March 16, 2004

Cee-lo overflows with soul on classic new album
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

In the event of an emergency, when drowning in the bland wasteland of music in the TRL-generation, Cee-lo's new solo album, Cee-lo Green is the Soul Machine, can be used as a quality flotation device.

Following years as the standout member of Goodie Mob, Cee-lo broke into his solo career with his 2002 debut, Cee-lo Green and his Perfect Imperfections. The album was just that: perfectly imperfect. Despite quite a few unnecessary musical digressions, the album anticipated both the brilliance and sloppiness of Andre 3000's The Love Below, but lacked the radio-friendly "Hey Ya!" to boost its sales.

The critical success but commercial failure of his solo debut can be largely attributed to the fact that Cee-lo did all the production himself. On his follow-up, Cee-lo brought some of the best in the game on board and challenged the most successful mainstream producers to broaden their musical horizons.

Timbaland took a break from his day job (carrying Missy Elliot on his back) to produce Cee-lo's new single "I'll Be Around." The club song bounces on top of loud trumpets and African drum percussion and is accompanied by a great music video (though not as creative as his video for "Gettin' Grown" in which the egg-shaped rapper dresses up like a Teletubbie).

Cee-lo even conjured a few interesting beats out of the Neptunes, who could probably compose a hit song with nothing more than a stick and a hard surface but really haven't produced anything with much artistic merit in quite a while. "The Art of Noise" and "Let's Stay Together" are both demonstrations of the most dangerous quid pro quo deal in hip-hop: Pharell will give you a nice beat, but you have to let him sing on the hook.

Even DJ Premier breaks out of his characteric style of jazz samples and scratched hooks (which, by the way, no one has ever complained about) on "Evening News." Surprisingly, the best production on the album comes from fellow southern boys Organized Noize, who offer a silly, mischievous beat layered with a xylophone and a stuttering piano on "Childz Play." Here we see one of Cee-lo's many sides, when his fun, playful alter-ego comes to play with an equally puerile Ludacris, making one of the few guest appearances on the album.

Of course, the highlight of the show is not the amazing production but none other than Mr. Cee-lo Green. By force of sheer energy, God-given talent, and irrepressible freakiness, Cee-lo is truly funky.

Born to two preachers and raised in the streets of Atlanta, Cee-lo's personality overflows with so much zeal and soul that even when he falters, he sounds good.

On his last album, Cee-lo seemed preoccupied with showing off his "closet freak" eccentricities. Yet, on his new effort, from the infectiously catchy chorus on "Living Again" to beatnik spoken-word poetry of "Sometimes," Cee-lo seems confident of his unique place in hip-hop, and now he is just strutting around.

"My Kind of People" contains an entertaining interpolation of "Pass the Dutchie," the 1982 pop-reggae hit from Musical Youth. The best songs on the album are "All Day Love Affiar" and "Die Trying." The former is an endearingly simple but sweet serenade to his wife while in bed. Unlike the exaggerated braggadocio used by most rappers to woo their women (such as Usher, who apparently has the beat that makes the booty go clap), Cee-lo offers nothing more than to "make it a Blockbuster night."

From his outfits to his lyrics to his singing ability, Cee-lo is everything that Andre 3000 wishes he could be but fails to match. On his first album, Cee-lo showed the world he had beautiful music inside of him but was unable to present it in a commercially palatable way.

Cee-lo has followed through with the promise of his debut with his remarkable new album that deserves to reverse his former reputation as the "second-best Southern rapper."

On the album, Cee-lo raps, "Sometimes I don't think people think I'm as good as I really am." After Cee-lo Green is the Soul Machine, there shouldn't be any more confusion about it.

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