Twice The Hip-Hop

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

IF YOU’RE A FAN of soul and hip-hop, don’t miss this Sunday’s show at The Catalyst nightclub in Santa Cruz. It’s a double-header featuring two of the hottest acts on the scene, and a packed dance floor is a certainty.

Headliner Cee-Lo released his second solo album, “Cee-Lo Green is the Soul Machine,” this March. Riding high on the critical acclaim garnered by his Grammy-nominated 2002 release, “Cee-Lo Green and his Perfect Imperfections,” Cee-Lo sees his latest album as a chance to push the boundaries of what is acceptable as hip-hop and R&B.

“I’m always seeking an advancement of not only hip-hop but music. I do feel like I am making a big-picture type of contribution,” he said.

Born Thomas Burton in Atlanta, Cee-Lo grew up surrounded by gospel music (both of his parents are ministers) and soul, listening to artists such as Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. As a teenager, he discovered the hip-hop scene and began hanging out in local clubs, listening to the MCs and eventually rapping himself.

His growing reputation as a performer eventually brought him to the attention of Andre 3000 and Big Boi, better known as award-winning duo OutKast. In 1994, he was invited to perform on OutKast’s single “Git Up Git Out,” which led to producer Rico Wade asking him to join the newly formed Goodie Mob.

While in Goodie Mob, Cee-Lo collaborated with several artists on their albums, including Carlos Santana and Lauryn Hill. These side projects gave him encouragement to make his own solo album; the result was “Perfect Imperfections.”

Now, with his latest offering, Cee-Lo hopes to share his personal beliefs about music with a wider audience: that music has real power to unite and elevate as well as entertain. “Soul is the connection between us all,” he said. “All music is derivative of soul, so I do soul music.”

Opening act Gift of Gab also has soul to spare. Best known as a member of Blackalicious, Gab (aka Tim Parker) is renowned for his often introspective, thoughtful rhymes. He has been rapping since high school, where he first met his future Blackalicious partner Xavier Mosley (Chief Xcel).

At first, the pair did nothing but argue about which hip-hop artists were better, but eventually found common ground when they heard “Top Billin’” by Audio Two.

Chance circumstances began their musical partnership in 1998. Recalled Gab: “I had another DJ at the time named Maestro K, but he decided he wanted to do R&B instead of hip-hop. So I was left without a DJ. I called X and was like ‘Yo, I need a DJ.’ He said, ‘For how long?’ and I said ‘Forever,’ and it has been on since then.”

The duo went through several name changes before becoming Blackalicious in 1991. The duo produced several EPs before their first full-length CD, “NIA,” was released in 1996.

Blackalicious just released its fourth album and major label debut, “Blazing Arrow,” and Gab’s solo CD, “4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up,” was released May 11.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, May 13, 2004

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