Who is Bobby Ray Simmons? I’m sorry, I mean who is B.o.B.? No, wait, I think it’s; who is...
DJBooth Album Review
Hip-hop’s been trying to figure out what to make of B.o.B. for what feels like years, with some people heralding him as the future of Atlanta hip-hop, an unpredictably creative artist in the tradition of Andre 3000, while others simply called him wildly overrated. Thankfully we’re one step closer to getting at least a loose grasp on Bobby Ray with the release of his May 25th mixtape. Created in conjunction with DJ Drama and DJ Sense, the mixtape is a warm-up to his oft-delayed debut album B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, due to finally hit stores on, you guessed it, May 25. It’d be a mistake to assume that the mixtape is a representative preview of the album, but it does offer some musical clues to help us unravel the mystery that is B.o.B.
First, let’s take a look inside the mind of B.o.B. the microphone killer. May 25 offers no shortage of tracks for hip-hop heads to pour over, starting with The Biz, a hard-laced freestyle that should rightfully draw Outkast comparisons. Not only does B.o.B.’s flow and cadence combine the fearlessness of Andre 3K and the high-caliber lines of Big Boi, the man knows how to deliver some memorable punchlines, but in our quest to understand B.o.B. we need to pay special attention to, “…that depends on the genre that you’re in / if you’re a rock artist or a hip-hop blend / that’s where I come in / they try to box me in…” The man’s obviously aware of the problems his existence poses for those who like easy categories, but he’s not about to change to make you more comfortable, a commitment that’s made even more evident on F**k the Money. Centered around some of the best Kanye production we’ve heard in a minute, F**k the Money is B.o.B.’s middle finger to the music industry, a middle finger that also gets waved by Asher Roth (who seems to get better every time I hear him). Here’s my only complaint: I love the vocal sample on this song but it comes so frequently that B.o.B. and Asher never get a chance to really flow. Sometimes less is more. The larger point is that, from the J. Cole assisted Gladiators to the banging Uno Is My Numeral, May 25th offers plenty of chances for lyrical hip-hop heads to pull their headphones on tight.
It’d be an oversimplification to call the more rock side of B.o.B.’s personality a “side”, it’s more accurate to think of all his music as existing along a spectrum of B.o.B.-ocity. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to ignore the contrast between songs like Gladiator and Out of Time, a song that subsists largely on a diet of distorted guitars, live drums and B.o.B.’s relatively simple but charismatic singing style. He’s not in completely uncharted territory here, Cee-Lo comes to mind, but it’s hard to think of another artist capable of this kind of range. It’s a similar story on The Rain, an eclectic jam that could easily find its way onto mainstream radio, and the occasionally obscene acoustic ballad Don’t Feel So Bad, both songs that prove B.o.B.’s array of talents are both a blessing and a curse: they make him a dangerous musical threat, capable of going in direction, but accordingly an artist that can be hard to locate, leaving some fans lost.
Unfortunately, May 25th doesn’t contain a true blend of these two ends of Bobby Ray’s spectrum. He comes close on tracks like Cool Side, but instead of a complete mix Cool Side feels more like a pop song with some rapping, like B.o.B.’s dropping a guest verse on his own track. And so if there’s any definitive lesson to be learned from May 25th it’s that if B.o.B. can every actually truly marry his hip-hop and rock sides we’ll be looking at one of the most powerful artists to come around in decades – and he might have already done so on The Adventures of Bobby Ray - but until that day comes, we’ll simply have to wait, and hope.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 02/4/10
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Rebel Rock/Grand Hustle/Atlantic
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Haterz Everywhere We Go (Remix)" (2007)
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