B.o.B. B.o.B.B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray
Bobby Ray, known artistically as B.o.B., is a shining example of a product born in the wake of metrosexual rap, but with a variant that takes it beyond this subgenre, possibly more sophisticated and urban, and brings it closer to higher levels of commercial and popular repercussion: no more or less than the AOR concept. This rapper, from Atlanta and barely 21 years old, is already on top of the world and could have invented, or worst case scenario, reformulated and perfected AOR-rap. Throughout, “B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray,” is the quintessential crossover in a hip hop context, an explicit declaration of pop intentions. If Kid Cudi, Wale or Lupe Fiasco have tried with varied degrees of success to capture the attention of the indie sector, with the particular aesthetic and idiosyncrasy of Vice by way of Pitchfork, Bobby Ray widens the battle field slightly and speaks face-to-face, without scruples, to the latest emo generation and to the average mainstream teenager.
Although in some of his first musical appearances and advance mixtapes we might have thought that B.o.B. had a promising future as a new star of that kind of rap that flirts with refined styles and aesthetics, the truth is that in his official coming-out for a multinational the MC reveals himself as a somewhat tacky, sugary-coated revision of the most commercial Outkast, but without their funk whirlwind or black militance. Everything is more diluted, ground up, and designed for a mass public geared more towards pop and rock than black music. Fortunately, Bobby Ray knows how to make this declaration of intentions positive and plot out a clear summer album - an immediate, fleeting pleasure that makes up for its luxurious, insipid, obvious production with four or five inevitable hits. This is the duality of the best-worst AOR: on one hand, the irrefutable feeling that as the listener you are being sold urban patchouli, formulaic overproduction, mainstream from the book; and on the other hand, the even more undeniable feeling that in spite of it all, even though you know what’s going on, as much as listening to it may make you blush, a part of its contents are more effective and indisputable than ibuprofen.
“Nothin’ On You” almost verges on—or even without the “almost”— Savage Garden or Lighthouse Family, and even makes you think of Coldplay and Kanye West, all at the same time, all mixed together, so that you spend a few seconds saying to yourself: “This shit is way too sappy, but it’s a major hit.” And it's not the only time you might have that feeling. On “Airplanes.” you know for sure, because you can catch and uncover all of the possible tics of a sugary, easy song, a throw-away hit that is closer to Alanis Morissette or Nelly Furtado than to Lupe Fiasco—you can smell the flaming AOR, but even so, you can’t help yourself. It might suck, but as a summer song, who’s going to argue with it? It’s clear that in spite of all of the above, this formulaic summer hit is more solid, fresher, and more consistent than the more traditional Latin party idea that we have of this type of instant success with an expiration date. The peak of this crossroads between the palate and the ear is “Magic,” with vocals from Rivers Cuomo, the singer of Weezer. This teenager-pop-group production may embarrass you for him, along with that chorus with digitalised scratches, or the terrible keyboards that support the melody, but you can’t really argue with this ability to mix pop and rap with an insulting effectiveness that aspires to top sales lists around the world. And you can say just about the same for “The Kids,” which boasts of a hot chorus to capture the attention of a white audience that isn’t very familiar with hip hop.The problem is when Bobby Ray doesn’t manage to balance out the tics that are better-known and associated with a big production with indisputable songs that can make up for the manufacturing defects. “Lovelier Than You,” “Ghost In The Machine,” or “5th Dimension” lack the punch of the hits and it's noticeable, detracting from the whole and drawing strength away from the melodic punches of his successes. We even run into real kitsch pastiches like “Don’t Let Me Fall,” with guitars in the way that couldn’t even be saved by the year’s best chorus. It all feels like stuffing, songs thrown in to fill out the album, and in the case of “Bet I,” with T.I., or “Fame,” you quickly catch on that there are deliberate concessions to the more rap side of his discourse, with the inevitable geographical references to underline his southern origins. The disappointment is not so much in the inconsistency and choppiness of the debut, but that maybe that we were expecting some other kind of coming-out. We had guessed at his pop projection, but we really didn’t expect so much mainstream, such a crossover obsession, or that he would try so hard to get on the good side of the greater public. An interesting writer of lyrics, although still very green (and youth is no excuse (check out Fashawn! ), he's a multifaceted artist and a personality on the rise, but B.o.B. is not even close to being the new Lupe Fiasco or the new Kanye as some had ventured to predict. With only one album, he has showed that he has a view of the game and the ambition of a pop-star, with all of the same virtues and vices. We’ll see how long it lasts. David Broc