When XXL named Atlanta native B.o.B., aka Bobby Ray, as part of “Hip-Hop’s Class of ’09” – based largely on the strength of his self-released single “I’ll Be in the Sky” – the world wasn’t ready for him yet. Some would criticize him for his sing-song flow, griping that it too closely mimicked the southern fried funk of OutKast’s André-3000, a comment that clearly stuck with the rapper as he goes as far as to address it on the album’s coda “Airplanes, Part 2” – which also features Hayley Williams of Paramore and Eminem – in the second verse:
Now, let’s pretend I ain’t got a name
Before they ever call me B.o.B. or aka Bobby Ray
I’m talking back before the mixtape
Before the videos, the deals and the fame
Before they ever once compared me to André
Before I ever got on MySpace
But that was two years, and two mixtapes ago; the game has changed since then. In the last two years Kanye dropped a straight up pop record with 808s & Heartbreak, Lil Wayne spit a verse on a Weezer tune and picked up an electric guitar, and Eminem came back just to remind everyone how it’s done. The stage was set for B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray to take the world by storm, and if the reaction to the album’s first single, “Nothin’ on You” featuring Bruno Mars, is any indication; this could be the breakout hip-hop record of the year.
And I’ve got to emphasize the fact that this is a hip-hop record, recalling the influence of early‘80s new wave pop, ‘90s New Jack Swing and melding it with Bobby Ray’s idiosyncratic sense of musicality. The record is a bona fide representation of the artist himself. In addition to producing half the tracks, he also contributes piano, guitar and vocals throughout the record, which lends to its live feel. “Lovelier Than You” is as close to a singer-songwriter style track as a hip-hop artist can come. “The Kids” quotes Vampire Weekend’s “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance,” with Bobby Ray faithfully singing Ezra Koenig’s chorus. Lyrically, the record ranges from carefree, (“Nothin’ on You,” “Magic”) to poignant, (“Airplanes,” “Fame”) to self-conscious (“Don’t Let Me Fall,” “Past My Shades”) and highlights his skills as both a wordsmith and storyteller.
It’s not without its cliché moments; the track “Bet I” features a lazy verse from Bobby Ray’s label boss T.I., and sounds like an all-too-generic ATL rap track. And the jury is still out on the blatant ‘80s throwback “Magic,” featuring Rivers Cuomo on a hook that could have just as easily been lifted from a Cars record. It could be a brilliant move on Bobby Ray’s part, or it could come across as a ploy to garner attention from the alternative rock crowd. Either way, it’s hard to fault the track, as it is an instant earworm that I found myself humming a day later.
Is B.o.B., aka Bobby Ray, going to change the world of hip-hop? Probably not, but he’s going to make damned sure that everybody knows his name(s) – because he mentions it in nearly every track, like we’d mistake it for Phil Diggity – and that everyone has a hell of a good time while getting to know it. (2010 Rebel Rock/Grand Hustle/Atlantic)