Future of Music: Cee-Lo

November 15, 2007 8:25 PM ET

Record sales are down across all genres, but hip-hop sales are down even more. What's your theory about that?
Hip-hop is truly a product of the environment. In the urban environment, music education has been taken out of the schools. That's why there's not as much color to hip-hop as there was when records like 3 Feet High and Rising or Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde were coming out. With the Gnarls Barkley project, I thought the music would go over a great deal of people's heads, especially my own people. For them to get involved was gratifying.

Do you think hip-hop has gotten more formulaic?
Yeah, it's like a kit: you get ten or fifteen necklaces, a white T, tennis shoes, chicks and a car in the video. It's meant to represent self-sufficiency. I've heard the the claim, "I'm not a rapper, I'm a hustler." A lot of MCs have modeled themselves after that, even Jay-Z. It's given birth to this nonchalant attitude. So if someone tries to do something heartfelt, they look too hungry, almost desperate for it, and let's face it, desperation is not attractive.

Do you think changes in technology have been healthy or unhealthy for music?
It's a double-headed coin, because technology is a convenience but it's stifled our attention spans. At one time, albums had songs that were like ten minutes long, with different variations and chord progressions and changes.

What about music-specific technologies?
Well, "Crazy" was leaked. It went to Number One in the U.K. due to downloads before we even signed a deal. So by the time it shot up to Number One, all the negotiating power was in our favor. And mp3 and ProTools and Logic have made it easier for anyone to make their own music. You can read Producing Records for Dummies. But when everyone who who wants to try a hand at it does, its kind of waters down the market.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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