus-like entrance with the beat (“Sweet Jones!!!!”). All four verses could’ve easily been anyone’s favorite of the bunch – they’re that good. The only thing left I have to say is that Talib Kweli probably should’ve thought twice about this lyric, “How I love to dive inside them thighs, I love your cockiness.”