Most audiences know CeeLo Green for two things: his work as a judge on The Voice, and his two massive hits, “Crazy,” with Gnarls Barkley, and his solo smash “F*ck You,” which was seemingly everywhere in late 2010 and early 2011. But while those have been his most popular endeavors, he’s had an incredible decades-long career. As a member of the Atlanta group Goodie Mob, he was a fundamental part of the southern rap scene along with the rest of the Dungeon Family. And in his time in Gnarls Barkley, he showed off a surprising knack for experimentation. These two groups were groundbreaking enough on their own, but he also has great solo work to boot. With that in mind, let’s look at the best CeeLo Green songs that aren’t his two big hits. Chances are, casual fans will find a lot to like.
“Cell Therapy” – Goodie Mob
Technically speaking, this was the first track CeeLo appeared on to hit the top 40, as it just made it to No. 39 back in 1995. The song, much like all of Goodie Mob’s debut, is a southern hip-hop classic, with the lyrics discussing the overt and covert racism of life in the ’90s. CeeLo’s verse in particular talks about the possibility that “gated communities” were invented as a way to keep African-Americans out. The song’s hook — “who’s that peakin’ at my window” — describes the perpetual suspicion one faces as one of the few black people in an affluent white neighborhood.
“Black Ice” – Goodie Mob
In the ’90s, Outkast and Goodie Mob were the kings of southern rap as a part of Dungeon Family, so it made all the sense in the world that they would eventually come together on a track. The result was an invigorating track that felt like an ATL anthem. Admittedly, CeeLo plays a smaller role on this one than on some of the other songs on this list, but his chant of “sky high!” certainly brings the song an extra bit of life.
“Bass Head Jazz” – CeeLo Green
After three albums with Goodie Mob, CeeLo went solo in 2002 with His Perfect Imperfections, an often experimental album that explored his more experimental side. “Bass Head Jazz,” one of the more fascinating tracks off this album, rides an incredibly smooth groove, and when CeeLo sings about “flying across the sky,” it’s hard for the listener not to feel that way. This was one of many tracks on His Perfect Imperfections that demonstrated that while CeeLo was a strong rapper, he could tinker with several genres and ultimately succeed.
“The Art of Noise” – CeeLo
His second solo effort, 2004’s Cee-Lo Green Is… The Soul Machine, was a strong, vibrant album, and quite possibly his strongest release. “The Art of Noise” is one of the best songs of the many killer tracks in this collection which Pharrell produced. While CeeLo’s rapping is in top form here, we can also see the R&B side that would come through on later releases. It’s an incredibly bright, colorful song, and one of many tracks on this album that established CeeLo’s legitimacy as a solo artist.
“Just a Thought” – Gnarls Barkley
When “Crazy” took over the charts in the summer of 2006, it was easy to overlook how dark the song’s tone is; it described a man slowly descending into insanity. And yet, it wasn’t quite the darkest song on St. Elsewhere, because that honor would likely go to “Just a Thought,” in which CeeLo is remarkably candid about contemplating suicide. He notes that he’s tried everything else to cure his aggression, and that he once looked down the barrel of a gun. As the title suggests, it never moved to the dark second stage, but still, this is a harrowing look at mental health, and perhaps a more intriguing one than “Crazy,” despite not receiving anywhere near as much publicity.
“Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” – Gnarls Barkley
Without a massive hit like “Crazy,” the second Gnarls Barkley album didn’t get quite the same amount of publicity as its predecessor, but it still had some incredible moments, like this stunning Band of Horses cover. CeeLo’s voice is perfect for this song, as he gives it an extra bit of anguish, while Danger Mouse’s sparse production allows his vocals to steal the show.
“Reckoner” (live) – Gnarls Barkley
While never recorded in the studio (a real shame), Gnarls’ live take on this Radiohead song is a brilliant effort. The original song featured Thom Yorke’s falsetto in top form, but CeeLo’s high-pitched-but-powerful vocals manage to surpass it. When listening, it’s hard not to feel like the song was tailor made for CeeLo’s timbre, as he just absolutely nails it. If Gnarls Barkley ever decide to record a third album, they’d have to seriously consider an official version of this one.
“Wildflower” – CeeLo Green
The Lady Killer became best-known for the smash “F*ck You,” and to a lesser extent for “Bright Lights, Bigger City,” but it was also full of strong deep cuts like this lovely ballad. The song makes expert use of its string section before featuring one of CeeLo’s most memorable choruses. This is one of the smoothest songs in CeeLo’s catalog, allowing The Lady Killer to live up to its name.
“Special Education” – Goodie Mob
In 2013, Goodie Mob reunited for the humorously titled Age Against the Machine, and this was the lead single, a song riding an incredible, decidedly modern beat, and a killer hook from Janelle Monae. CeeLo shows that his rapping skills have not diminished in the slightest as he drops a killer third verse. This song was about promoting individuality, and with CeeLo’s verse, he reminds us that he is a one-of-a-kind talent.