This story begins in The Dirty South, where South Atlanta's native son transformed himself into the Abominable SHOWman. Along the way, innocence was lost; farther down the path, his parents passed on. Yet he still found family at the Dungeon with the likes of Goodie Mob, Outkast, L.A. Reid, and Lauryn Hill. Then one day he teamed up with Danger Mouse and everything went "Crazy."
Everybody's Brother is the untold story of CeeLo Green's rise from the streets of Atlanta to the top of the charts-a story so cool, so complex that his brother-from-another-mother, Big Gipp, couldn't help but chime in. Now CeeLo gives his fans what they've been waiting for: an all-access pass into his perfectly imperfect piece of mind.
|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
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About the Author
Big Gipp helped CeeLo start his music career when he introduced him to the members of the Goodie Mob when CeeLo was just 17. They two have been like brothers ever since. Gipp has a solo career and has contributed to several collaborations with other music artists over the years.
David Wild is a New York Times bestselling author, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, and an Emmy-nominated television writer and producer, as well as a popular blogger for Huffington Post and a frequent television commentator about popular music. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons.
Read an Excerpt
By CeeLo Green, Big Gipp, David Wild
Hachette AudioCopyright © 2013 CeeLo Green Big Gipp David Wild
All rights reserved.
Gettin' Grown in the Dirty South
Little boy you're not allowed to stay
You have to evolve inevitably
And I've sure come a long way
The road up ahead is so unclear
Back slidin' down the bottom of beer
Nobody knew if I would make it here
Sweet music set me free
From the statistic that I started to be
I wish my mama was alive to see
The memories of pain have scarred
And when I fall it's usually hard
But I get up and keep followin' God
—CeeLo Green, "Gettin' Grown"
My very first childhood memory is a haunting one—which may mean something significant right there. Go ahead and consult the psychiatrist or spiritual adviser of your choice for a second opinion about that. In this memory, I'm asleep as a little boy and possibly even sleeping like a baby when, for some strange reason, I wake up right in the middle of the night. I'm in my grandmother's house, where we were living at the time. I'd gone to bed early—which is definitely not my style anymore—and suddenly I'm awake, and it's so late that it seems like everyone else in the world was asleep. Everything all around me is quiet and still and enchanted in some strange and elusive way. Not for the last time in my life, I decide that the time has come to check things out for myself and explore the nightlife a little bit.
So I climb out of bed without permission—which is definitely still my style—and walk through my grandmother's living room. There are these two lamps with little crystal-looking chandeliers that make a tinkling sound if you walk past them hard enough. And now I am very aware of all these shimmering lights and that tinkling noise. It stops me in my tracks. The vibe in my grandmother's living room very quickly becomes tremendously surreal and thoroughly spooky.
But then, just when I would have become totally terrified by my after-hours surroundings and run back to my room for a taste of safety, I start hearing this fantastic noise, this deeply magical sound that seems to be speaking to me as if it was being broadcast from a whole other distant and previously unseen universe. This noise is very mysterious to me, but even more, it is alluring. As it turns out, somebody in the house had fallen asleep with "Strawberry Letter 23" by the Brothers Johnson still playing on the stereo—and allow me a shout out to Shuggie Otis, who did the original song. Even all these years later, I can still hear those sexy, wild lyrics ringing out in my head. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, Google the song and take a listen.)
Now imagine being a little boy, waking up and exploring a shimmering nighttime world for the very first time, and then hearing that psychedelic solo with all that fantastic phased-up reverb and futuristic funk. That song's groove was freaking me out and drawing me in all at the same time. I was frightened, I was turned on, and I was probably only two years old at the time. What I had heard that night in the shimmering light was no more and no less than the future—namely, my future.
See, boys and girls, that's the amazing thing about the world that we all live in—our Creator is so stylish. You couldn't write the things that happen in our world. But apparently He can write them, and He or She does it all the time. Thinking back on my first memory now, it's almost like my feet hit the ground to that beat, just in time to experience this visitation by the Good God of the Holy Groove. And in a very real way, I've been trying my level best to follow that groove ever since.
At least in my mind, music spoke to me before anything or anyone else did. "Strawberry Letter 23" is an eerie and haunting song to me still, and I'm thankful that it transported me into this other universe where I would make my own way—and eventually my own home. In a funny but very real way, I'm still that child in the darkness chasing something he doesn't fully understand and trying his hardest to touch that "red magic satin" Shuggie Otis wrote about.
What else can any of us do but just keep on reaching to touch the red magic satin we can never quite touch?
Everybody knows that a fable worth telling takes place somewhere magical, mystical, scary yet wondrous too. We all love a good alternate universe, and the tale that I'm about to tell you is truly a journey into the supernatural. Like the greatest stories ever told, mine starts off in one of those strange yet somehow familiar places where horrible and amazing things can and do happen, all the time. I'm talking about somewhere that exists in our hearts and minds and on every map that's cool enough to make mention of a land known far and wide to heroes and villains alike by one name with three words: the Dirty South.
