Atlanta’s Cee Lo Green is having a very very good year. He has an unlikely Grammy-nominated hit in “F-You.” He is a coach on the surprise NBC hit show “The Voice.”
Now he’s getting his very own “VH1 Storytellers,” which airs Friday, May 20 at 11 p.m. and will certainly repeat multiple times after that.
True, he doesn’t have the catalog of hits many other subjects have had such as Christina Aguilera or John Mayer. But he’s an interesting guy with interesting stories along with good music. And that makes for a fun hour.
Here’s a quick teaser of what you’ll see:
Dressed in all white under three disco balls and wearing jewel-encrusted sunglasses, he opens with his collaboration with Danger Mouse “Crazy” as part of Gnarls Barkley from 2006. This was his first mainstream hit and is still a staple on radio and karaoke bars worldwide.
He then breaks into the story-telling part. He grew up in Southwest Atlanta Georgia, “a place where the limitations were obvious and outlets were very very few.” He noted how he joined Southern hip-hop group Goodie Mob. He said he did this not for fame or fortune but for fun. “I considered us activists,” he said. “We were fighting for the civil rights of Southern hip hop.”
He brought several of his Mob buddies on stage and sang “Soul Food,” the group’s second out of three top 10 rap hit from the 1995-96 era.
Green noted that his mom died just before that album and he was able to dedicate the record to her just in time. He then sang a song dedicated to her called “She Knows” from his less-celebrated second Gnarls Barkley album. “My mother saved my soul with her life,” he said. “I took on my mother’s spirit and her good work.” She had been in an accident and was a quadriplegic for three years before she died.
Next, he sang a sad Gnarls Barkley song “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul,” which is about the passing of James Brown in 2006 and a broader sense of regret and loss. “James Brown is my father. Do you know what I mean when I say that? I got guidance. I got style. I got approach. I got integrity… he taught me to dance, too.”
He then played his current single “Bright Lights, Bigger City,” dedicated for regular folks who deserve to party on weekends. “The appreciation for Friday and Saturday is timeless,” he said.
Here’s something I had no idea about: he wrote and produced the Pussycat Dolls‘ “Don’t Cha.” So he played a portion of it in his slinky soulful way, not the dance-pop way. And he switches the gender, of course so it’s “Don’t cha wish your boyfriend was a freak like me.”
He spent a year recording “Lady Killer” in Los Angeles. He started working with Bruno Mars and Philip Lawrence. AT first, it was so uncomfortable, he got up to go to the bathroom but left instead. Another tidbit: Bruno’s break-out solo hit “Just the Way You Are” was first meant for him but it didn’t fit him.
Last year, Green was dragging his feet with his album. The label wasn’t happy and pressured him to release something, anything. “I was a little upset and irritated,” he said. So he worked up F-You, meant as a message to the label. Instead, it became a massive hit after he posted it on the Web, much to his surprise. He does a stripped-down version without the back-up singers.
He doesn’t consider himself and R&B singer but more a classic “soul” singer. So he sings his tune “Old Fashioned,” which sounds like a nugget from a 1970s soul record.
And as a capper, he ends with pretty, trumpet-infused morsel called “Satisfied.” Satisfied, indeed!
“VH1 Storytellers: Cee Lo Green”
11 p.m. Friday, May 20