For Cee-Lo, the last six months of his life have been somewhat of a surprise.
Though he earned his stripes in the late-1990s as the leader of the Southern hip-hop contingent Goodie Mob and earned a boatload of cash, thanks to the success of Gnarls Barkley—the duo he formed with producer Danger Mouse back in 2006—he didn't get his first real taste of solo superstardom until last August when his single "Fuck You" surprisingly soared to the top of the charts in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. It helped his latest album, The Lady Killer, land at the top of Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart when it was released in November. And as a result, it's been nominated for "Record of the Year" and "Song of the Year" at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday.
"And I'll be honest, I don't even know the difference between the two," the Atlanta-born MC/singer told VIBE late last week before a scheduled performance alongside Big Boi at the 2011 Madden Bowl, where he put on a show for NFL players like Reggie Bush, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Miles Austin. "But I was really surprised by the whole thing. I didn't even know the song could be considered. The song was only out for a short while [before it got nominated] but I guess it performed well enough for it to be considered. I guess I was just surprised anyone noticed."
The success that "Fuck You" and Lady Killer afforded Cee-Lo has carried into the new year as well. Last month, he teamed up with Gwyneth Paltrow for a performance on Saturday Night Live. And he also did a show earlier this week at Madison Square Garden where he opened up for Prince.
"Prince is my friend," he says. "I performed with Prince one other time during his residency out in Las Vegas [at a club called 3121] and I've been invited out to his house a couple of times. We're definitely fond of each other—well, maybe I'm a little more fond of him than he is of me. But he called me and requested that I come out [first at the Garden] and break the ice. He wanted me to come out before him to help get the crowd ready."
Cee-Lo's hoping to continue to ride his recent wave of success now that he's got it, too. Though he admits that he hasn't recorded a lot of new solo material recently—he says he's been spending most of his time in the studio recording new material for a Goodie Mob reunion that he promises is still going to happen—he still has plenty of leftover material from his Lady Killer. Enough, in fact, to possibly put together a sequel to it at some point in 2011.
"I have an awful lot of material left over that didn't make the album," he says. "So I think that one of the most cost-efficient things I can do right now is put out something like Lady Killer 2. You know, the director's cut or whatever."
But before he does, he's got one final surprise. Only, this time, he'll be the one providing it. At the 2011 Grammys, he's scheduled to perform with Paltrow again—and, according to a recent MTV interview with Jim Henson, he's planning on getting an assist from the Muppets to make it memorable. It's a move that already has some people thinking Cee-Lo and Paltrow, an unlikely pair just a month or two ago, could wind up stealing the show.
"What we have in mind is going to be cool," he said. "We haven't rehearsed yet and I haven't seen the set and all that yet, but I've seen sketches of it and it's going to be good. We're going to make some history together. We've got a little surprise. Just wait." — Chris Yuscavage