Gotee Records is a contemporary Christian music label based in Franklin, Tennessee (which is about twenty miles from Nashville) that was founded in 1994 by Joey Elwood, Todd Collins and Toby McKeehan (aka TobyMac, who a few of you may know as one third of the Christian rock/rap group, DC Talk, who were pretty popular during the late eighties/early nineties). The label began as a production company, but when the white male trio were unable to get their all-Black female r&b group, Out Of Eden, a record deal, they decided to start their own label. Gotee Records would go on to launch the careers of several artist from different genres, including the Grits (rap), Christafari (reggae) and Jennifer Knapp (folk/rock), just to name a few. A few years after the label was up and running, Joey, Todd and Toby decided it was time to step from behind the scenes to the forefront as artists, collectively calling themselves The Gotee Brothers. The GB’s would release their debut album, Erace in 1996.
The album cover for Erace is a 3Dish photo, which depending on the angle you look at it reflects Frederick Douglass or some white colonizer (and some angles give you a weird mix of the two), and underneath the plural photo it reads “A project to eliminate racism.” The Gotee Brothers are credited with producing the entirety of the album but would receive heaps of help from their musician friends and a few artists from their label. Erace would be the only project released by The Gotee Brothers as a group, but they would continue to co-exist as label owners and the label is still running and functioning well to this day.
I discovered Erace during my secular music sabbatical in the late nineties. It’s been a long minute since I’ve listened to it, so let’s see how it sounds all these moons later.
Yoknapatawpha (A Mental Mississippi) – What I found in my Google search is: Yoknapatawpha is a fictional county, fictitiously located in northwestern Mississippi. The author, William Faulkner dreamt it up and often used it as the setting for the characters in several of his novels. Over a jazz-funk fused jam session (that includes some great piano solos and a silly hillbilly moment), Brothers Gotee use this opening track to mentally transport to Mississippi as they express their appreciation for southern living through abstract bars. I wasn’t crazy about the rhymes (although the uncredited female rapper who pops in for a quick second, did come off a little bit), but the hook is catchy, and the instrumentation is a whole entire vibe.
Celia (Queen Of The Senseless World) – Brothers Gotee are joined by Bonafide (one-half of the rap group Grits, who were signed to Gotee Records at the time) on this ode to a young Mississippi girl named Celia, who has come of age and been “pricked of her thorns detached from the vine,” which is a fancy way of saying she strayed from God and started sinnin’. Lisa Kimmey (one-third of Out of Eden, who I mentioned in the opening of this post) sings from the perspective of a struggling Celia, as the fellas encourage the “crooked letter Cinderella” to continue to fight the good fight of faith despite her shortcomings. I enjoyed this one, especially the smooth funk groove that it’s built on.
Sweet Tea – Our hosts use their favorite southern beverage as the focal point to reminisce about growing up in the Deep South and the good times spent with family. Bonafide drops in again and steals the show with a dope closing verse that makes this mediocre trip down memory lane sound somewhat interesting. This song is followed by a short snippet of some random dude (who sounds a lot like Bill Withers) discussing the difference between Black dialect and slang, and based on his usage of terms like groovy, out of sight and “white blue-eyed soul brothers and sisters,” this was clearly taken from some form of media circa the seventies.
Poetry, Prose & Other Sundry Items – The poetry and prose portions of this song come in the form of a collage of quotes about racism and equality from Joey, Todd and Toby, and the “other sundry items” include some pretty amazing singing from Lisa Kimmey and Kevin Smith (not to be confused with the filmmaker of the same name), and bassy sophisticatedly funky instrumentation.
Wages Of Sin – This one starts out with Spinners “I’ll Be Around” vibes before morphing into a hippyish musical scheme that our hosts use to address the racial sins of their ancestors: “Looking for the paths beyond this lunacy, I burnt my hands while touching history, never can agree always disagree, our heads are full of waste, a mental eulogy, so now we paid the price from our fathers’ dice, I wouldn’t do the things they’ve done but now I wear their vice.” It’s not a great song, but I respect these brothers for acknowledging their white privilege.
