Stroke Of Genius
B.o.B has been bubbling just below the surface of hip-hop's mainstream conscious for quite some time now. Back in '07 the Atlanta MC made a brief, uninspiring splash with "Haterz Everywhere." He went to release a couple critically acclaimed yet commercially disappointing singles and a few mixtapes, but still couldn't quite manage to resonate with a wider audience.
09:00PM ET April 27, 2010
Contributor: Mathis Bauchner
A Rocky Williform Company
What a difference a number #1 single makes. "Nothin' on You," featuring Atlantic label mate Bruno Mars, took the radio by storm and subsequently B.o.B got pushed to the top of the label's priority list. Who would have expected in the three years since "Haterz Everywhere" that he'd been busy crafting an experimental masterpiece, perhaps the best album Southern rap has heard in the past ten years that does not carry the Outkast logo.
But to simply pigeonhole B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray as a rap album would be a mistake. Seconds into the opening track, "Don't Let Me Fall," it's clear that B.o.B is already defying the influence of his peers. He produced the song himself, and he lets his brisk piano chords run for nearly 30 seconds before the baseline drops. The lyrics, a mixture of song and rap, capture subtly a dreamlike rise to fame and the desperate determination to hold on to it, concepts that B.o.B deals with throughout much of the album.
A few tracks later, on "Airplanes," he's questioning whether he really wanted any of it in the first place. He raps, "Yeah, I could use a dream or a genie or a wish / To go back to a place much simpler than this." He's complemented beautifully by Hayley Williams of the rock band Paramore. Her inspired vocals erupt over another piano-infused beat, this time co-produced by Alex da Kid and DJ Frank E. The impact of song itself cannot be overstated. It's a three-minute tour de force, special in that it takes only one listen to fall in the love with it. When musicians shed everything but their soul, as B.o.B and Williams do here, it's difficult not to be moved. It's as close to flawless as a single song can get.
This is not an act that's meant to be followed. Smartly, B.o.B doesn’t bother to try. He's takes the album in a different direction on the next track, giving listeners hearts a needed break with "Bet I," a high energy romp featuring T.I. and Playboy Tre that fills B.o.B's Southern banger quota. Its inevitable presence on the album serves as an unnecessary reminder that, when called upon, B.o.B is a rapper capable of producing tracks on par with his more formulaic Southern peers. Fortunately, he's been able to push himself far beyond that mediocre brand of hip-hop.
He returns to brilliance on the next track with the haunting 'Ghost in the Machine.' Absent of rap entirely, B.o.B discusses his struggle with alienation over another beat he produced, this one rich with somber synths.
He ups the energy on the next three songs the "The Kids," "Magic" featuring Weezer's own Rivers Cuomo, and "Fame," which could serve as the anthem for this generation of YouTube/Facebook/Twitter users. B.o.B is often quite adept at masking his seriousness, forcing listeners to engage more deeply with the music. When lyrically examined, "The Kids" and "Fame" are among the album's darkest tracks, despite their laidback tones.
B.o.B's also quite skilled at appealing to women, a quality essential to commercial success. On the lead single, "Nothin' On You," he and partner Bruno Mars shower the ladies with sincere flattery, if there is such a thing. The song is immensely radio friendly without even feeling like prepackaged fodder, as singles often do. "Lovelier Than You," part jazzy ballad, part spoken word poetry, advances B.o.B's musical dexterity even further.
He's an incredibly diverse artist, capable of blending genres most rappers haven't even attempted to explore. But then again, if it hasn't been made clear already, defining B.o.B as a rapper in the first place would be stuffing him in a box much too small for his outsized talents. It's seems he gives listeners everything and more on the album's first eleven tracks, but somehow the twelfth and final one overshadows it all.
"Airplanes, Part II" opens every bit as epically as the first, with Hayley Williams once again providing the chorus. Then B.o.B tears through two verses, contemplating a life without music. Williams returns once again for the chorus, followed by a brief interlude sung by B.o.B, and finally, clearing his throat, Eminem begins, as passionate and tortured as he's ever been. He dissects his entire career in a single verse, why it matters so much to him and how close it came to never happening at all. They're 59 of the greatest seconds rap has ever heard.
And then it's over, the song, the album, and there's a slight feeling of exhaustion, the quiet after the creative storm. B.o.B allows Eminem to have the last word, but the project in total is indisputably his. He's crafted a musical roller coaster ride, with every twist and turn carefully calculated to maximize the exhilaration. The finished product bursts with the energy of a genius in the making.