Looking to upgrade from critical acclaim/gold record/cult status to platinum crossover appeal, Hotlanta's Goodie Mob revamps its sound on "World Party" (LaFace/Arista). Without completely abandoning the Southern-fried conscious-rap of their first two albums, which helped break the hegemony of East Coast/West Coast rap and sowed the seeds of the Dirty South sound, Goodie Mob is clearly aiming for a broader audience.
The title track, for instance, rides a thick manipulation of the hook from Lionel Richie's 1983 hit "All Night Long" to espouse the group's familiar positivity: "Just spread your wings and start flyin'/ If you livin', don't you worry 'bout dyin' . . . Life is worth living!" And "Rebuilding" suggests Funkadelic backing Curtis Mayfield, its thick swirl of sound surrounding inspirational verses about community, self-empowerment and the resilient spirit of ghetto children ("I ain't gonna let 'em take the hope out of you").
The album features more straight-up party jams, from snappy bounce tracks like "The Dip" and "Get Rich to This" (the latter produced by long-time helpmates Organized Noize and featuring Backbone and Big Boi from OutKast), to thicker, murky, bass-heavy tunes like "Cutty Buddy" and "Just Do It." All are solid showcases for the distinctive drawling raps of Khujo, Cee-Lo, T-Mo and Big Gipp.
The most obvious commercial accommodation finds Goodie Mob teaming up with LaFace label mates TLC on "What It Ain't (Ghetto Enough)." It's a funny, though not particularly caustic, Scrubs vs. Pigeons skit produced by hitmaker Dallas Austin, who provides T-Boz with a vocoder warble a la Cher's "Believe." It doesn't really live up to its billing as "a game of ghetto laser-tag," but it should make for a funny video.
Goodie Mob's 1995 debut, "Soul Food," managed to melt social and political commentary and gritty street lyricism in a thick, unhurried, organic sonic stew. This time around, Goodie Mob made the beats faster, sharper, closer to the jagged edginess of the Ruff Ryders camp and the electro-bounce of Dirty South stalwarts like OutKast, Juvenile and the Cash Money crew. Other strong tracks include "Chain Swang," a meditation on one of hip-hop's most visible symbols, tautly produced by Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie; and the Tricky-influenced "Street Corner," featuring a haunting backing loop by the singer Joi.
In the past, Goodie Mob has come across as a mix of Public Enemy and Funkadelic, a bridge between "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" and "One Nation Under a Groove." "World Party" is a much lighter proposition, with one jarring homophobic aside: in "All A's," Goodie Mob suggests "the world would be a better place if there were less queers." It's a sour sentiment on an otherwise admirable album.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8182.)
CAPTION: Goodie Mob's CD is mostly a good time--except for an unfortunate homophobic aside.