The club is dark. There is a cloud of smoke above one person in the entire club. Snoop Dogg is sitting below it, smoking, lounging in slippers as he reminisces about his greatest hits. Busta Rhymes is sitting beside him, nodding his head as Snoop (Lion) makes points and shares stories. Soon, it is B.o.B’s turn to speak. This may seem like a scene out of a Hip Hop fan’s dream and for B.o.B, it’s more of a dream come true. He was sitting on the panel for BMI's "How I Wrote That Song" and next to seasoned veterans Busta and Snoop, B.o.B felt comfortable and at home. However, as he explained, he was still in awe of the moment.
“I used to watch Busta Rhymes videos back when I was a kid,” Bobby Ray tells HipHopDX right after he exits the venue and enters his car for the day. He’s either relaxed or tired but he seems comfortable, reclining in the plush, cream-colored leather seat. “I used to look at him like, ‘Wow! That’s crazy! That’s dope! I want to do that!’ So this is definitely coming full circle.”
It’s a journey that wasn’t always easy. In fact, B.o.B struggled with uncertainty before his career took off with “Airplanes.” As he explained on the song, he was yearning for a deal to “take away all the pain.” That deal eventually came but the struggle of uncertainty was one he had to wrestle with.
“It really spoke more to how I felt at that time in my life,” he revealed. “I was coming out of high school, a young aspiring dude trying to prove he can make it. At the same time, I was dealing with the timeline of life. This is around the time when you have to go to college and ‘pick your career.’ So for me, that song talked about those different places in life.”
But more than that, he was hungry for respect. He was also hungry for a cure for all ills, one that he felt he could get if only he got that record deal.“When you’re an artist, you want to accomplish something,” he explained of his mentality when writing his first major hit. “It’s similar to being an athlete and you want to get that championship so that everything will be better. [You think] it will take it all away. It’s like winning the lottery and then all your problems are gone.”
All those problems didn’t actually fade. Instead, he added, they intensified. But now he feels he’s learned from the pitfalls of the industry, better understanding how to navigate through what he called “the politricks.”
“[The original 'Airplanes'] relates more now to my life because now I’m on my third album. I’ve seen the cycle of the industry. I’ve seen how the politricks go and all of that,” he noted with a smile. “You know? You get more hip to what’s going on. Part two [which featured Eminem] was more about my past.”
But now, we're sitting on Grammy Saturday. He reaches for a water bottle and takes a sip as we talk about his current style. He’s had many different hats on, from the guitar-playing singer/songwriter on “Don’t Let Me Fall” to the romantic B.o.B on “Nothin’ On You” down to Bobby Ray in those early mixtapes. But today, he says, it’s still difficult for him to classify his style.
“If you take a white beam of light and take it through a prism, it’s going to divide into many different colors,” he says, holding onto his water. “So it’s hard to say which one of those beams of light fully represents the full spectrum. I kind of approach my music that way. I don’t necessarily approach any song thinking like a rapper or like a singer or a musician. I just go and whatever comes out, I’m equipped to do.”
After releasing last year's Fuck Em, We Ball, B.o.B is prepping the release of his next project. He's still got T.I. riding with him. A few hours after this interview with HipHopDX, T.I. surprised B.o.B fans with a special appearance and performance at his Los Angeles show.