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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

MAY 18, 1998: 

Goodie Mob, Still Standing (LaFace)

No disrespect to the other three MCs of Atlanta’s Goodie Mob, but Carlito “Cee-Lo” Green is an emerging hip-hop hero. Where the accomplished but generally indistinguishable trio of Gipp, Khujo, and T-Mo split the difference between Wu-Tang and your average No Limit soldier, the stocky, bald, bespectacled Cee-Lo has no parallel in hip-hop past or present. With his raspy, preacherman delivery and self-described “silky, Southern drawl,” Cee-Lo comes off like Reverend Ike with wisdom and mike skills. The most Southern rap star ever in a genre that has only recently broken free of its bi-coastal provincialism, Cee-Lo sounds like a hip-hop Z.Z. Hill, though his sensibility and agenda may be more Swamp Dogg (Cee-Lo seems like the kind of guy who would come up with a song title like “The Love We’ve Got Ain’t Worth Two Dead Flies”). He’s also the most country MC ever in a self-consciously urban form.

Humble, smart, funny, non-materialistic, always ready with a pithy slogan (“I don’t sell dope, I sell hope!”), Cee-Lo reverses all that’s wrong with so many present-day Benjamin-hoarding, Cristal-sipping MCs. Cee-Lo blended into the mix on Goodie Mob’s excellent 1995 debut Soul Food, but had a bit of a coming-out party on DJ Muggs’ 1997 Soul Assassins record. Amid an album of millennial paranoia, Cee-Lo came on at the end of Goodie Mob’s cut, “Decisions, Decisions” to, ahem, keep it real – upbraiding a sucker MC whose life “define[d] the misconception of staying down” and breaking down the ins and outs of a business that would leave said MC “back in the projects, in building 23, right next door to me.”

Goodie Mob’s Cee-Lo: silky and Southern
But on Still Standing, Cee-Lo steps to the forefront, book-ending the record with mesmerizing, soulful monologues, and coming up with two absolute show-stoppers in between. On “Beautiful Skin” he bats lead-off, coming correct with the sweetest pick-up attempt in hip-hop history, declining to bust a move on a honey he meets at a club because it’s too loud to give her proper attention. Instead, he calls her the next day: “Hello, this is Carlito from a couple a days ago, you sound tired, forgive me for calling you so late…has anyone ever told you you have beautiful skin?” Even better is “Gutta Butta” where he begins by asserting his own ordinariness (“I ain’t shit, I just know how to rhyme a little bit…I’m stilling trying to squeeze my fat ass in where I fit.”) and ends up describing a funny, frightening car-jacking incident, where he gives up the car with no argument and has the car-jacker drive him home because “I value both of our lives more than this car.”

Situated within a landscape of self-described “playas” and “gangstas” (who spout self-destructive fantasies) and critics who too often speak from an only moderately effective middle class (see the latest De La Soul and Chuck D. records), Goodie Mob, at their best, speak for the forgotten majority on this terrain: just plain folks. In this respect, they conjure less fashionable, more pop-wise hip-hop touchstones like Naughty By Nature and Cee-Lo’s closest spiritual equal, Coolio. – Chris Herrington

Dave Douglas Stargazer (Arabesque Jazz)

Dave Douglas celebrates Wayne Shorter on Stargazer.

Subtitled “music by and for Wayne Shorter,” much of this disc evokes Shorter’s brilliant tenure with Miles Davis. Six tunes by Douglas and three by Shorter display the exquisite balance that underlies this disc: tightly constructed ensemble sections mesh with loosely knit open stretches, while passages of mayhem mingle with bouncing rhythms and densely layered horns.

Douglas’ crack sextet works hard, without seeming to strain. Bassist James Genus and drummer Joey Baron effortlessly shift from driving rhythm to quiet, open spaces, while pianist Uri Caine straddles rhythm and solo roles with some of his best playing to date. Douglas’ trumpet is joined by Joshua Roseman’s trombone and Chris Speed’s reeds, each dancing around one another with tight harmonizing and some beautiful solos.

This entire disc evokes Shorter’s genius, but more than that, it shows the growing depth and talents of Dave Douglas. As a composer, trumpeter, and bandleader, Douglas is rapidly making his mark as one of the more remarkable and compelling players on the scene. – Gene Hyde

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