Happy 15th Anniversary to Cee-Lo Green’s debut album Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections, originally released April 23, 2002.
If you picked one member of Atlanta rap collective Goodie Mob to break free and soar after their three albums of the mid to late 1990s, it would have been Thomas Callaway. The son of a preacher man, Cee-Lo Green (to use his, by now, familiar stage name) was destined for future success according to those in the know. Charisma, musical talent, and a ridiculously unique voice lit his path to certified and certain success.
None of which was in my brain when I walked into HMV on Oxford Street in London in 2002 and picked up the CD with a bizarre looking gentleman on the front. I knew nothing of Goodie Mob at that point (although I’d heard the name) and had no idea who the mystical looking character was who gazed out at me, beckoning me closer. Just thinking of that day makes me reminisce for the days when browsing rack after rack of albums on a high street near you was possible. The thrill of taking a punt on something as unknown as this album was to me, after a thorough and lengthy process of elimination, is sadly lacking in my life these days but Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections was one such purchase that entered my life in this way.
Revealed to me was a veritable jambalaya of southern, funkified soul and hip-hop, with the odd soupcon of outright weirdness. True to the title, Cee-Lo’s solo debut is a collection of songs that revel in their imperfections to paint a portrait of the artist as a prowling outsider, snarling and snapping at the world. Surprisingly though, as it comprises 21 tracks, almost everything hits the mark. Sure, a couple of songs meander rather than flow freely, allowing you to wallow in the cosmic slop a while without offering any satisfaction. But the bulk of the album both reflects his hip-hop past with Goodie Mob and plants the seeds of the commercial paydirt he would later hit as a singer with Gnarls Barkley and his huge The Lady Killer album in 2010.
Swaggering into view on a tidal wave of arrogance and sublimely sinuous funk, album opener “Bad Mutha” is a foul-mouthed nugget that bristles with bravado. It’s a ferocious statement of intent and a dynamite way to cover that key tenet of rap—boastfulness. What follows next though is a mind-blowing stream of consciousness that finds Cee-Lo channeling the spirit, fervor, and passion of a zealous Baptist preacher on “Big Ole Words (Damn)”: “You'll get an aneurysm fuckin around with my head on collision / With the power to get you dead and have the dead risen.” It is a tongue-twisting masterpiece that builds breathlessly to a divine zenith. Rest assured no one hearing this will ever doubt the ability of a man from the South to rhyme.
As the album proceeds it becomes clear that the same dynamic that drives the beating heart of soul music (the tension between the sacred and the profane) is at play here. The shaking, rattling funk exhortations of “Closet Freak” are followed by the thunderously dramatic “Live (Right Now)” complete with its mention of The Revelation: “You got to cherish every moment, carelessness is a crime / Revelation gon' be right on time / You Better Live / You Better Live RIGHT NOW.”
Elsewhere, Cee-Lo exhibits the same pop sensibilities that would see his Lady Killer album go stratospheric on “Gettin’ Grown” and he battles his demons on “Medieval Times (Great Pretender)”: “My heart beats with unconditional love / But beware of the blackness that it's capable of . . . / . . . You got to travel the road of a troubled soul / I'm trying so hard not to lose control.”
Heck, an unexpected country twang is even brought to proceedings on “Country Love,” truly demonstrating that not much is beyond the imagination and reach of this twin threat.
This is a fascinating snapshot of an artist exploring the freedom of a debut solo album with equal opportunities to rap and sing, while drenched in the very essence of the south in all of its varied glories. He shows the exuberance of the preacher’s pulpit, but at the same time, reveals the hubris and self-doubt of a flawed man. Though greater commercial success would come his way, this album represents the clearest representation of Cee-Lo Green’s talents and that is definitely worth revisiting.