At least as significant as the advent of grunge or R&B's takeover of the pop charts in the '90s was the rise of Southern rap, starting with Arrested Development in 1993. That groundbreaking hip-hop crew soon fizzled. But Southern rap has not only grown in popularity for the better part of a decade, but on labels such as No Limit and Cash Money, it has become the leading commercial force in hip-hop. Meanwhile Atlanta crews OutKast and Goodie Mob have rightfully taken on the mantle of the avant-garde.
Southern rap now weighs in with nearly as many strong CDs as either coast, and Goodie Mob's third release is the first to feel fully aware of its own strength. The opening sequence establishes the significance of the moment with cheers swelling behind a Spanglish-speaking DJ expressing sheer joy over the "Latinos, negros, blancos, and Asians" who have gathered for "una grande fiesta del mundo."
And yet the album's self-assurance is made most clear by its lack of pretense. Essentially the party disc it claims to be, World Party makes its case for unity and social justice in almost purely musical terms. Goodie Mob's vocals are as soulful as a gospel quartet's, less about the words than their expression, and the astounding MC, Cee-Lo, keeps the edges sharp with his relentless frantic energy.
But the voices are pushed to maintain their intensity by a keen sense of Southern rap's fundamental beauty; the arrangements take the inclusiveness of hip-hop and broaden it, wedding the dense complexity of East Coast Wu-Tang with the accessibility of West Coast G-Funk. More to the point, this album moves smoothly through a jungle of sound that suggests every contemporary dance flavor, from Miami bass to Euro electronica, on a stream of gently rocking grooves. Unlike many of the chart-toppers that are history by the end of a month, Goodie Mob's new album promises to get even better with the passing of time. -- Danny Alexander