For too long, Cee Lo Green and his outsized talents always seemed to hit a ceiling. The 1995 debut album Soul Food by his Atlanta posse Goodie Mob is considered one of the best Southern rap albums of all time. Why had Goodie Mob — bolstered by Green, its undeniable star — never attained the multi-platinum status of Atlanta peers OutKast? The two groups embellish each other's albums. The Dungeon Family provided production for both. To some, Andre 3000's Grammy-winning The Love Below — an experimental mix of wild production and unpolished but cool singing – was ground Cee Lo had covered effortlessly for years. Still, even after watering down their low-slung Southern black-power rhymes and training their considerable talents on the ostensible party raps of World Party, Goodie Mob never got rich.
But fans knew Green had too much talent to fade away. And then suddenly there was "Crazy," by Gnarls Barkley, Green's side project with DJ Danger Mouse. "Crazy" was the hit of 2006 — a true modern soul anthem that prompted singing along by everyone from grandkids to grandparents. Green always had been quick to delineate his own singing from that of professionals; he'd taught himself to sing by imitating his mother at church and only used it to embellish his rapping. Eventually it would be his "sangin'" on the YouTube single "F—k You" that would cement him as a national star. Those who revered Soul Food missed Green's rapping, but his greater fame was, one way or another, inevitable.
No one saw the rest coming, though. All at once, Green got a prime time television show, The Voice, sitting beside Christina Aguilera, judging people's talents. Saturday Night Live impersonates him. He was Madonna's hype man at the Super Bowl. When the game went to commercial, he was a Sprite spokesman. After 20 years of struggle, Green is suddenly ubiquitous.