So I kind of missed the whole Gnarls Barkley thing. I mean, I always meant to go out and pick it up, but it never really happened for many reasons. A combination of the fact that I'm lazy and I rarely make a point to rush out and buy big-label albums. Besides, by the time I got around to the record story, Crazy became passé and I was sick of it anyway, and then the public moved on and I had just kind of missed the phenomenon.
But now that I’ve finally listened to the album, I think I can honesly argue that it is the most necessary hip-hop album to come along in a long while, especially given the current state of top-40 radio rap. To actually see two guys making intersting music that actually steps outside the status quo of repititious hi-hats, cheesy synth samples, and ignorant lyrics about nothing puts a glimmer of hope into what is becoming one of the most co-opted art forms we've seen in quite some time. It's not just the wild, shirtless lyrics of Ce-Loo, or the bong-rattling bass courtesy of Danger Mouse, or even the competent drum work of the Roland 808. It's the fact that these guys are actually going out on a limb to make interesting music, when either one of them could easily sit inside the mainstream and cash checks pretty much as long as they feel like it.
It's also been fascinating to see how the music establishment has handled these cats. I can't even count the number of reviewers who have had aneurisms trying to figure out what these guys are doing. They want to consider them white guys, because only white people take rap in weird directions (goes the conventional wisdom), but both of them have such street cred that they have to be accepted as "real" members of hip hop. One reviewer, in trying to solve this paradox, figured their careers must be on the down turn, even pitying Cee-Lo for being reduced to doing "college" rap, in one of the more inventive ways I've ever heard anyone challenge somone's racial identity.
Theoretically, their due to release a follw-up in the ambiguous "late 2007" so it remains to be seen what direction they go in the second time around. Even more interesting, though, will be to see if their album has any kind of impact on the direction of mainstream hip hop, or if they remain relegated forever to white kid bin...sorry, the "college" sound.