If you wanted to have a debate about whether CeeLo Green was better as an MC or a vocalist you’d have a plenty of ammo for either argument. His group work with Goodie Mob and Gnarles Barley, along with his solo discography represents some of the best hip-hop has had to offer. But his record as a hired gun is unmatched. CeeLo Green has existed as the soulful common denominator between Billboard hitmakers and indie favorites lending his unmistakable tenor to almost two dozen hooks in as many years. Here are 20 of our favorites.
20. Common, “G.O.D.” (Gaining One’s Definition) (1997)
In the 1990s everyone in hip-hop was grappling with notions of God and recognizing the deity that lived within them. On this track from One Day It’ll All Make Sense, CeeLo lends both lyrical and vocal support to Common’s contemplations on what and who God is and the implications of his beliefs.
19. Royce 5’ 9”, “Politics” (2005)
This was a standout track from Royce’s sophomore album Independent’s Day with Virginia producer Nottz dipping his hands in holy water before banging on the pads and CeeLo strutting down the aisle with the collection basket handing out side-eyes to everyone dropping quarters.
18. Danger DOOM “Benzie Box” (2005)
Here Cee-Lo helps craft the perfect super villain theme song from the cult classic collaboration DANGERDOOM. Evoking Saturday morning signifiers, CeeLo’s hook serves as the audio name tag for the Dastardly Dumile as he prepares to usurp Lex Luthor types between bites of Captain Crunch. This was one of two songs CeeLo recorded with producer Danger Mouse before forming Gnarles Barkley.
17. Rick Ross, “Tears of Joy” (2011)
Yet another case for Rozay to flex his A&R skills for some of rap’s elite, Ross enlists Cee Lo’s moving vocals to accentuate his erratic yet sincere reflections on life’s contradictions. Between the moans draped over NO ID’s emotive production and the exasperated release of the hook, this is what it sounds like when thugs cry.
16. CunninLynguists, “Caved In” (2006)
Sounding like a lost cut from Outkast’s debut, there is little I could say about CeeLo’s contribution to this song that’s better than what Natti and Deacon have told us themselves:
DEACON: We did a show with him in L.A. and we got to fly out on the same plane as him. It was a CeeLo, Little brother and CL show at Pomona College outside of LA. They treated us all like A-listers but we were like C-listers. We capitalized on that moment by getting a CeeLo hook out of it. We stayed in the same hotel so we got to explain exactly what we wanted.
Right after we got CeeLo is [when] Gnarles Barkely took off. “Crazy” took off right after he did the song. And when we saw him in the Czech Republic a year and a half ago I told him I bet we were the last people to get you for a ‘love’ price and he busted out laughing. Because it was true. We were the last people to get CeeLo for an affordable price.
15. Wale, “Gullible” (2013)
On this cut from his third album, The Gifted, Wale does his best impersonation of Q-Tip on “What?” posing a series of conspiratorial questions, but CeeLo’s beautiful crooning rescues the finger-waving from its cynicism and makes this an almost celebratory nod to the analog era that inspires Wale’s lament.
14. Diddy f/ Nas, “Everything I Love” (2006)
One of the more minimal performances on this list, CeeLo’s contribution to this Press Play track is more of an exclamation point to Puff’s testimony than a fully fleshed out hook, but Green’s signature wails and ad-libs perfectly compliment Kanye’s sanctified horn and organ samples.
13. Twista, “Hope” (2004)
While many will remember the version of this song with Faith Evans featured on the soundtrack to the Coach Carter film and her album The First Lady, the original song with CeeLo can be found on Twista’s 2004 album Kamikaze. The lyrics for both versions are the same and while Faith’s version is good, it’s almost too obvious she was added for marketing purposes. CeeLo’s more subdued delivery takes the song down a few octaves and blends a little better with the delicate guitar licks.
12. De La Soul, “Held Down” (2001)
We can only imagine that when Pos was producing this track from AOI: Bionix that as he was chopping the bass line and layering the strings that it sounded so much like an Al Green track that he minus well get his rapping namesake to finish it off just right.
11. Dave Ghetto “Groupie Sex” (2005)
That’s Dave GHETTO, not Guetta. His 2005 debut “Love & Life” probably only exists on the hard drives of the most loyal CMJ alumni but among the stand out cuts is this tongue and cheek (and almost obligatory during this era) declaration of sexual independence. Trading the usually uplifting bent of his hooks CeeLo helps drive home Dave’s message that he only has one night in town and one lucky fan can get down.
10. Field Mob, “All I Know” (2002)
Shawn Jay and Smoke of Field Mob were one of the more talented duos to emerge from the early 2000s and saw considerable chart success thanks to singles like “Sick Of Being Lonely.” Hailing from Albany Georgia they added a distinctive hue to the “Dirty South” pallet and this cut from their sophomore album is more of CeeLo doing what he does best: acknowledging our need for the Lord’s blessings without denigrating the behavior that brought him to that realization. “It’s time to admit I need some help/Still living with my momma, can’t feed myself/Life ain’t about who straight, who real, who fake, and who gay/It’s about who pray.”
