Radio Hits One: Cee Lo Green's First Urban Radio Hit, 16 Years In The Making

Categories: Cee-Lo

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One of pop music's biggest Cinderella stories in recent memory has been that of the man born Thomas DeCarlo Callaway, better known to the public as Cee Lo Green, or simply Cee Lo. After debuting as a member of the pioneering Atlanta rap group Goodie Mob in the mid-'90s, the MC/singer spent a decade as something of a cult figure, widely respected for his talent but scarcely an icon on the level of his old friends in Outkast. Then, Cee Lo sang two of the biggest pop hits of the past few years—Gnarls Barkley's 2006 breakthrough "Crazy" and his 2010 solo smash "Fuck You"—and emerged as an unlikely pop star.

Turn on the TV, and you'll probably flip past Cee Lo: in 7Up commercials, starring in two different shows (as a coach/judge on NBC's hit The Voice and as the host of Talking To Strangers on Fuse), making a cameo on Parenthood, appearing on countless award shows. He was even parodied on Saturday Night Live, perhaps the ultimate confirmation of his household name status. During this media blitz, he also recently scored the biggest R&B radio hit of his long career—and the amazing part is that it isn't "Fuck You."


Cee Lo Green feat. Melanie Fiona, "Fool For You"

"Fool For You" featuring Melanie Fiona is one of six songs that's been released as a single from Cee Lo Green's 2010 solo album The Lady Killer. "Fuck You" peaked at No. 2, while none of the other five have even entered the Hot 100. But "Fool For You" peaked at No. 13 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart last week (before sinking four spots this week), making it the biggest urban radio hit Cee-Lo has ever had as a solo artist, featured performer or member of a group.

Cee Lo's previous highest mark on the R&B chart was actually one of his first—Goodie Mob's debut single "Cell Therapy" reached No. 17 in 1995. And in the 16 years since, he's only intermittently made even a minor impact on R&B chart, even with his recent pop hits. "Fuck You"'s R&B peak was a humble No. 57, and "Crazy" only got to No. 53. It's odd to think that someone so famous and so beloved for both his soulful singing and his distinctive rapping has had such little presence on hip-hop and R&B radio.

Before "Cell Therapy," Cee Lo and the rest of Goodie Mob made their first single chart appearance guesting on Outkast's 1994 single "Git Up, Git Out," which peaked at No. 59 on the R&B chart (a few years later, the similarly raspy-voiced Macy Gray did her best Cee Lo impression, interpolating his hook from the Outkast track for her debut single "Do Something," which reached No. 63). But while Outkast were becoming the most successful group southern hip-hop had ever seen, their Dungeon Family compatriots in Goodie Mob remained comparatively unheralded, going gold but never platinum. Over the course of the '90s, they released three albums and several singles, but none of them approached the peak of "Cell Therapy" (the closest, "Soul Food," reached No. 31).

By the turn of the century, though, Cee Lo had already begun to be seen as Goodie Mob's breakout star, more for his singing than for his rapping. He appeared on multiple albums by Chicago rapper Common, duetted with Lauryn Hill on Santana's 1999 blockbuster Supernatural, and provided backup vocals for TLC's megahit "Waterfalls" (technically the biggest R&B hit he's been involved with, although I'm not counting it, since he was not a featured artist). And so somewhat inevitably, Cee Lo soon went solo and split off from from Goodie Mob, who subsequently made one album without him, and have since come back together for an upcoming reunion album.

2002's Cee Lo Green And His Perfect Imperfections featured the minor hit "Closet Freak" (which, oddly, he's now shown recording nine years later in his recent 7Up commercial). 2004's Cee Lo Green... Is the Soul Machine yielded another, the great Timbaland collaboration "I'll Be Around." But the R&B chart peaks of those songs were No. 56 and No. 52, respectively, right in the same range that "Crazy" and "Fuck You" would land in years later. During this period, his biggest successes on urban radio were singing hooks on singles by Miami rapper Trick Daddy: 2002's "In Da Wind" reached No. 28. and 2005's "Sugar (Gimme Some)" reached No. 36. "Sugar" was also Cee Lo's introduction to the Top 40 as an featured artist, peaking at No. 20 on the Hot 100 a year before "Crazy" blew up.



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2 comments
Al Shipley
Al Shipley

Yeah, the "or" thing is pretty funny in general, one of us should definitely write about it at length at some point.

I'm inclined to believe that Billboard's "or" here is a simple error than a weird contractual requirement, though. The album version only billed Bailey, the single version billed Fiona, so someone at Billboard probably thought it was an either/or thing.

But yeah you're right that there's a kind of divide between '70s style R&B still having a place on urban radio and '60s styles being looked at as more "retro," it's a pretty subtle distinction but it makes a certain sense to me. 

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

The really interesting thing about "Fool for You," to me, is that, like "Fuck You," it's also mining a trad-R&B sound: in this case, the lushness and jazzy-disco slow groove of vintage Earth Wind & Fire (seriously: you could almost sing the lyrics to "After the Love Has Gone" to it). Which makes the Philip Bailey guest vocal totally logical. This prompts the question, why does 2011 urban radio find the sound of '70s midtempo-slow-jam so much more palatable than vintage '60s Motown? (Besides the fact that, to that audience, "Fuck You" probably sounds too corny.)

Also, word on the obnoxiousness of the "or" credit, which has proliferated over the last decade: Kid Rock's "Picture" featuring Sheryl Crow or Allison Moorer; Santana's "Why Don't You and I" featuring Chad Kroeger or Alex Band. Usually this is done for contractual reasons—the label secured the bigger star for the album cut but not for single release—but then radio programmers freely program the album cut if they wish, giving Billboard a data-collection/credit headache. But you're right that the "or" credit is particularly nonsensical in this case; my guess would be that the label insisted on it for some reason, because someone demanded that Melanie Fiona not share the credit line on the single release with anyone.

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