CeeLo Green is probably in the DNA of your favorite rapper.
Kendrick Lamar’s talent for channeling contemporary energy through vocal-bending inflections over funk-infused hip hop on songs like 2015’s King Kunta is all over CeeLo’s 2002 single Closet Freak. But today, CeeLo is making sure none of the MCs that inspired him go overlooked, as Digital Trends hosts the world premiere of CeeLo’s new song dedicated to hip hop’s lineage of great rappers, My Favorite MCs.
It’s definitely about style and swagger. Diction and conviction.
Over a menacingly morose beat, CeeLo sheds light on a panoply of MCs from the last 30 years of hip hop. From the ubiquitous (Jay Z, Eminem), the lesser known (Ras Kass, Beanie Sigel), to the witness protection-level obscure (Mr. Malik, Katastrophe), CeeLo pays his respects to them all with the zeal of a hip hop aficionado.
In a recent interview, CeeLo spoke with Digital Trends about his new track, making his first rap project in more than a decade, the criteria required to become one of his favorite MCs, and how streaming music is actually hurting hip hop. Get inside CeeLo’s head — and check out his new track — below.
Digital Trends: In the new song you intimate it’s necessary to give reverence to great MCs by listing out your favorites. Why is that important?
CeeLo Green: The title My Favorite MC’s almost implies it’s an isolated event, but at large, it’s an acknowledgement of energies, legacies, lineage. Something that grew me. Something that gave me foundation. I want to acknowledge the efforts, the accomplishments, and again raise the appreciation in people for our art and our artists.
How much of the track was you listing your personal favorites and how much of it was you listing rappers you felt should be more recognized?
I think it was half. I didn’t deliberately do either one. I think they were just essentially both one and the same. I could have gone longer and did a 10-minute song. But, in the process you’re trying to make something seamless so it can be represented as a song. I wanted to do something that was sort of chronologically based, for the most part. I wanted both purposes to be served. to acknowledge those who I had an affinity for a on a personal level, but to also shine some light on some of the other ones that go unsung, that you might not think that I had noticed like a J.R. Writer.
I did a couple of versions of this record and I’m listening to the one I sent you and somewhere some of the dialogue got lost. In the dialogue I was even shouting out cats like Chip-Fu from Fu Schnickens; I recorded this record in two separate studios, and somewhere some dialogue got spliced out. But, I just wanted to acknowledge him.
What does it take to be one of your favorite MCs? What does a great MC need?
It’s always been about social consciousness, an opportunity to be expressive and address the ills of society.
Consistency. But, then you have those acts who have those stolen moments that came and went. Like [rapper Mr. Malik] from Illegal. It’s definitely about style and swagger. Diction and conviction. You have to be believable as well. Also, I have a speech impediment to some degree so I have a lisp and a raspy voice. Being totally honest, I haven’t always liked my emceeing voice. I think I have a cool singing voice. But, as an MC, I don’t think I’ve ever found my voice. I’ve always referenced those who were keen and pristine about the technical aspect of real rap, like Ludacris. People respect the album sales of Ludacris or his consistent stream of hit records in his time. But, on a technical aspect as an MC, he’s one of the best.
When you were coming up as a new artist in the ’90s, being recognized usually meant being signed to a record label or having a hit single. With streaming music allowing artists like Chance The Rapper, with no label or hit single, to chart on Billboard purely from streams, what do you think on-demand streaming does for new discovery of artists? Would J.R. Writer be more respected in this streaming era than in years past?
As technology advances, older models become dinosaurs and they die off. We did have an extended amount of time when the content and quality of music had suffered. I do believe streaming is something like curating. I get it, but to say the Grammys have to change their entire infrastructure to allow, or acknowledge a mixtape getting a Grammy, I can appreciate that because it is the nature of what the industry has become. I just wish we were still a viable commodity in the marketplace, meaning making product that is worth buying as well. You get it?
Yeah. There’s a distinct difference between owning a piece of music and streaming it.
Yeah. I mean, I get it, but our music and our culture was our barter system, if you will, in the way we contributed to modern society. I find it very disheartening when the harsher reality is we can not sell our product. There was a time when hip hop was influential on an international stage where we were introducing culture, initially: the big bang of hip hop. You see different elements of that all across the planet, facets of our genre that we don’t even use. Like breakdancing. You can go to Japan, and their culture now has adopted breakdancing. We don’t break anymore, not in a public way. But, they’ve taken the art form and made it a marital art. That’s because of the discipline they have towards it. The reverence they have towards it. I wish that something that was created in our America was still appreciated and acted up on as culture and tradition for us.
Definitely. Great artists always want to push forward, but sometimes that can lead to you being in space no one has any interest going to yet. Staying rooted in the now, how have you reacted to the recent news of police brutality?
I have always considered what we had done, as Goodie Mob, as activism. It’s entertainment, but it’s always been about social consciousness. [Our music] was an opportunity to be expressive and address ills of society. Express opinions. Express aspirations. I am 20 years vested in our struggle as far as being vocal about the reality that is. It’s a part of my wiring to be alerted and want to take action and make my action an artform. That is the platform I have been given to speak from, and hopefully be effective. I remember listening to KRS-One, Poor Righteous Teachers, X-Clan, groups like that. I even go back to King Sun, Lakim Shabazz. I can talk about the conscious movement in hip hop.
What is up for new CeeLo music?
I am still currently working on a project with Tone Trump out of Philly. We have a few records out there that are representing what the project is aesthetically and sonically. One being Violence with Chief Keef. We also have another record called Five. We released both of them records. As far as me emcee’ing again, I’m just getting re-acclimated to rap. I jot down stuff to myself all of the time, if something crosses my mind. A few bars here and there. But to wholly and fully focus on a rap project, I have not done that in a long time. In exercising, you become more flexible. It feels good. I feel loose and limber. I also want to see what I can bring differently to the game and how we can navigate the game into uncharted territories. Sometimes with music, especially when it’s confined to a genre, it’s almost like a carnival cruise. It has its own route and goes in circles. I’m also not trying to get lost at sea. I hope that analogy made sense.