Cee Lo Green Embraces Changing Rap Game With 'Age Against the Machine' (Q&A)
With Goodie Mob's new album due Aug. 27, "The Voice" judge talks to THR about trying to find white-supremacist bands for one track and reveals why he owes Andre 3000 a big apology.
Atlanta-reared rap group Goodie Mob coined the term “Dirty South.” They were one of the first artists to smartly recruit the talents of a once-fledgling producer named Kanye West. And they ushered the wildly fertile talents of group member Cee Lo Green into light.
Now, 14 years after releasing their last album together, Green and his Goodie Mob cohorts -- Khujo, T-Mo, and Big Gipp -- are ready to drop a brand-new album Age Against the Machine (featuring the twitchy “I’m Set” and the thumper “Special Education,” with Janelle Monáe) on Aug. 27.
Green talked to The Hollywood Reporter about his seminal act’s long-awaited comeback, the next Gnarls Barkley album, and why he owes Outkast’s Andre 3000 a heartfelt apology.
The Hollywood Reporter: It was reported that you were originally going to name this album We Sell Drugs Too. Seriously?
Cee Lo Green: You know, as deliberately sarcastic as the “I’m Set” video is -- so was that statement. I was just being sarcastic on Twitter, being that it’s become the status quo of what hip hop is equating with. You know what I mean?
THR: Speaking of, could you explain the concept behind the crazy video for “I’m Set”?
Green: It’s clearly an art form, basically that can be deconstructed…it’s like fashion. It’s couture. It’s custom. As a society, we perpetuate single-mindedness with a signal. I just wanted to interrupt that signal [so] it disturbs you. It’s almost like a dog whistle -- you can’t hear it. Maybe your nervous system, your intentions are split because of it. It causes ADD. It causes identity crises. It causes inferiority complexes. You feel me? [In the video] it’s like our music is broadcasted from a pirate radio station. So we’re interrupting the signal, running the interference, breaking up that frequency.
THR: Why did Age Against the Machine take so long to make?
Green: Well, the main reason is circumstance—trying to be at two places at one time. As we got closer to [working on it], we [each] started other tasks, and we wanted to respect the integrity of those intellectual properties. We didn’t want to be stretched too thin between things or this endeavor would suffer.
THR: Your album title begs the question if rap is even a young kids’ game anymore, given the successes of artists like Jay-Z and Kanye West.
Green: It may not be a young man’s game, but it is directed towards the youth. Therefore, to try to accommodate and appease, you have adults not acting their age. The ways of the world can classify as wisdom, but wisdom is also a bit of a balance.
THR: How has Kanye West changed since you first worked with him?
Green: Um, well, I guess, I mean…I can’t say…anytime you meet someone like a Kanye, you’ll always remember them as they were. The moment, the occasion, the experience -- it’s suspended in time. But we look different every day that goes by. I’m a more developed person than I was yesterday, so I’m certain that he’s changed.
THR: You have guests such as T.I. and Janelle Monáe guest on this album. But given its title, did you guys ever consider asking, like, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello to be on it?
Green: We did. I’ve made his acquaintance on a few occasions. He’s one of the most unsung and accomplished guitar players ever. I’m surprised he hasn’t gotten as much credit for that. Quite honestly, in order to get together…everyone’s schedules were conflicting. So we had to go away to Jamaica, down into the bush and lived on this beautiful resort with a studio on site. We got on a roll, and before you know it, here we are: The record is about to come out. There were a number of things that we weren’t able to do at the last minute. I would love work with Tom Morello, and there’s still an opportunity to do that.
THR: Your last release with Goodie Mob, 1999’s World Party, was a lot more conventional and less socially conscious than your previous albums -- essentially driving you away from the group. Is it tough to go back and listen to it?
Green: I haven’t listened to World Party in years. I never liked that album, but ironically, it was our best-selling album. There’s a lot of music that I don’t necessarily like today, but it does exceptionally well. I think there’s validity in all expression. When someone insists on being themselves, I have to respect that. But I just had a different idea of what music at large -- specifically black music -- could be. I just wanted to improve, expand, and add on to it.