9. Asher Roth, “Be By Myself” (2009)
As soon as the drums and organ kick in you know that Mr. Green is about to come gliding in with that unmistakable voice. Like a B-Side to Dave Ghetto’s “Groupie Sex” CeeLo helps Asher Roth forewarn any interested women that at 22 years old he is far from husband material.
8. Don Trip, “Letter To My Son” (2011)
Memphis rapper Don Trip’s angry tirade against his estranged baby mother helped put him on the map. A large part of the song’s appeal is CeeLo’s vocals, which tap into the legitimate frustration of any man who has been kept from seeing his child by his ex.
7. Trick Daddy, “In Da Wind” (2002)
On this lead single from Trick Daddy’s fifth album Thug Holiday CeeLo sheds his gospel vibes, instead dipping into the church building fund to throw a picnic for the congregants complete with all of your favorite vices. Pulling double duty with both the good-time hook and a card-pulling verse Green helped this album move 129,000 copies in its first week and earn gold certification within a month.
6. Slaughterhouse, “My Life” (2012)
Two years after giving censors fits with the smash hit “Fuck You” CeeLo brought his melodic middle finger to Slaughterhouse’s second single from their major label debut, Welcome to: Our House. Taking Corona’s acid house hit “Rhythm Of The Night” and standing it on its head, CeeLo defiantly repeats “This is my motherfuckin life!” as Budden, Royce, Joell and Crooked I take turns reminding us of what they had to overcome to reach this point.
5.Rick Ross, “Smile Mama, Smile” (2015)
Ross and CeeLo have already established that they’re a formidable combo, but this post-seizure confessional from 2015’s Black Market may be one of the best songs of Rozay’s career. CeeLo takes Jake One’s already thick and pensive sound bed and becomes one with it (seriously, Jake literally loops his voice towards the end of the track) and by the time he starts spelling out the hook you know that Mothers Day has a new anthem.
4. Kendrick Lamar “untitled 06” (2016)
The only thing better than unexpected Kendrick Lamar bars are unexpected CeeLo vocals. When the Compton Grammy winner released his “lost tapes” from TPAB, this collab with CeeLo was easily one of the best songs in the nameless 8-pack. I have serendipitously dubbed this flirtatious and awkward devotional “I Can Explain” for mixtape playlist purposes.
3. T.I. “Hello” (2013)
Sometimes CeeLo’s voice sounds so good that even if the words don’t make sense you let it slide. On the Pharrell produced “Hello” from T.I.’s album Trouble Man: Heavy Is The Head the hook presented a bit of a logical quandary for anyone half paying attention.
Just keep going, and don’t look back/And look forward from where you’re at/ There’s some jealousy in your rearview/ Wave hello, hello, hello…”
Who waves to people in their rearview mirror? And if you did why would it be hello and not good-bye? Well, in an interview I did for TheUrbanDaily Tip offered kind of an explanation:
“We all took notice of that when we were making the song; myself, CeeLo and Pharrell as well. We all acknowledged that fact but we felt like the sentiment was appropriate enough that people will draw their own conclusion. It’s saying hello to the future and good-bye to bullsh*t at the same time. When you tell the haters ‘hello’ it’s the haters of tomorrow. You wave good-bye to the haters of yesterday and your future will be bright. Any bright future will be filled with new haters so you gonna wave hello to the new ones and good-bye to the old ones. Sort of like an ‘aloha’ if you will. [laughs] ‘Aloha’ is hello and good-bye at the same damn time.”
Confusion not withstanding this is still one of CeeLo’s best sounding hooks.
2. Outkast, “In Due Time” (1997)
Boyz 2 Men and Dru Hill may have had the chart toppers from the Soul Food movie soundtrack but this song featuring Outkast and CeeLo was by far my favorite from the collection and one of my favorites from Outkast period. Fans of Goodie Mob were already familiar with CeeLo’s unique singing abilities from their debut of the same name (just listen to how he busts the doors open on the album’s intro “Free”) but this was a coming out party to fans on the national stage. Green’s voice is at its aspirational best as he manages to both console and plea for understanding in the same breath: “Just keep your faith in me, don’t act impatiently, you’ll get where you need to be in due time/even when things are slow/hold on and don’t let go/I’ll give you what I owe in due time…”
1.Common “A Song for Assata” (2000)
And here we are ending things where they started, with Common. Lonnie Lynn’s autobiographical tribute to exiled political prisoner Assata Shakur was the political anchor to his 2000 album Like Water For Chocolate and it achieves this in large part to CeeLo’s soul-stirring contribution. If listening to Common detail her arrest, imprisonment and ultimate escape to Cuba doesn’t move you, then by the time you hear CeeLo emote about her “power and pride” you’ll be petitioning Congress for a full pardon. Of all of his many choir robe swaying vocal performances this one is quintessential CeeLo.
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