(You two probably saw this coming during the Big Boi write-up. Today, Miguel listens to the other important (relatively speaking) hip hop album that I didn't have an opportunity to hear, B.o.B.'s Grammy-nominated debut The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Leave some comments for him below.)
I was originally planning to write a review of Big Boi’s debut solo album, but I've noticed that having one of the readers handle the write-up of a more recent release usually results in Max delaying his inevitable post (if he ever gets around to it at all). (For the record, I do plan on reviewing Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son Of Chico Dusty, just as soon as I can get past that loopy album title.) Therefore, I'm doing everyone (except for myself) a favor by skipping over to a different project: one of 2010's breakout successes, B.o.B.'s The Adventures of Bobby Ray. But first, a little bit of history.
Bobby Ray Simmons Jr. was born on November 15, 1988, spending a lot of his childhood in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. After realizing that he really wanted to rap for a living, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, home of hip hop acts ranging from OutKast and Goodie Mob to Young Jeezy and, um, Gucci Mane. (I apologize for mentioning the former two groups within the same sentence as the latter two names.)
Bobby Ray, newly christened as B.o.B., dropped a few mixtapes and found a bit of success, ultimately catching the ear of T.I., who signed him to his Grand Hustle imprint of Atlantic Records. Our hero then appeared on the cover of XXL’s 2009 “Freshmen” issue, alongside such notable newbies as Asher Roth, Charles Hamilton, KiD CuDi, and Wale (the first three were included to make Wale and him look better, I suppose). However, instead of immediately dropping an album as soon as he was noticed (as everyone else on that particular cover did, save for Charles Hamilton, whose career took a nosedive after committing numerous hip hop atrocities: he has yet to officially release anything to stores). B.o.B. elected to slowly build his buzz by releasing more mixtapes and turning in a fairly high-profile guest appearance on mentor T.I.'s Paper Trail. This turned out to be a smart move: while his peers essentially crashed and burned at the starting line, B.o.B.'s debut, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, was met with critical acclaim and high sales figures when it finally dropped earlier this year (of course, the "high sales figures" don't come close to comparing with what a comparable artist might have sold a decade prior, but we live in a new age).
A lot has been said about the obvious influence that OutKast's Andre 3000 has wielded on young Bobby Ray's career. Some have even gone as far as to name our hero a modern day version of Andre; I choose to believe that Andre is the modern day version of Andre, but I digress. The man certainly has an affinity for all things OutKast, as his rap name is derived from the duo's hyper-popular single “B.O.B.” from Stankonia (or, as hip hop purists prefer to call it, “Bombs Over Baghdad”). Those who insist on comparing the two also tend to justify their claims by using one, if not all, of the following statements: “Both artists hail from the South”; “They both avoid inventing a dance for every song they record”; “They tend to both rap and sing on their songs”; and “They both attempt to merge musical genres.” This article isn't really about any of those comparisons, though, since it's probably better that we look at Bobby Ray as his own man.
After the unexpected success of his debut single, “Nothin’ On You” (featuring now-popular crooner Bruno Mars), the label decided to move The Adventures of Bobby Ray's release up by one month. It probably helps that B.o.B. went out of his way to craft a debut album (whose title betrays an irritating Lupe Fiasco influence) that he thought would appeal to all possible demographics.
Let's see if he succeeded.
1. DON’T LET ME FALL
This song is pleasant enough, and the fact that it isn't a rap album intro is a huge plus. Thankfully, our protagonist’s voice adapts well enough for singing hooks. That being said, this track runs for much longer than it has to, and although Bobby Ray's flow is on point, he isn't saying anything on here that hasn't been said in a far better way before.
2. NOTHIN’ ON YOU (FEAT. BRUNO MARS)
Although this is definitely one of the biggest singles of the year, if you are able to ignore the millions of times you've already listened to it, you will realize that it is pretty high-quality, as far as hip-pop goes. There are some of you that may prefer the Lupe Fiasco version of the track; he was offered this song first, and ultimately decided against releasing it properly (although you can find it easily online). (Lupe was also offered the beat for “Airplanes” first, too, and he passed. “Nothin' On You” and “Airplanes” both later became huge hits for B.o.B. instead of seeing this as a poor business move, I choose to believe that Lupe is chasing something other than fame, although it could be argued that he isn't chasing anything at all, since his follow-up to The Cool has yet to drop.) However, Bobby Ray tries to exert energy he clearly didn't have in his verses, as he sounds as narcoleptic as Raekwon circa the early part of the decade.
3. PAST MY SHADES (FEAT. LUPE FIASCO)
Speaking of Lupe Fiasco, he makes an unsurprising guest appearance here. Not only does the chorus on this song suck, both artists sound as though they were on autopilot: nearly any other combination of two rappers could utilize this beat in a better way. What happened, Wasalu? I thought you weren't going to dumb yourself down for the masses! Or was that just something that sounded good for a song?
