Review: B.o.B.- The Adventures of Bobby Ray
Let’s start with the most obvious thing: a review of this album, the debut of Atlanta artist B.o.B. aka Bobby Ray, does not really belong on this website. It contains about as much twang as the latest release from Metallica (which I have not heard, so please let me know if they have, in fact, morphed into a honky-tonk band since St. Anger). However, this album also does not belong on any of the more high-profile hip-hop sites because, in reality, it is an R&B/alternative rock album, where the artist just happens to be able to rap (and sing) with the best of them. The album’s tracklisting and featured guests ensure that the album is being marketed to a rock audience as well as the audience who generally buy rap albums. For those of you who are wondering what I’m doing, don’t worry. Within the next week I will be posting another blog which will definitely have more to do with the cause of roots music and Americana than this one does. However, I enjoy most genres of music from Beethoven to bluegrass (although, admittedly, I’m not a big rap fan) and many of you may also. That is why I am posting this here.
Hip-hop is often alienated from other types of music by fans: fans of other styles may not like it and, sadly, rap fans are almost always close-minded. Two of the more frequent criticisms of rap is that it is not “real music” (most hip-hop being made up of samples rather than being original compositions) and the frequent profane and misogynistic lyrics. Listeners have nothing to fear on either count with this release: the album contains minimal use of sampling and B.o.B. is a musician as well as a rapper and singer, playing guitar, piano, and trumpet throughout the album and his lyrics are possibly the cleanest you have heard on any hip-hop release in years. A good tip for listening to this is to not think of it as rap, just as music. Because regardless of how you define music, this is one rap album that will fit into that definition somewhere.
The album begins with “Don’t Let Me Fall”, a mid-tempo, piano-heavy track. The song begins with B.o.B. singing the chorus before distorted guitars and techno effects join in and he begins rapping. The song’s lyrics serve to introduce the artist to the audience. “I was in the cold,” he raps, “tryin’ to keep my clothes unfroze/Now I’m in your house, now I’m in your soul/Now I’m everywhere that your iPod goes”. The mixture of singing and rapping is very difficult and very few are able to pull it off. Yet at 21, B.o.B. makes it seem easy.
The next track is one you’ve undoubtedly heard if you have listened to the radio at all in the past few months. “Nothin’ on You” is a catchy retro-styled ballad featuring up-and-coming R&B singer Bruno Mars. Far from the best the album has to offer, but miles ahead of most Top 40 tracks.
The third track is “Past My Shades” featuring Lupe Fiasco and is, once again, a mixture of singing and rapping. The track has a decidedly psychedelic sound and a rock backing. It sounds retro, like something from a mid-’70s soul band, yet with a modern twist.
The next track, “Airplanes,” is one of the finest collaborations between a rock artist and a rapper I have ever heard (at least until the final track on the album). The piano ballad begins with Hayley Williams of the band Paramore asking, “Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars? I could really use a wish right now”. Williams possesses one of the most beautiful voices in modern rock and her presence on the track really adds a lot. B.o.B. raps two verses on the track longing for a life without the responsibilities of fame and fortune, but with the joy of music. He says, “Somebody take me back to the days/Before this was a job, before I got paid/Before it ever mattered what I had in my bank/Yeah back when I was tryin’ to get into the subway/And back when I was rappin’ for the hell of it/But now a days we rappin’ to stay relevant”. The bittersweet track ranks as one of the best on the album.
The next song, “Bet I”, is one of the few tracks that can be described only as rap and nothing else. Featuring rap superstar T.I. and Playboy Tre, the song is one some may love and others will skip over after the first listen. I am in the latter category.
On the other hand, the next song can be said to have absolutely no hip-hop influence whatsoever. The dark R&B/prog-rock ballad “Ghost in the Machine” relies heavily on guitar and piano and has extremely bleak lyrics and displays Bobby Ray’s talents as a singer-songwriter, which is admittedly a totally different world than rapping.
The next track, “The Kids”, features a sample of Vampire Weekend’s “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” and finds him singing an altered version of the chorus to that song and rapping about his childhood and his “Days on the streets trying to prove that I was bad” before being joined by indie soul artist Janelle Monáe.
“Magic”, the eighth track on the album, features Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and features a catchy alternative rock chorus although it follows a formula for sounding like something from the ’80s. Nothing extraordinary, but still overall a good track that is likely to be a single.
“Fame” follows and it is the other track that can be described only as “rap” although the chorus does sound like it has a slight soul influence. Not bad, but it would probably be better if this was your main style of music.
The next song, “Lovelier than You” is an acoustic ballad that finds B.o.B. singing all but one verse. The lyrics do not rise above a typical love song formula. However, the performance brings this up to one of the standouts on the album.
The psychedelic-soul track “5th Dimension” follows and it features spacey futuristic lyrics. It sounds like something the Steve Miller Band may have done in the late ’70s, but with a little bit of rapping mixed in.
The final track on the album is easily the best. “Airplanes, Part 2” is musically almost identical to the track “Airplanes” with only a bridge sung by B.o.B. added to the mix. However, the lyrics are totally different other than the chorus. The verses find B.o.B. pretending that he didn’t become a famous rapper. The third verse is performed by Eminem, perhaps the biggest name in rap today and it is probably the sole reason for the Parental Advisory label. I cannot possibly describe the emotional impact of the lyrics so just go listen to this track even if you listen to nothing else on the album. It is easily the best rock-rap collaboration since the heyday of Rage Against the Machine.
This is in no way the best album of the year, but I do predict that it will at least be nominated for the Grammy in that category. And given the very narrow criteria used and the fact that no truly independent artists or any artist who does not cater to the mainstream will be considered, it will be worthy of that at least.
As I promised, soon you will get a blog post from me that actually has to do with the mission of this site, but I posted this here because I am a fan of music more than I am a fan of any type of music in particular. Maybe somebody reading this will give the album a listen and who knows? They may even like it. And maybe somebody doing a Google search for B.o.B. will stumble upon this review and discover a whole new world of music on this website. Now more than ever, it’s important for music fans of all genres to band together and separate the good music from the crap that makes up most of today’s charts. If you don’t think you would like this, then don’t listen to it, but please reserve your hate for somebody else on the charts who doesn’t take risks, doesn’t have talent, and doesn’t make actual music. Instead, we need to hope that he doesn’t give in to the money and fame. Let’s hope he goes even further from the mainstream and continues to try new things and experiment with new sounds. He has a bright future and I wouldn’t put anything past him. Even saving pop music from itself.