CeeLo Green Reflects On 50 Years of Hip-Hop and His Legendary Career

CeeLo Green is one of Southern hip-hop’s greatest ambassadors. The multi-hyphenate talent, who got his start as a member of the legendary Atlanta group Goodie Mob before trying a hand at his solo career – and later Gnarles Barkley and becoming a famed judge on The Voice – provides a unique perspective on both music and showbiz.

But as HIp-Hop 50 continues strong in 2023, CeeLo is reflecting on his career and the culture that made it possible. Most recently, he partnered with celebrity auction house KIRPA to put on the block four Golden Gladiator Suits he and Goodie Mob wore on a 2012 episode of The Voice while they performed their classic single “Fight to Win.”

During a recent interview with BET, CeeLo Green discussed how important it is to cherish hip-hop’s artifacts and the increased effort to value them (just ask Drake and his recent $1 million purchase of Tupac’s ring). He also discussed the 25th anniversary of his quartet’s sophomore album, “Still Standing,” and what he hopes for hip-hop’s next 50 years.

CeeLo Green Divulges The Secrets Behind His Glowing Skin

BET: Hip-Hop officially turned 50 earlier this month and you’ve been part of the culture for longer than half its life. What does the milestone mean to you as someone heavily influential in it?

CeeLo Green: Well, it’s been nostalgic. It’s been bittersweet to some degree because it makes you feel young and vibrant, and alive in the moment. But it also makes you feel of age too. I feel like I was there at some of those earlier events that really shaped and molded this culture, or the very least I can reference them. And I appreciate that, it makes me appreciate life in a general sense. But no, it’s been wonderful. It’s been powerful. It’s been reinvigorating.

BET: What do you think of the evolution as far as its approval by those who called it a “hobby” or not a real genre of music, even as late as the ‘90s? Must be gratifying in a sense to see those folks eat their words…

CeeLo: I think everyone who does this or professes this was a fan first and still is a fan. We’re all pretty privileged to have had that spirit to assume and utilize this and activate it as a dwelling because I think that it’s a metaphysical context of where you can perceive it as such as you can become possessed by it. Before you know you’re doing it, you’re living it on a daily basis. Everything you do and say is in some rhythmic pattern or fashion and it becomes the culture you live in, you’re going to be birthed into the human body.

BET: As part of eBay’s partnership with KIRPA, fans are able to bid on some rare memorabilia. And in relation to you is Goodie Mob’s “Fight to Win” Golden Gladiator Suits from The Voice. Can you reflect on that performance and that moment when you wore them and what that was like?

CeeLo: I was having a meteoric rise through the ranks as an artist, and in that moment, achieved unmeasurable heights. I was sharing in that with my crew, so it’s really significant in that way. Having Goodie Mob be a part of that platform and share and be seen. That sentiment “Fight To Win” is a mantra. Very literally, I wrote that song [as] this is the way that we feel, it’s the way that we carry on, it’s the way that we go about, and it’s more than just a lifestyle. It’s more than just a job. It’s an adventure, as the saying goes.

That particular performance is one of a kind – it only happened the one time, we only wore those outfits once. So it’s the biggest, baddest pieces that we could donate. And then you realize like, Wow, what’s worth anything? I’ve had the pleasure of having residencies in Vegas, being a resident of Vegas, and going to be Liberace Museum and seeing a small crew of people preserve and care for the legacy of these artifacts and what they are.

BET: For you personally, “Rebel Without A Pause” by Public Enemy and MC Shan’s “Down By Law” were two of the first hip-hop records you ever purchased. Can you take me back to that time and how they helped you fall in love with hip-hop?

CeeLo: I got the opportunity to meet Shan in person and to really love on him and give him his flowers, and I did just that. I told him the story personally, but I remember that time, I think it was in the eighth grade and “Rebel Without a Pause,” the sonic backdrop was just surreal. It was it was like Clockwork Orange or something. Like that sound, it shouldn’t be unnerving. I was really drawn into it like a drill of some sort – some type of psychological vesting that you were doing – that’s what it sounds like. We never heard anything quite like it and it was so unique. The production of the Bomb Squad blew me away. “Rebel Without A Pause” was the first song I heard before “Bring the Noise” from LL Cool J. I used to be big into film at the time so I would study Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz, Robert Downey Jr. – all these actors were really big in film and television and music around that time. Just studying it, I didn’t realize it.