The Dirty South is as much a state of mind as a place, located in the hearts and minds and streets of Atlanta, Georgia, my hometown. In the Dirty South you get humanity served up in every shade and variety, with every sort of behavior—and I mean the good the bad and the ugly—all coming together in a rich and colorful mix.
Southwest Atlanta, where I grew up, was a place where church was big on Sundays, and so were talent shows. The neighborhoods were sectioned off into zones divided by creeks, train tracks, and rock quarries, by lakes and ponds, but they often blurred together. Tough projects would be standing right next door to regular middle-class apartments and tree-lined suburban neighborhoods. There were haves and have-nots going to the same schools. You knew kids who went hungry, who had no one at home, some of them growing up mean. There was crime in the streets, particularly after the crack money starting flooding the neighborhoods in the mid-eighties. And there was no shortage of jails and prisons to hold you if you got caught. But in one sense, we all came up in a privileged way because no matter what your family had, growing up in the Dirty South you got to see greatness all around you all the time. Whatever challenges you were facing in your life, it was still fun to watch all the characters in town and to be there and be alive.
Atlanta has always been the cradle of Black Consciousness. It was home not only to Martin Luther King Jr. but to seminal cats like W.E.B. Du Bois, who taught at Atlanta University back at the turn of the twentieth century and wrote The Souls of Black Folk. I believe that, to this day, Atlanta is where the black soul feels most at home. The red clay of Atlanta raised Andrew Young, Maynard H. Jackson, Hosea Williams, William Andrews, Gladys Knight, and the Bronner Brothers. Musical geniuses like Curtis Mayfield lived there. So did Hank Aaron, the Hall of Fame baseball legend. Hank lived in a house in my grandmother's neighborhood, and he's still there right now. Growing up, you saw all these figures from the Civil Rights era driving in your neighborhood and you went to school with their kids. You saw people like Andrew Young come to your high school and tell you that change can happen because they were part of a change that changed the world. So kids from Atlanta always had a feeling that whatever they wanted to do, they could do.
That's the way my mother came up. She was one of five children of Ruby Farrell, a nurse from Albany, Georgia, who spent twenty-five years married to Thomas Callaway, a disabled Air Force veteran. They moved to the Cascade part of Atlanta back in the early sixties, when it was still a predominantly white area. Even a blockade put up by the mayor couldn't keep the black folks of Atlanta from moving in and moving up, because the time had come. Before long, Cascade's leafy neighborhoods became the hub of Atlanta's black middle class, which was coming on fast, and a magnet for all those rich and famous people I was telling you about. All five Callaway kids got good educations and good jobs. I have an uncle who does architectural work for the railroad, another who's a chef; one aunt in marketing for Coca-Cola and another who's just shy of getting a Ph.D. in health care administration. All of them are movers and shakers, but my mom was definitely the moving-est (and sometimes the shakiest too). She just never could settle down anywhere, changing jobs and houses and apartments as fast as you could change a TV channel, until an accident later put an end to her restless ways.
My mother was born Sheila J. Callaway in 1956 and grew up an athletic, fair- skinned girl who always acted more mature than she really was. And she could never be told what to do—which sounds very familiar to me. When she was fourteen she married a man named Michael Burton. He was several years older, and that was her pattern—she always liked older men. Come to think of it, I've always liked older women, so maybe that's where that comes from. My sister, Shedonna, arrived in 1973, about the time Mom and her first husband split up.
Now, I don't remember any of this, of course. I wasn't even born yet, so I'm relying on what I heard as a child and what's been told to me since then. But my mom's interest in older men extended to a sharp-dressing Baptist minister who was crazy about her but unfortunately already married. That was my father. I was born on May 30, 1975, and christened Thomas DeCarlo Burton. I was named after my grandfather, who had recently passed, and was given the surname that my mother carried at the time. Nobody knows where the DeCarlo comes from, my mom just liked the sound of it. She called me Carlo.
Shedonna remembers my real father better than I do, because he died of a heart attack when I was two years old. Even though he didn't marry my mother, I know he acknowledged me as his son, and I've been told he would always be visiting us wherever we lived. Our mom was already moving around quite a lot by then, at least three different places before I was three. Shedonna says my father wore his hair in long Jheri curls swept back on his head, and he sported the most stylish suits she'd ever seen a man wear. I don't remember that, but I remember other things, like his car. He drove a 1978 Seville that was black with red leather interior—which is not exactly red magic satin but just as nice. I close my eyes now and I can still see that Cadillac, even though I'm sorry to say I have a whole lot of trouble picturing the car's driver.
For some reason, I remember for sure that my father's cup holder was always full of peppermint candies. Putting those peppermints in the car is something that I've imitated many times in my life in many cars—maybe because it's one of the only family tradition≈s that I actually share with a man who left this world so quickly on his way to the next stop. That and a love of fine clothes. I'm not kidding when I say that I was wearing suits to school in grade school, and carrying around the ivory pipe he left behind with my mother. It may not be the biggest inheritance any son ever received, but at least it's mine.
