Rap duos may be dwindling as of late, but one of the more decorated one-two punches in recent memory is Gnarls Barkley.
The rap tandem consisted of singer-rapper CeeLo Green and DJ-producer Danger Mouse. Their union may have been an unlikely pairing, but their collaboration resulted in some great music.
Green, who got his start in the industry as a member of Atlanta's legendary rap group Goodie Mob, was already regarded as one of the greatest musical talents to come out of the South, but hadn't achieved any mainstream success prior to Gnarls Barkley.
Danger Mouse, on the other hand, came to the public's attention with his brilliant mashup project, The Grey Album, where he paired Jay Z's The Black Album with instrumentals from the Beatles' self-titled album (aka The White Album). That notoriety afforded Danger Mouse the opportunity to produce Gorillaz's sophomore album, Demon Days, as well as a collaborative projects with MF Doom called The Mouse and the Mask, under the name DANGERDOOM.
It was while working on The Mouse and the Mask that Green and Danger Mouse would record one of their first collaborations, a track called "Benzie Box." But it would be when the two decided to record a joint album of their own that they would see their biggest success of their careers.
The dynamic duo was able to ink a deal with Downtown/Atlantic in the United States and Warners Bros. Records in the United Kingdom off the strength of a batch of demos, which included their smash single, "Crazy."
Gnarls Barkley would released their debut album, St. Elsewhere, in the U.K. on April 24, 2006, but fans could purchase the digital version of it on iTunes the same day. The CD received a proper U.S. release a later week on May 9.
The collection was a huge success, selling over one million copies in the U.S., and garnering the duo two 2007 Grammy Awards for Best Alternate Music Album and Best Urban/Alternate Performance, as well as earning nods for Album of the Year and Record of the Year.
In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Gnarls Barkley's 2006 debut album St. Elsewhere, we take a look back and selected the five best songs from the LP.
St. Elsewhere closes out with the Funkadelic-meets-boom bap track, "The Last Time," which sees Green asking "When was the last time you danced?" while manuevering in between the medley of sounds molded by Danger Mouse. The festive soundscape incorporates elements of Ian Langley's "Chicano Chaser" and stands among the more sonically impressive beats on the album. Green shines on the song with the lines, "All work and no play / That's the way it is, ain't it? / There's a rhythm deep inside of you / And you must get reacquainted" urging listeners to get down on the floor. Laying his velvety vocals with finesse, Green scores a winner with "The Last Time" that is a mellow dance floor burner.
"All I want is your understanding / As in the small act of affection / Why is this my life? / Is almost everybody's question," sings Green on St. Elsewhere's somber tune, "Just A Thought." While much of LP is upbeat, the song features Green pondering the meaning of life, even going as far as admitting to having thoughts of suicide. Lifting elements of Kevin Peek's "A Touch of Class" for this sonic pastiche of guitars and a crashing beat, Danger Mouse delivers a dark song that's enthralling to hear with repeated listens.
Green and Danger Mouse hit the road on a fantastic voyage with their title track. A mix of grit and dust, the beat snatches elements of Trees' "Geordie," which Danger Mouse hooks up admirably, leaving Green with the task of bringing it all together with his vocal prowess. "And if it weren't for you / I'd be without a care / Setting sail to St Elsewhere," he sings. St. Elsewhere is high-powered album as a whole, but its title track is arguably among the more riveting tracks on the projects.
Eclectic may be a word many use to describe Green's style, but the cherubic showman goes vintage on "Smiley Faces," an up-tempo cut driven by snare drums, organ keys, synths, and other sonic trinkets. Lyrics like "What went right? What went wrong? / Was it the story - or was it the song? / Was it overnight - or did it take you long? / Was knowing your weakness what made you strong?" are the work of a superb songwriter and fit snug on the track like a leather glove on a humid day. Danger Mouse forgoes the samples and instead uses live instrumentation for this song. "Smiley Faces" is one of the big standouts on the album.
This is where it all started. Leaked on the internet in 2005, "Crazy" first gained recognition overseas, gradually building into a certified smash record, topping the U.K. Singles Chart based solely on download sales alone and remained at No. 1 for nine consecutive weeks. While the U.K. caught on the greatness of Gnarls Barkley early, "Crazy" wouldn't catch fire stateside until 2006. Green and Danger Mouse nabbed a Grammy Award for Best Urban/Alternative Performance in 2007. Hailed as one of the greatest songs of all-time by a number of reputable critics, "Crazy" is a classic that ensures that Gnarles Barkley will be spoken about for generations to come.
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