Under-Rated and Overlooked #3: Cee Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections

December 6, 2008

ceelo

Cee-Lo is like a majority of hip hop musicians in that he seems to think very highly of himself, as evidenced by the lyrics to “Bad Mutha,“ the opening track of his debut solo album “Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections.” That’s about all he has in common with other hip hop musicians and mainstream rappers. Most people know Cee-Lo as the vocal half of the mash-up duo Gnarls Barkley, and they know of that group for it’s summer of 2006 omnipresence hit single “Crazy” that was the new “Hey Ya.” Cee-Lo had been around quite some time before that hit made him known to the world at large. He started out back in the nineties as part of the rap group Goodie Mob. Goodie overlapped on a lot of songs with their hometown friends Outkast and although their heavy collaborations even resulted in the “posse” album “The Dungeon Family,” (named for the studio where ‘Kast and Goodie recorded their songs in Atlanta not the role playing game), Goodie never got nearly as successful or popular as their friends Big Boi and Andre of Outkast.

After Goodie Mob disbanded, Cee-Lo arrived with his own debut album in 2002. “Perfect Imperfection” should be mentioned in the same breath as the all-time classic hip hop albums: “Fear of a Black Planet,” “Illmatic,” “The Chronic,” “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” all of those should share space with it. Maybe the fact it is often overlooked when those heavyweight discs are invoked is because it crosses out of the genre so much in such unexpected ways. It’s not simply a rap album, although it has some of the best rap verses in modern hip hop. It goes for the entire popular music spectrum at one point or another over the course of an hour, with the exception of country (although I have a feeling Cee-Lo Green could pull off convincing and good country music if he had the desire). There’s an excellent hip hop influenced jazz song, “Bass Head Jazz” that could be played on repeat for an hour and not get boring (which a friend and I did once and we can attest to such a claim). There are the moments of straight ahead rock and roll energy on “Under the Influence (Follow Me),” “Medieval Times (Great Pretender),” and  “Live (Right Now).” There’s the James Brown and Barry White tinged funk blues of “Spend the Night in Your Mind” and ‘One for the Road.” Remember I said it covers all genres but country? Well, it even comes close to doing that on “Country Love,” a song in which John Popper assists ‘Lo for a poppy southern blues romp. Then there are the club hip hop tracks like “Suga Baby.” There’s hardcore rap that remains convincing without becoming ‘gangsta,’ in “Microhard.” The albums only single is a pop song even better than the “Crazy” hit that made him well known, “Closet Freak” which treads Prince lyrical territory.  There are heartfelt and sentimental songs that are never schmaltzy, “Getting’ Grown,” and “Young Man (Sierra’s Song).” Cee Lo takes a break to display his lyrical mic skills on “Big Ole Words.”

All in all, it’s just a perfect album. Even the few obligatory skits are mercifully short and don’t take away from the music. It’s the type of hip hop album that fans of Prince, James Brown, Blues Traveler, and Barry White are apt to enjoy as much as fans of Outkast, Dr. Dre and The Fugees. It’s flawless, and for me it set the bar so high that nothing ‘Lo has done since has met up to it. Sure Barkley’s “St. Elsewhere” was good but it’s follow up “The Odd Couple” was somewhat lacking; neither lived up to “Imperfections.” Before Barkley, ‘Lo recorded “Cee Lo Green is a Soul Machine” and it was nice and had “Imperfection” worthy moments but not as a cohesive whole. So here’s hoping Mr. Green gives Gnarls Barkley a break and records a follow up worthy to be a successor to this album. Here’s hoping such an album would now find ears with the listening public and give evidence of Mr. Green’s wide ranging talents and influences.

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