4. AIRPLANES (FEAT. HAYLEY WILLIAMS)
Although I can easily take an objective look at “Nothin' On You”, there's nothing in this world that can help me pretend that I can look at The Adventures of Bobby Ray's second single, “Airplanes”, as anything other than a song that I can't seem to escape, thanks to pop radio's obsession with the track (thanks to the appearance of Paramore's Hayley Williams on the hook), its prevalence as a Facebook status, and the trailer to that stupid Zac Efron movie Charlie St. Cloud. (Okay, judging by the last sentence and how hip hop radio sounds today, it should be obvious that I've held on to this write-up for quite a while. I left this sentiment in, though, not to date the review, but because I can still clearly recall a time earlier this year when what Michael wrote was absolutely true, you couldn't escape this song even if you tried, and I'm sure you two can also remember that.) All that being said, though, there isn't anything technically wrong with this song: in fact, B.o.B. even seemed to make an attempt at writing lyrics that actually meant something this time around.
5. BET I (FEAT. T.I. & PLAYBOY TRE)
This is probably the most by-the-books hip hop song on here, and it sounds decent enough, right up until Playboy Tre tackles the third verse, ruining an altogether meh track by not meeting the somewhat mediocre standards that the two bigger names set.
6. GHOST IN THE MACHINE
This song starts off extremely strong, with the simple piano arrangement working in a haunting, albeit appealing, way, but the good vibes quickly wear off once the rest of the overproduced beat envelops it. Sadly, B.o.B. is not good enough of a singer to carry an entire track, so this doesn't work as well as I would like. Also, it runs for five minutes, which is twice as long as it should have been.
7. THE KIDS (FEAT. JANELLE MONAE)
At first I thought that sampling “The Kids Don't Stand A Chance” from Vampire Weekend is a strange choice for a rapper, but then I remembered Kanye West sampling Peter Bjorn & John's “Young Folks” for a mixtape song, so I guess it isn't unheard of. The instrumental’s organic sound helps, but sadly, you guessed it, there isn't much to be found on here lyrically. Also, Janelle Monae (whose 2010 release The ArchAndroid:(Suites II and III) you should check out) is underutilized as well. (That's two Reader Reviews in a row recommending that you two check out Janelle Monae's album. That was not planned, by the way.)
8. MAGIC (FEAT. RIVERS CUOMO)
I haven’t yet given credit to B.o.B. for his attempt to please all audiences by embracing a plethora of different genres on The Adventures of Bobby Ray, mainly because I don’t feel that he's been able to make most of them work. Putting Weezer’s frontman on the hook is a weirdly inspired choice, but sadly, Cuomo simply goes through the motions, just like Weezer has ever since The Green Album came out. The song is overly radio-friendly, and the boasts throughout, such as, “I sing just like Aretha (he really doesn’t) / so 'Respect' me like I’m Caesar”, are juvenile, so there isn't much to see on here.
I think the readers can figure out the pros and cons of this song fairly easily. I'll help you along: “Fame” is similar to pretty much every other song on The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Discuss.
10. LOVELIER THAN YOU
I take back what I said earlier about Bobby Ray not being able to carry a song with his vocals: this was actually pretty good. However, hip hop purists will probably scoff at the sheer existence of this song. I still liked it, though.
11. 5TH DIMENSION (FEAT. RICCO BARRINO)
Sadly, this is not a track sampling or featuring anybody from the actual group 5th Dimension. Ricco Barrino has a unique sound for an R&B singer, and although I’ve never heard of him before, he sounds good on the hook. Even B.o.B. sounds okay over this self-produced instrumental, even though his boasts haven't improved all that much.
12. AIRPLANES PART II (FEAT. HAYLEY WILLIAMS & EMINEM)
I remember being confused as to why the label would go with the original “Airplanes” over this sequel featuring Eminem as a single, but then I realized that, upon The Adventures of Bobby Ray's release date, Marshall's Recovery hadn't yet taken over the industry, and besides, maybe the label didn't want our host to appear to be overshadowed by a guest star right away. Regardless, this was a huge improvement over the original, with two new, better verses from B.o.B., some extra crooning from Hayley, and a verse from Eminem that makes it obvious that he actually cared about what he was saying, although it was delivered using his current scream-rapping delivery that grows tiresome fairly quickly. And with that, we've come to the end.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Although B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray (the official title of this project) is better than what most of his XXL cover peers could muster up, it's about on par with Wale's debut: they both showed potential while also exposing each respective artist's handicap. Both Bobby Ray and Wale have mastered the ability to create a strong mixtape, but have not been able to quite grasp the concept of an actual album. Hopefully a solid sophomore release will follow. Also, the Andre 3000 comparisons are ridiculous as of now, as B.o.B. is all flow and no substance (he can't even be socially conscious and spit funny one-liners separately yet, let alone merge them like 3 Stacks can). Although I was a bit hard on The Adventures of Bobby Ray, none of the beats are technically bad. Also, it’s rather short, with no skits or a rap album intro to interrupt the flow, which are huge bonuses for me. However, about half of the album ranges from par to birdie (no holes in one), with a very questionable middle portion (sub-par, if I want to keep this golf analogy going), and the guest stars fail to bring much to the table.
BUY OR BURN: A burn is more than sufficient. Nothing on here is a necessity, but none of it is true rubbish, either. Actually, as far as pop rap goes, The Adventures of Bobby Ray is about as good as you’ll find. That’s really not saying much, though.
BEST TRACKS: “Nothin’ On You”; “Lovelier Than You”; “5th Dimension”; “Airplanes Part II”
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? List them below. I promise, I actually read them all.)