Cee-Lo Thinks Hip-Hop Should Welcome More R&B

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In the past few years, there’s been an evident change in how hip-hop is defined. More and more, artists with an R&B-esque sound and a distinctly hip-hop flair are entering into the genre with a style that blurs the line between the two more than ever before, leaving many to take a deeper look at what hip-hop is in its current state. With newcomers like August Alsina and Ty Dolla $ign—both of whom made the XXL Freshmen 2014 cover on the same idea—on the rise, hip-hop has begun morphing into something that feels bigger than rap.

As an artist who kick-started his career in the hip-hop quartet Goodie Mob and transitioned into singing with his soul-soaked Gnarls Barkley project, CeeLo spoke with XXL about the blending of hip-hop and R&B, what’s lacking in the genre today and the current state of the music scene. —Miranda Johnson

XXL: This year’s XXL Freshmen Class included R&B singers for the first time. Do you think the lines between hip-hop and R&B are more blurred than ever?
Cee-Lo: I don’t know if I would say that the lines are blurred. I think in all things the lines should be more definitive. A definitive course of action, a creative contribution. I think in all things the balance should be better.

When people think of hip-hop, it’s usually only associated with rap. Now you have a lot of people entering the genre, like an August Alsina or a Ty Dolla $ign, who can’t easily be classified as pure R&B because they have such a strong hip-hop element. Do you think hip-hop is morphing into something that’s more than rap?
Yeah, I do. I would hope so, but I would also hope that real rap would remain. It’s only as real as the reality itself, and the reality is that the urban approach to creating music and applying that energy and experience to art is going to be broader and broadened because of it. We have to remember that rap is not just a genre or a style, it’s an actual cadence. So therefore, that cadence can also be very constricting, and there’s a lot more that can be elongated by harmony and melody. If you want to continue to add on and lengthen the lifespan of our art form, then we have to continue to embrace that.

But I don’t know if it can still be called rap or hip-hop; maybe those titles are more limiting than not. Maybe we should just get back to a point where we can definitively define Black music. And just because someone’s a Black artist doesn’t mean their music or what they do is considered Black music. I don’t know if anybody thinks what I’ve been able to do is definitively Black music. But we’re also looking to broaden the horizon, redefine what’s considered Black music. At least that’s been my artistic plight and journey, so anybody who would take up that cross and continue that work for the betterment and preservation of our art form, I would definitely be all up for that.

What I first wanted to say to you, though, is that there is, like, a total separation between church and state [now], when at one point rap and the community itself was more of a democracy. There’s no moral fiber or those basic fundamentals that ground it. It’s most certainly expression, but I just don’t know if it’s art anymore. It’s most certainly corporate and it’s commerce, which would make it product. But it’s, of course, a product of the environment, and the campaign begins to be, “When in Rome…” It’s not a reflection of the true harsh realities that our community stills suffers from. But I do think it’s part fantasy, fun, and entertainment, but it’s no longer fundamental. It’s not the best balance of reality and real estate.