Only a handful of artists could get away with a chart-topping single called http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pc0mxOXbWIU&ob=av2e
”>“F**k You” and still be deemed family friendly enough to co-host a prime-time singing competition. But if Cee-Lo Green has proven anything in nearly 20 years in the industry, its that he’s just that adaptable.
The evolution of Cee-Lo from Goodie Mob member — the group that created the term ‘dirty South’ — and early (and often) Outkast collaborator to flamboyant pop icon is a testament to his transcendence. But his career reinvention didn’t happen overnight, not by a longshot.
When I interviewed Cee-Lo in 2010, in the midst of his Goodie Mob reunion tour, he said the group’s time apart was “a testament to our elasticity.” And while the other members did pursue individual endeavors, only Green managed to go from a legendary regional artist to household name. Thanks in large part to exploring a sound that many of long-time fans never knew he had in him. He was always poetic. His contributions to songs like Outkast’s early http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acN_99gfuAM
”>“Git Up, Git Out” were raw, sincere and most importantly — dope — but even these early tracks didn’t prepare music fans for what would come next from this unlikely crooner.
Back then he was one of the flag bearers of Atlanta’s burgeoning hip-hop scene. Long before crunk, snap-and-pop would become routine radio hits nationally. With New York and California dominating the airwaves, and only Texas and Florida really rising above regional notoriety, there was no love for Atlanta artists we now hold in high esteem.
Like Andre 3000 said during his infamous acceptance speech at The Source Awards, the South had something to say. In Cee-Lo’s case though, it wouldn’t sound anything like the peers he cut his teeth with.
WATCH CEE-LO PERFORM LIVE ON THE TODAY SHOW HERE
The turning point had to be his first solo album. Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections saw the hardened Southern rapper begin to let his freak flag fly.
Popular but not commercially successful, the album’s lead single, “Closet Freak”, was more than a change of pace, it was an seismic shift in his sound. Paying homage to the wave of sound his generation grew up with, funk, soul and jazz, it was the first time we heard him wail. We heard him sing hooks before but that song was something else and if “Closet Freak” planted the seed, “Crazy” saw the plant sprout.
To get there, fast forward a few years and add DJ Danger Mouse to the picture. Danger Mouse, at the time, was most famous for his Jay-Z and The Beatles mashup, The Grey Album, and his collaborations with MF Doom. Together they formed Gnarls Barkley and the two set out to make what Green described as “Euro soul.” The success that followed was immense.
“Crazy”, the ubiquitous lead single off Gnarls Barkley’s debut album St. Elsewhere, was pioneering for being the first track powered to the top of the charts off the strength of its downloads and the album blew away modest personal expectations for sales by going six times platinum.
Gnarls Barkley had become more than a convenient creative outlet, they were a mainstream success and their enthusiasm was translated into innovative videos and the flashy live show Green puts on today. Part Sly Stone, part Moby, part James Brown, part Elvis. It’s a crazy blend of transcendent stars and charisma and it’s always changing.
Just think. He could’ve rested on those laurels before “F**k You” ever even dropped.
That beautifully-put middle finger to exes and gold diggers alike surfaced online as just a hokey, karaoke-like word video that was stark, catchy and indicative of the artist Green had become. It was classic 60s soul, soaked with his signature personality, a garnished with a modern twist. It was Cee-Lo operating in his own lane and the accolades it earned were a given. It was a song you couldn’t escape for months on end that no one else could have pulled off.
Iconic status intact, you have to wonder what is there really left to conquer for Green? Maybe a full album with his Goodie Mob family to prove he’s still hip-hop? What about duet album with a big-name female vocalist? Maybe even movies? He already played Rev. Rollo Goodlove — a cutting caricature of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton — in the Adult Swim cartoon The Boondocks.
To go to a Cee-Lo show now is to genuinely see a cross-section of musical tastes and demographics. There’s the segment of fans who’ve been there since Goodie Mob’s Soul Food dropped in 1995, rapping along nostalgically to “Free” and “Cell Therapy.” A contingent who jumped on with Gnarls Barkley and a new block of fans who are amazed any of his previous work even existed before he was on network television schooling up and coming artists.
Rooted as Southern hip-hop royalty, watered by his own creative depth and blossomed into a crossover star with limitless live shows, the growth and evolution of Cee-Lo Green has been fascinating and lucky for us, has no end in sight. For an artist who’s stood out from jump, seeing where he’s taken his career up to now shouldn’t be surprising at all but everything about it is bizarre, laudable and utterly entertaining.