CeeLo Green is “Cookin Up” a “Prequel” to Gnarls Barkley’s Brand New Album (Exclusive)

CeeLo Green talks in metaphors. Not only on songs but in normal conversation. He spits out analogies and double entendres almost reflexively as if he is processing information in a different language.

During a recent interview with the 43-year-old, a conversation centered around his new single, “Brick Road (Cookin’ Up),” premiering exclusively today via DJBooth, Green refers to his approach as speaking “in an art form.” In under 30 minutes, the “Fuck You” singer performed more than a dozen verbal acrobatics, including but not limited to:

  • “You want to almost chaperone the listener through the first initial hit, and the first initial high.”
  • “Too many opinions can make a good feeling malfunction.”
  • “Talent can feed but one individual. Hustle can feed a household.”

This proclivity for parables is why when the 22-year veteran sings about “cooking up dope” on his new offering “Brick Road,” the first single off his forthcoming mixtape Songbirds, he’s actually conjuring up something potent enough to hit you in your core and, at the same time, resurrect his Goodie Mob roots.

“Cooking up is a process, and it’s also a recipe,” he says. “It’s not fast food, it’s a delicacy. I wanted to write something relative for the here and now, and let people know I’m coming from the curb, and I’m talking from the turf.”

“Brick Road”‘s hauntingly beautiful beat blankets the desperation in CeeLo’s soulful voice like “razor blades making lifelines,” a play on the life-saving and life-ending duality of selling drugs. “I wanted to talk about it, but not in any typical or traditional way, so I think this is a nice marriage of narratives and nuance and harmony, but it definitely has the edge like Goodie [Mob],” Green says.

In addition to gearing up to release his new mixtape, CeeLo and Danger Mouse have been busy cooking up a brand new body of work as Gnarls Barkley, their first since 2008’s The Odd Couple.

“We have already started on a new [Gnarls Barkley] album,” Green reveals. “We’re halfway in and we have some overtures from the other projects that may not have stood the test of time, we don’t know yet.”

Lo says the pair is planning to connect at the “top of the year,” and bang out the album in a week as they always have. “That’s pretty much all the time we had to do St. Elsewhere because we were heating up around that time,” he says. “We were doing something recreationally.”

Though “Brick Road” isn’t produced by Danger Mouse, Green believes it’s the perfect appetizer for the impending Gnarls Barkley revival.

“All of this is all prequel. I think [Danger Mouse and I] are kind of rebuilding from the ground up. There is no building without a basement, it’s got to come up out the dirt; come up out the mud.”

Green has operated independently since the release of his 2015 album, Heart Blanche, and since removing the record label shackles, he says he’s been able to do whatever the hell he wants—like “make a better version” of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone.” 

With millions of Gnarls Barkley and CeeLo Green fans anxiously awaiting the arrival of new music, and Green’s deep knowledge of the music industry, the man who embedded the phrase and hustling ethos of “get out, get up, and get something” into hip-hop’s collective consciousness on OutKast’s 1994 classic track Git Up, Git Out seems ready to do just that. “One thing about labels and the industry, it’s very ironic, they can’t pay to guarantee, they can only pay for the possibility. With a person like CeeLo Green, it’s always possible. That’s why I’m dangerous again, I’m back on the block.”

Green is ready to pave his own path, brick by brick.


This 19-Year-Old College Student Recreated Kendrick’s ‘DAMN.’ in Stunning Photos

For some people, the visuals make the album, but for 19-year-old photographer Michaela Lawson, an album actually prompted her to make visuals—her own visuals.

Inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s GRAMMY-nominated album DAMN. and a handful of Reddit fan theories, Lawson tapped into her long-standing love of photography to create a stunning photo series for each of the 14 tracks on the album.

By day, Lawson is a photography major at the Fashion Institute of Technology. By night, she is trekking around New York City with heavy lighting and camera equipment, pushing to complete her DAMN. photo series. “I started shooting at the end of October and finished around November 17,” Lawson tells me over the phone, still walking through the city. “I wanted to do it as fast as possible and I shot almost every single day.”

Wholly impressed, I ask Lawson when she made time for her studies, to which she revealed she built her entire course schedule around completing the project. For creatives like Lawson, higher education can be both a help and hindrance, but FIT has been instrumental in her work, allowing Lawson to rent out lights, studio time, and lenses. Her roommate, Shannon Treadwell, even serves as a creative director, helping Lawson select the final photos for each set.

Upon hearing DAMN. for the first time on April 14, Lawson says the album undeniably unlocked something creative within her, but it was not until August that she finished ironing out all the details. “I had to sit with the album for a while,” Lawson says. “The first time I heard it, I was amazed, but I didn’t really get the message behind it yet. Over the summer, that’s when I really studied it more.”

Lawson jumped head first into the deep hole of Reddit fan theories and YouTube videos as she began brainstorming the photo series, applying each theory to the album—for better or worse. Eventually, she settled on her own hybrid theory, which she reflected in the arrangement of the photos. Half of the photos are labeled “WICKEDNESS.” and the other half “WEAKNESS.”

“After really listening, I got the idea from songs like ‘LUST.’ and ‘LOVE.’. ‘LOVE.’ is more of a weakness and ‘LUST.’ is a wickedness,” she explains. Not all of Lawson’s creative choices were quite as obvious, though. The set for “DNA.” features three photos of Lawson celebrating her Jamaican heritage, yet they live on the “WEAKNESS.” side of the project.

DAMN Photos
Photos by Michaela Lawson

“‘DNA.,’ to me, is a weakness, it’s something that you can’t really change,” Lawson elaborates. “It’s what runs through your own blood. There are wickedness factors along with everyone’s DNA, but you can’t fight it because it’s who you are.”

Lawson’s suggestion that weakness is synonymous with powerlessness is complementary to “WICKEDNESS.” being portrayed as all-consuming in sets like “LUST.” and “YAH.” Unlike the other twelve, these two sets are devoid of human narrative subjects. Instead, we get agency-less moments, the remnants of humanity, captured with images of pill bottles, fingerprints, and the hypnotic blue of a computer screen.

The images for “DUCKWORTH.” and “BLOOD.” are desolate and conjure an overwhelming paranoia. The use of red and blue gels gives each set a vibrancy similar to the kinetic feel of Kendrick’s rapping and his beat selections. Lawson carefully mapped her gut reaction to each song’s production and theme, using those impulses to direct the way she blocked her models and employed color.

DAMN Photos
Photos by Michaela Lawson

The most poignant of the 14 photosets—and Lawson’s favorite—is the one for “XXX.” Breaking down her creative planning, Lawson explains why “XXX.” is the only set with a white model.

“I made sure that I asked him if he was okay with the message, [and] he said it was perfectly fine,” she says. “[‘XXX.’] represents America in general, but it can represent anything you want it to because you can’t really see the color of his hand unless I tell it to you. It can be like black-on-black crime or white-on-white crime—any crime. It’s really about America, and who we are, and how you can reach out for a helping hand and [we] end up shooting our own people.”

Lawson knows that some people may not understand the meaning of her photographs, especially since her reference material is so potent, but she is certain that “XXX.” will ultimately speak for itself.

DAMN Photos
Photos by Michaela Lawson

At the tail end of our conversation, I ask Lawson where she summoned the drive to complete such a massive, time-intensive project. Her answer is simple: it made her happy. While the endeavor has had a profound impact on those lucky enough to come across her work, Lawson walks away from the project as a completely new person.

“It brought me joy,” she says gleefully. “It pushed me to be a better photographer… The project made me a better person, and I think this sends a message to other artists, in general, that if you put your mind to it, you can do it.”