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Cee Lo Green: More Than a “Crazy” “F**K”

Today, Cee Lo Green is enjoying pop success, thanks to the success of "Fuck You" and Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy." But his career has much more depth than those two singles would indicate.

Earlier this week, Cee Lo Green received three Grammy nominations for his smash single, “F**k You” (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Urban/Alternative Performance).  The nominations are not really a shock to most people, but what’s really shocking is the public’s ignorance of Cee Lo’s history as a recording artist.  Before teaming with producer Danger Mouse to form Gnarls Barkley in 2006, Green did not exist in the collective minds of the record buying public at large.  In fact, some even think that the duo’s breakout number one single “Crazy” was his debut.  While it’s great that the Atlanta native – born Thomas Calloway – has been achieving such crossover success over the past four years, it cannot be ignored that the self-proclaimed Lady Killer has an incredibly versatile palette.  Not only has he done eclectic music with Danger Mouse as Gnarls Barkley, and written for acts like Pussycat Dolls, Brandy and Jennifer Hudson,  but he’s a pioneer for Southern Hip Hop as one-fourth of the influential rap group Goodie Mob, part of The Dungeon Family; the extended hip hop collective that includes Grammy winners Outkast.  In order to get a full sense of an artist’s inspiration and creation, one must look at the entire arc of their career and measure the evolution of the work accordingly.

Here’s a history of Cee Lo’s Career:

1) Soul Food – Goodie Mob, 1995
At age 19, Cee Lo was an MC for the Atlanta rap quartet, only singing occasionally on this strong debut album.  His talent as a vocalist is front and center on the LP’s intro, “Free.”

2) “G.O.D. (Gaining One’s Definition)” – Common featuring Cee Lo Green, 1997
Fellow rappers recognized Cee Lo’s talent after Goodie Mob’s debut, and began reaching out to him.  One of those rappers was Common, who featured Cee Lo on his 1997 CD, One Day It’ll All Make Sense.  “G.O.D. (Gaining One’s Definition)” vividly describes young African Americans dealing with crisis of faith and finding spiritual identity.

3) Still Standing, Goodie Mob, 1998
With one album under their belt, Goodie Mob dropped their sophomore CD, full of ambitious, conscious lyrics and the origins of chopped and screwed production style.  Hear Cee Lo drop some uplifting science to the ladies – warning them that there’s more to them then just their physical assets – on “Beautiful Skin.”

4) “Liberation” – Outkast featuring Cee Lo Green, Erykah Badu & Big Rube, 1998
This track finds Cee Lo as a featured artist with his Dungeon Family members Outkast, from their groundbreaking album, Aquemini.  Cee Lo’s singing voice is finally fully utilized on wax, alongside songstress Erykah Badu and Organized Noize’s Big Rube.

5) World Party – Goodie Mob, 1999
Cee Lo’s last album to date with Goodie Mob before leaving the group, World Party incorporated a more commercial approach than their two previous albums, focusing more on party records, like “Get Rich to This.”

6) Even in Darkness – The Dungeon Family, 2001
Despite leaving Goodie Mob, Cee Lo still remained faithful to his ATL musical brethren.  In 2001, The entire Dungeon Family came together for the album Even in Darkness, a CD that showcased every aspect of Dirty South hip hop.  The lone single, “Trans DF Express,” didn’t capture Cee Lo in his glory, ferociously intertwining his singing and rhyming, the way “Crooked Booty” does. 

7) Cee Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections – Cee Lo Green, 2002
Recording his first solo album, Cee Lo took his interpretation of the southern sound, and fused in a tidbit of soul.  The result was songs like “Closet Freak,” which saw some considerable airplay on VH1 and MTV.

8 ) Cee Lo Green is a Soul Machine – Cee Lo Green, 2004
His second solo CD saw Cee Lo (try saying that three times fast) embrace various influences through collaborating with inventive, creative producers like Timbaland, The Neptunes and DJ Premier, who produced “Evening News.”  Although a much stronger record than his first, low sales prompted him to be dropped from Arista Records.

9) “What U Sittin’ On (Remix)” – Danger Mouse & Jemini featuring Cee Lo Green, 2004
Brian Burton, aka DJ Danger Mouse, met Cee Lo six years before Gnarls Barkley ever took shape.  The first time they worked together was when Burton and Brooklyn MC Jemini recorded the album Danger Mouse and Jemini.  The single, “What U Sittin’ On” featured Cee Lo on the remix.

10)  St. Elsewhere – Gnarls Barkley, 2006
Off the heels of “What U Sittin’ On” and a 2005 collaboration with MF Doom, Danger Mouse and Cee Lo formed the duo Gnarls Barkley.  The lead single “Crazy” went number one on the Billboard 100 and was voted the Best Song of the Decade in Rolling Stone Magazine.  The platinum selling album featured beautifully awkward fusion of 1960’s pop with hip hop and Motown-eqse soul, such as “Smiley Faces.”

11) The Odd Couple – Gnarls Barkley, 2008
Following up the unexpected success of St. Elsewhere was a daunting task, however Cee Lo and Danger Mouse forged ahead without fear, continuing their genre-bending journey together, incorporating break beats and subtle samples with exhilarating instrumentation and moving vocals from Cee Lo.  Although none of the three singles achieved the stature of “Crazy,” they were no less essential.  “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul,” a literally heart-wrenching tribute to the late James Brown, is perhaps their best record yet.

12) “Georgia” – Cee Lo Green, 2010
Although this does not appear on final pressing of The Lady Killer, Cee Lo released “Georgia,” a tribute to the state that made him who he is today.  The track would, however, act as a preview of what fans would except from The Lady Killer: sophisticated arrangements, pop hooks and powerful singing.

13) The Lady Killer – Cee Lo Green, 2010
For his third solo album, Cee Lo took a shocking turn, recording traditional soul music with lyrical tongue-in-cheek duality of a gentlemanly philander.  The Salaam Remi produced “Bodies” is a funky, atmospheric example of the aforementioned ambiguity and hypnotic arrangements.

Now that you’ve seen what Cee Lo Green has been up to for the past 15 years, doesn’t it all make sense?  Cee Lo can’t be confined to one category, because he belongs to all categories.  No, I take that back.  He can be put into one box, and it’s labeled “original.”  You don’t have to make something new to be original; you just have to be willing to try everything.

Thank you for listening, and remember: African-Americans may only take up one tenth of the country’s population, but that tenth is talented.

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