I also love MC Shan’s fashion. The cover it was a terry cloth Kangol. On the back is MC Shan with the Puma suit, but he was doing something totally different. He had on mismatched Pumas. The suit was red and blue. So he had one red Puma and one blue Puma. I was like, Wow, that was different. That was flavor, that was swagger, so that spoke to me. So, I knew I was doing the right thing. [I] put my $6 or $7 on that album, however much, because back then I got that album, and I got “Rebel Without A Pause.” This is the 12” single on the flip side is “My Uzi Weighs A Ton.” I remember it like it was yesterday.

BET: Speaking of Goodie Mob, earlier this year was the 25th anniversary of Still Standing. What are some of your best memories of recording that album?

CeeLo: I think when we started that project, we all got together and we drove down to Helen, Georgia, which is maybe like an hour or two from Atlanta. We cooked for each other, had weapons and went shooting in the woods and stuff like that. The studios we recorded at included Doppler, Purple Dragon, and Tree Sound – I’m shouting those establishments out. And the rest is pretty much history because the single “They Don’t Dance No Mo’”, Fortunately for us, our label LaFace Records, was based in Atlanta, so we could just get in the car and drive up there like, “Hey, what’s up?” And just kind of go in and either hang out in one of the boardrooms or the meeting room or what have you and I was one for detail.

I went in, and I designed that promotional flyer for “They Don’t Dance No Mo’,” which is like Mantan, Jim Crow image and just put a no smoking sign over his over his head. I put that whole thing together – many of the little intrinsic things I did for us. I just had a knack for it. Not really sure why but that’s just it.

BET: What else have you been working on recently?

CeeLo: I recently put out a double-sided single with my newest incarnation. It’s called THE PINK collaborative project with producer Jack Splash. We worked together over the years under the radar, but he’s produced Grammy Award-winning songs for myself like “Fool for You,” featuring Melody Fiona. We’ve produced for Jennifer Hudson for Alicia Keys for Estelle. That’s another hobby of mine to write for other artists. People may not know that I produced and wrote “Don’t Shoot” for the Pussycat Dolls and stuff like that. So every now and again, something’s going to happen. So we had a lot of music that we have done and amassed over the years, and a virtual reality company, Seek, wanted to get into music and they had a relationship over there. It was like, “Wow, you guys should really put out some of this music.” So we put out a single just to kind of test the market. It’s really funky and old-school. That’s kind of Jack’s wheelhouse.

I did the leadoff single for DJ Muggs for Soul Assassins 3 – “Death Valley.” Muggs and Cypress Hill are longtime homies of ours. They took great care of us when we were young and first coming out to the West Coast, doing those promotional runs. They really had our back when we were on the West Coast and so the love and the loyalty has always been that over the years –  and of course, we were featured on [the first] Soul Assassins [album]. I’m also still working on Gnarls Barkley.

BET: What do you hope for hip-hop now that we’re entering the next 50 years of the culture?

CeeLo: I want to see it become 150. I want to know in my heart that it will make it and live longer than me. I care about hip-hop. I care about culture. I care about the community it comes from, but you have to allow growth, allow evolution, and trust the process, but also do the knowledge and 50 years of hip-hop as a hallmark and a milestone achievement must be celebrated by the young and the age-appropriate. I’m not gonna say old because the difference between old and antique is appreciation. If you appreciate something, it will appreciate in value. You preserve it. It’s precious. It’s invaluable. It’s priceless. It’s saved lives, it’s supported family. The appreciation level is in the people themselves. And so they just have to have the exposure to be able to identify with the historical account of what we’ve truly accomplished and the humble beginnings of our culture. It came from nothing, so let’s appreciate it.

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