By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
NO DISRESPECT TO the other three MCs of Atlanta's Goodie Mob, but Carlito "Cee-Lo" Green is an emerging hip-hop hero. Where the accomplished, yet generally indistinguishable, trio of Gipp, Khujo, and T-Mo can vacillate between the Wu-Tang or your average No Limit soldier, the stocky, bald, bespectacled Cee-Lo has no parallel in hip hop past or present.
With his raspy, preacher-man delivery and self-described "silky, Southern drawl," Cee-Lo comes off like Reverend Ike with wisdom and mic skills. A quintessentially Southern rap star in a genre that has only recently broken free of its bicoastal provincialism, Cee-Lo sounds like the most country MC ever in a self-consciously urban culture. Think Otis Redding on "Tramp." Carla Thomas: "You're country, Otis, straight from the Georgia woods." Otis: "That's good."
Humble, smart, funny, nonmaterialistic, and always ready with a pithy slogan ("I don't sell dope, I sell hope!"), Cee-Lo flies in the face of all that is wrong with present day Benjamin-hoarding, Cristal-sipping, wack MCs. He blended into the mix on Goodie Mob's excellent 1995 debut, Soul Food, but he had a bit of a coming-out party last year on DJ Muggs's mix project Soul Assassins. Amid an album of millennial paranoia, Cee-Lo came on at the end of Goodie Mob's cut "Decisions, Decisions," to upbraid an imagined sucker MC whose life defines "the misconception of staying down." He followed that dis by explaining the ins and outs of a crass business that would leave said MC "back in the projects, in building 23, right next door to me."
But on Still Standing, Cee-Lo steps to the forefront, bookending the record with mesmerizing, soulful monologues, and coming up with two absolute showstoppers in between. On "Beautiful Skin" he bats lead-off, coming correct with the sweetest pick-up attempt in hip-hop history. Declining to bust a move on a honey he meets at a club because it's too loud to give her proper attention, he opts to wait and calls her the next day. "Hello, this is Carlito from a couple a days ago," he raps. "You sound tired, forgive me for calling you so late... has anyone ever told you you have beautiful skin?"
Even better is "Gutta Butta," on which he begins by asserting his own ordinariness ("I ain't shit, I just know how to rhyme a little bit... I'm still trying to squeeze my fat ass in where I fit"). Soon he's shifted gears to describe a funny, frightening carjacking incident, where he gives up the car with no argument and has the carjacker drive him home because "I value both of our lives more than this car." Amid a landscape of self-described playas and gangstas spouting self-destructive fantasies, or would-be "teachers" who too often stand at an only moderately effective intellectual remove, Cee-Lo and Goodie Mob speak for the forgotten majority on hip-hop terrain: just plain folks.