THR: Do you think the outcry over the George Zimmerman verdict will inspire rap to be more socially aware?
Green: You know what? I would hope so. I think we consider what we have to say a social and civil service, and we would like to carry on in that tradition—and make it fun. It’s a love affair with yourself and the people you’re trying to connect with. Out of love, say something that sounds like a solution to solve one of the many problems we suffer from as a society. A song can do that. Or a song can set a solution in motion.
THR: There’s a song on the album called “White Power,” about your increasing white fanbase. Do you ever have that Dave Chappelle conundrum -- that mainstream white acceptance will undermine your activism or satire?
Green: Basically, I’m brave enough to cross that bridge when I get to it. As long as it’s not on fire and I’m not trying to burn the bridge. I wouldn’t let that become a fear or distraction that curbs my enthusiasm to be artful. As soon as you’re able to make a statement all your own, it’s a success.
THR: It was also widely reported that you tried to get Eminem to guest on “White Power” -- why didn’t that work out?
Green: He definitely replied. But I don’t want to insult Eminem by continuing to address it because I respect him with the utmost integrity.
THR: It was also reported that you tried to find white-supremacist groups for the track.
Green: Yeah, I did! I looked up white-supremacist bands on the Internet. I’m serious! I can’t say they would’ve been in on the joke with me, because I meant to make a mockery of something. I probably would’ve had to have a real conversation…if they would even humor me in that kind of way.
THR: In the past five years since The Odd Couple, your last Gnarls Barkley record with songwriter-producer Danger Mouse, dropped, there’s been talk of another album. What’s going on with it -- do you even have time?
Green: I’m trying to do things a little quicker. It’s just little old me trying to figure it all out and doing everything I want to do at one time. So, uh, I’ve taken the liberty and started on some things to get it rolling. But I’m just starting.
THR: Because Danger Mouse has been working on the new U2 album. Have you heard it?
Green: I haven’t! And you know what? I wouldn’t want it to sound remotely identical [to the next Gnarls album]. And I doubt that is remotely possible. They’ve been working on that project for a while now. I’m a U2 fan, same as I am a fan of Danger Mouse’s work outside of myself. So therefore, those two brilliant artists in interpretation -- some thing enormous could and should come out of that.
THR: Do you think Goodie Mob’s reunion will inspire your fellow Dungeon Family members Outkast to get back together? You recently mentioned in the press that Andre 3000 suffers from a bit of stage fright.
Green: Since the media made such a big deal out of the stage fright, I’d like to add on to that. First of all, I apologize to him for even allowing the public to have an opinion on what was in a personal conversation between us. And I’m actually a little misinterpreted: that was my own assessment, not his own words. You know what I mean? I ask for Dre’s forgiveness in not being discreet about our personal affairs. I feel, personally, that I insulted something that’s really intimate, and I don’t wish to go any further on it. I just wanted to make that clear. I only wish him the best. He’s very talented. I’m a fan of Andre 3000 just like everybody else. Whatever he decides to do, even if he decides to never perform again -- he’ll still be my friend, and has been my friend for over 20 years.
THR: On a lighter note, what is the motivation behind doing The Good Life, the upcoming reality show about Goodie Mob?
Green: For so long, there was a lot of mystique in what we do, so this is just to showcase who we are. It came from us being in Vegas together. A lot of people didn’t know that I was doing a Vegas show [a residency earlier this year, called CeeLo Green Is Loberace]. We just had the bright idea to film some video of us carrying on. Somebody kind of jumped at the idea at TBS, which is a network based out of Atlanta. They do recognize us as their native sons. It’s not meant to be taken so seriously: It’ll be some fun, some drama, some cliffhanger, some comedy, some consciousness. I come from which is Goodie Mob, but the audience that I’ve acquired in the last few years does not necessarily [know] that I’ve been doing this professionally for the past 18 years.