New South (The Gotee Idyll) – The band creates a bluesy southern atmosphere (complete with Deep South gut-wrenching soulful harmonica chords) for one of the Gotee boys (I’m not sure which one) to lament the sins of his father, seek redemption, praise God and reclaim the south: “Oh things have changed since I was a boy, my father’s past is something I can’t avoid, I asked my preacher who lived through the storm, he said ‘Son, my hands ain’t clean but my soul’s been reborn.’” The content of this song leaves you with a lot to chew on, while the instrumentation is hard to resist.
One Of Monk’s Dreams (Interlude) – Based on the title and The Gotee Brother’s low-key obsession with Mississippi on Erace, I’m guessing this instrumental interlude is an inside reference to Thelonious Monk’s “Bright Mississippi” record from his Monk’s Dream album. Anyhow, the African drums mixed with rock guitar chords were mildly enjoyable.
Brothers Keeper – This song is built around Genesis 4:9, where God asks Cain about Abel’s whereabouts (in the previous verse, we learn that Cain murdered Abel) and Cain snarkily responds “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The GB’s invite an uncredited female vocalist to revisit Cain’s infamous question on the hook, while they respond with a yes and define who their “brother” is: “Prior to elaborating I must define, who is my brother, who is my kind, who gets the props when I gets to drop, the birds of a feather, they stick together, forever we’ve been thinking that our kind is our race, but all of us got two eyes, a nose and a face, pride in the past is a serious bind, but aren’t we to have some pride in mankind? I am my brother’s keeper to this I am agreeing, but I define my brother as another human being.” Some of the rhymes sound a little too simplistic, but the message is positive and I kind of enjoyed the dark undertones in the music.
I Don’t Understand – Our hosts and company build this instrumental around a portion of George Benson’s “Breezin’” as they question and ponder why all humankind just can’t get along (shoutout to the late Rodney King). Some of the rhyming on this one gets super elementary and extra cheesy, but it’s nearly impossible to mess up the infectious groove that is “Breezin’.”
Dancing With The Stars – This instrumental interlude features an acoustic guitar dueling (or dancing) with a flamenco guitar, resulting in an emotional two-minute musical adventure.
Why Can’t We Be Friends – This time around The Gotee Brothers tinker with War’s classic seventies record of the same name. It makes for a decent cover, with the biggest differences being that our hosts invite Mark “Tansoback” Mohr from the Christian reggae band Christafari (who were also signed to Gotee Records at the time) to chant on the verses instead of sing, and War properly placed a question mark at the end of the song title.
Say Amen – This interlude features a potent portion of Pastor Chris Williamson’s sermon on racism in America, placed over a somberly soulful backdrop (it’s worth noting that Pastor Williamson was also a pioneering Christian rapper with a group called Transformation Crusade back in the late eighties/early nineties). This was powerful. I would love to hear this sermon in its entirety.
Hidden Track – Brothers Gotee bring back “New South” as a hidden track to close out Erace. It’s pretty much the same as the original mix, just substituting the keyboards chords with twangy guitar plucks.
I have and will always love and respect the art of sampling. The hood ingenuity (that blossomed from economic restraints) to take a short fragment of a record (or several records) and turn it into a completely brand-new musical experience is simply genius. But as much as I love dusty jazz and soul loops placed over sampled drums and boom bap beats, there is something uniquely special about live instrumentation. Over the course of Erace’s thirteen tracks, The Gotee Brothers and company create a cohesive jam session with live instrumentation, as they stand proud in their southern roots, ashamed of their ancestors’ transgressions and attempt to rectify racism in America through their music, sprinkling their Christian beliefs into the batter without sounding preachy. The Gotee Brothers aren’t great rappers or superb lyricists, but what they lack in talent, they make up for in sincerity, humility and intent. Plus, most of the music sounds pretty good.
Obviously, The Gotee Brothers didn’t rid America of racism with Erace. But even if they were able to change the heart of one person with their message and music, that’s progress.