Rising to the Occasion: A Conversation with the Charismatic CeeLo Green [INTERVIEW]

soulhead_CeeLo_Green_MainImageBy Christopher A. Daniel | @Journalistorian

CeeLo Green is never without confidence whenever he puts his mind to anything involving music. For the last two decades, the eccentric, multi-faceted entertainer born Thomas DeCarlo Calloway 41 years ago has mastered the art of being a chameleon. The native son of Atlanta originally exploded onto the music scene as the youngest member of pioneering Southern hip-hop quartet Goodie Mob before he came into his own as a solo act.

“I had the luxury of having the camaraderie of being in a core unit with production overseen by Organized Noize,” recalls CeeLo with delightful elocution from a suite at Philips Arena roughly an hour before performing at the Atlanta Hawks versus New York Knicks game. “I didn’t have to worry about the particulars.” CeeLo is now one of the most successful and beloved recording artists to ever come from below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Photo Credit: Brett FalconPhoto Credit: Brett Falcon

The rotund, bald-headed and multi-tattooed performer with a radiant smile, thick Southern accent and easygoing demeanor magnificently spits nasally clever rhymes filled oftentimes with strong conscious subject matter. CeeLo is also well known for belting out full-bodied, gut-wrenching, gospel-flavored (possibly scratchy) crooning. “When I evolved into producing myself,” the versatile five-time Grammy winner continues with periodic intonation and rhythmic cadence, “I started having these delusions of grandeur if you will. You just wanna outdo yourself, impress yourself and amuse yourself, so you can kinda get carried away with that.”

This past November, CeeLo released Heart Blanche, his fifth solo LP and first effort following a five-year hiatus. He took three years to record the project in various parts of the world. Like his previous four solo efforts, Heart Blanche is a genre-blurring collection of material, comprised of grooves with elements of lush ‘70s soul, new wave, electrofunk, EDM, doo-wop, Phil Spector-inspired “Wall of Sound” and album-oriented rock.

Inspired in part by the music CeeLo enjoyed as a child, Heart Blanche, he says, is a summation of his highly publicized personal experiences following the release of his third album, 2010’s The Lady Killer. “You create product from a particular environment,” says CeeLo, also one-half of Gnarls Barkley along with producer/DJ Danger Mouse. “It can take you to some very unique and beautiful places, but it can also be very alienating. I aspire for balance, so I just try to keep going. That’s tradition beyond traditional for me.” CeeLo, the co-founder of the eco-friendly nonprofit organization, GreenHouse Foundation, co-owner of TY KU saki and appointed Chief Creative Officer of his management and publishing company, Primary Wave Music, is staking his claim as an enterprising executive.

The original judge and coach for three seasons on the hit NBC talent competition show The Voice has launched a new imprint, Mothership Entertainment Group, in partnership with Sony Music. Named in homage to CeeLo’s late mother and grandmother, Mothership will be an incubator label for developing and signing new R&B and soul artists. Fully funded by the major label, the deal allows CeeLo to build recording studios in both Atlanta and Las Vegas. Artists may potentially be signed to other labels under the Sony imprint. Mothership is CeeLo’s second attempt at overseeing a record label, as he previously co-founded the iconoclastic Radiculture Records in 2007.

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CeeLo says Radiculture was short-lived but still managed to deliver some strong points in his career. “Don’t Cha” was originally a song the ambitious talent co-wrote for his artist Tori Alamaze but instead became a smash for The Pussycat Dolls. Gnarls Barkley was also born out of the Radiculture situation although the duo wasn’t signed directly to the company. CeeLo believes he’s now up for the challenge again of running a record label.

“It’s been an awful lot of wishful thinking,” says CeeLo peering from beneath his bright red-framed sunglasses. “All I wanna do is rise to the occasion. To have [Sony] acknowledge and endorse me is just the affirmation and all of the incentive I need.” Emphasizing how proud he is to even discuss Radiculture, the experimental and otherworldly CeeLo continues. “I wanted to be able to have an influence from the inside from an executive decision and seat. I’ve had yet to excel in that field. I think that I’m able. Apparently someone thinks I’m able to.”

CeeLo, who enjoyed a stint in Vegas with his residency, CeeLo Green is Loberace, in 2013, is preparing to embark on his 11-city The Love Train Tour. He will perform in intimate venues in selected Southern cities synonymous with some of black music’s most legendary and iconic performers. Admitting to devoting a great deal of time retracing his own musical roots, CeeLo thinks The Love Train Tour is a chance for him to reconnect with his loyal fan base. “I thought it would enrich the quality of my professional life,” confirms CeeLo, whose last outing on the road was opening from music legend Lionel Richie. “A lot of that was caused by the introspection of Heart Blanche and the creative space that I’ve been in. Now with the opportunity to go and revisit it in the flesh, it’s a wonderful experience and opportunity that I can benefit and grow from.”

When CeeLo took center court for the Hawks’ post-game concert, he graced the stage wearing an opulent rhinestone ensemble similar to Michael Jackson’s costume in the “Rock With You” video. The medley in his repertoire consisted of his verse on Trick Daddy’s “In Da Wind,” the first verse on Goodie Mob’s “Cell Therapy,” a cover of Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” mashed up with Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock” in addition to his solo joints “Closet Freak,” “The One” (joined on-stage by Grammy winner T.I. and producer Jazze Pha), “Fool For You,” and “Fuck You” (featuring a dance routine with the Hawks cheerleaders).

soulhead_CeeLo_Green_3Photo Credit: Brett Falcon

CeeLo’s appearance at the Hawks game follows his season opening performance for the Detroit Pistons with iconic group The Four Tops. “I got a chance to meet, greet and fellowship with them,” says CeeLo. “It was yet another monument in my life. I got a chance to meet some of my idols.” Performing at Philips Arena, though, was not only confirmation of how far CeeLo has come in his recording career but fully reaffirms how much he loves his hometown. “I’m home, and I’m amongst family” says CeeLo wearing red and gold Hawks colors from head-to-toe and comfy red house slippers. “We about to get busy tonight. I can’t wait. I’m anxious. I’m ready to get to it.”

BUY CeeLo Green’s Heart Blanche via Amazon | iTunes

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