Interview: Cee Lo Green speaks on â€˜F*ck You,â€™ Sade, Gnarls Barkley and Goodie Mob
Green is a 'Lady Killer,' superhero and freak -- and he's out to play the field
As he was stitching together his new solo album “The Lady Killer,” Cee Lo Green didn’t have much intention to rope in special guests or featured vocalists. There was one name, though, that he at least tried to get.
“I reached out to Sade. She’d never done a song with anyone else before. That makes her Madame Butterfly,” the singer/rapper told me in our phone interview, noting that the Soldier of Love never managed to give him a reply. “It was a longshot to begin with, but I thought, ‘If she does this, this will truly signify my being a professional or not.’ Not that I feel any less special. I guess I still have a ways to go.”
On the other hand, Cee Lo concludes that “Lady Killer” doesn’t need any “elaborate guest appearances. Just a lady and a nice car,” he says “It’s varied enough over the course of a whole record. You’ll have your hands full with me.”
The founding Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley member is already off to a good start. The runaway viral single “F*ck You” (and it’s radio-friendly edit “Forget You”) is at No. 33 on the Hot 100 and rising and already capped the iTunes top downloads list. Two music video versions are floating around. And one of its principal songwriters, Bruno Mars, has been a hot topic all summer.
Cee Lo said that he and Mars tried to collaborate on a number of tracks, and “F*ck You” was “the one that stuck.” Green said he appreciated the anti-establishment tone to track, and then tangentially mused on the offending term itself.
“You think of the term, the verb, “f*ck” as something that’s fast. Efficient but urgent. It’s like that. This album is urgent for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s impersonal. It’s poetry in motion – poetry in slow motion, you know what I’m saying?” Yes. “Intimacy is always art.”
If it sounds like “The Lady Killer” is an album about feeling good, then you’re on the right track. At 35, Green (born Thomas DeCarlo Callaway) is in a pretty good spot, and he wants “Lady Killer” to be a reflection of that.
“I want people to know that I know what I’m doing. I’ve been written off as a freak before. I consider myself a closet freak, now out of the closet. I'm a freak of nature, a freak accident. Isn’t that how all superheroes start?" he deadpans. “I much rather [my success] be considered a freak accident that it being luck.
The solo set was the natural next step after a run with Danger Mouse in Gnarls Barkley, a duo whose “Crazy” threw Cee Lo further into the limelight. Green says that a third LP will “definitely happen” next year, but only after some time post-“Lady Killer.”
“I just got out a steady relationship with Danger Mouse,” he explains.
“Does that mean you’re playing the field?”
“Not all. I mean, I’m out in right field. I’m not playing the whole field, I’m just out where the girls are.”
He says that he’s had some ideas for songs with Danger, but “we’ve been out of each other’s space… He wanted to move in a different sound direction,” which explains his collaboration with James Mercer in Broken Bells. “He’s a jaded, moody kinda guy. When we met each other, we were married by that mood, because that’s where I was at the time. My seasons changed… We have this love/hate relationship for the things we do outside of each other. I felt shattered listening to [Broken Bells]. I thought, damn, Danger needs a girl.”
Green says he knows the brighter side of Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, but he has yet to hear it in sound. “Gnarls is awesome. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so detached and sad. But, yo, I’m pretty sure adversity will arrive again, and that’s when I will seek out Danger Mouse.”
Cee Lo also seeks to finalize a new album with his Atlanta rap crew Goodie Mob, who has reunited in recent years in concert but not on tape. Green split from the group after 1999’s “World Party,” but says that the new effort -- also due next year -- is “well on its way” to being finished and that the quartet is now juggling deals for release.
“The stuff that we have is remarkable, nothing short of a signature Goodie Mob record. All fans are gonna thoroughly enjoy it.”
All this, and still working toward the Dec. 7 arrival of “The Lady Killer.” Cee Lo says all the elements are just combining to make him into the towering superhero he is. “I’m not being lifted up in my career. As we speak, I’m getting taller. You feelin’ me? I can’t be dropped on my ass. My balloon is not being popped by anyone. I’m just taller, that’s all. And my clothes fit me.”