My dad also must have loved to put on cologne that smelled something like leather. There was a sort of manly, musky smell that I will forever associate with him. Yeah, I know this may sound a little odd to say, but that's what stays with me about my father even after all these decades. I really only knew the man who was my father by smell. That's how I can remember him being there and then not being there.
There were always a few pictures of my father around somewhere wherever we lived. I wish I knew where those photos were now, but I really don't. Today, if I want to see what my father looked like, I just take a good look in the mirror. I'm told that I favor him strongly. But in an odd way, I've sometimes felt as if he almost never existed. For me, my father—and the whole idea of a father—became first and foremost a very big hole that I had to figure out how to fill somehow. I didn't always fill that hole with good things either.
Please understand that my earthly dad had the best excuse any absent father could ever have, but he left behind a void that could never truly be filled. Growing up all over the place with my mom, with my grandmother, my aunt, and my sister—and lots of times on my own—I was understandably pretty clueless about what it meant to be a man. Maybe because my father's voice was silenced forever, just as I was getting used to hearing it, I gravitated to another set of male voices, ones that I heard drifting into my earliest memories.
Big Gipp: Lo and I grew up in similar parts of town, but my life and his were totally different because my father was always there and sadly CeeLo's father was never there. My father worked for UPS and my parents were still married, and you could say I had a little better lifestyle than most of my friends. So my experience growing up was different and easier than CeeLo's. But CeeLo was far from the only kid living with that kind of void in his life.
We always had enough in our house, but where we grew up in Atlanta, you always had a friend nearby who didn't have what you had. We all walked the same streets. And we didn't feel inferior in any way. We learned the lessons of Dr. King, and we could go downtown and see where he spread the word. All of the Civil Rights leaders, all their families lived throughout our neighborhoods, so it was always about being someone who stood up for justice.
The black revolution started in Atlanta, and by the time we were aware, I think there were more black and white friendships and understanding than anywhere else in the South. My grandmother was a black country woman who never left the country, but she owned land so she could call her white congressman downtown and get him on the phone. There's still racism and there's still bigotry to a point, but Atlanta was a place where if your people knew some people, they'd work with you. Yes, there were more white people in Atlanta who were rich, but there were plenty of rich black people in Atlanta too—there were examples everywhere that we could make it too. So there was no sense of hopelessness. We came up in that era when black folks started getting good jobs. Lots of families were moving on up. It was our version of the American dream—or something like it.
And that's the attitude CeeLo always had and the one that he got from his mother, rest her soul. His mom was an entrepreneur, a hustler who always had something going on, something starting up. She had a store in the mall, and so even if his family didn't have money, you would never perceive it that way because CeeLo has always had style—and his own style at that. CeeLo always had the freshest clothes. He always had the presentation of a street cat who was up on his game. Rich or poor or anywhere in between, he looked good.
I am pretty sure that I'm not the first man to hear voices in my head.
Some people hear voices telling them to do terrible things. Thankfully, I haven't heard too many of those voices lately. Instead, the most powerful voices in my head have always been those of older men who spoke to me and eventually helped me find my own voice. It wasn't just the Brothers Johnson on that enchanted psychedelic evening at my grandmother's house. I'm talking about musical giants like James Brown and Jackie Wilson—and all-time masters like Al Green, Bill Withers, and Ray Charles to name just a few. I'd hear them on the radio, or over at my aunt Audrey's, where I watched Soul Train every Saturday morning, and then sang along to the records she played while she cleaned the house.
Like my own father, some of these men were already dead and gone by the time I heard them singing, but somehow their timeless voices could still reach out and share their secrets with a little kid who needed all the clues he could find. Through those voices and their shining examples of what it means to be a man in this world, I learned everything I ever really needed to know about men, and women too.
Excerpted from Everybody's Brother by CeeLo Green, Big Gipp, David Wild. Copyright © 2013 CeeLo Green Big Gipp David Wild. Excerpted by permission of Hachette Audio.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: The Chronicle of a Crazy Child Who Found His Voice vii
Chapter 1 Gettin' Grown in the Dirty South 1
Chapter 2 Crime and Punishment, or Chickenhead Goes to Military School 35
Chapter 3 The Very Fresh Prince of the Dirty South 55
Chapter 4 Out of My Mind and into the Dungeon Family 79
Chapter 5 Getting Up and Getting Out: Endings and Beginnings 103
Chapter 6 A Self-Civilized Man Meets His Match and Our Mob Breaks Apart 123
Chapter 7 Perfect Imperfections: A Soul Machine Goes So Lo 143
Chapter 8 A "Crazy" Great Odd Couple and Our Gnarly Trip to the Top 173
Chapter 9 How to Make Friends and Influence People by Singing "Fuck You" 199
Chapter 10 The Voices in My Head and The Voice on the Screen 219
Chapter 11 A Prodigal Son Comes Home and Atlanta Goes Green 239