Whether you know him as B.o.B. or Bobby Ray, the man born Bobby Ray Simmons is a truly gifted individual. Even before his huge radio success with “Nothin’ On You,” listeners became aware of B.o.B.’s talents on the microphone, behind the sound board and on live instruments throughout various projects in the last five years, which eventually earned him a spot on T.I.’s Atlantic/Grand Hustle imprint. Now, with the sky being the limit, B.o.B. offers up his debut The Adventures of Bobby Ray.
The versatility that B.o.B encapsulates is evident from the outset of the album. “Don’t Let Me Fall”, an inspirational record filled with piano keys and guitar licks paints him as an innocent soul willing his way through the universe with a musical purpose. That is contrasted with the aggressive wall of sound in “Fame”, complements of producer and early mentor Jim Jonsin. With the entertainment business in mind, Bobby Ray points out the many flaws in reaching a certain status of celebrity, something he himself has likely dealt with in recent times. To cap it off, B.o.B. takes on a Rock star approach with “Ghost In The Machine,” which spotlights his vocal and production capabilities.
An important aspect of having so much artistic range is being able to harness it, and for the most part B.o.B. takes on this task well. Having said that, a handful of tracks don’t crossover as smoothly as others, including the uber-Pop performance on “Magic.” With Rivers Cuomo of Weezer singing the chorus, B.o.B. submits a clear nominee for the “When Genre Mash-ups Go Wrong” award, which brings us to another point; there’s nothing wrong with going outside the box especially in the Hip Hop arena as long as it’s done in good taste. Attempting to describe his days as a youth on “The Kids” B.o.B.’s elementary rhymes overshadow an otherwise nice duet with Janelle Monae. Also, while it’s nice to hear B.o.B.’s musical appreciation for Vampire Weekend in a song, it isn’t necessary to take a melody and hook right out of their catalog to prove it. Then there’s “Lovelier Than You,” an acoustic ballad that sounds more fitting as a b-side or unreleased track used for occasional live settings rather than a record primed for a full-length album.
Despite these pitfalls, B.o.B. proves he is able to craft an exemplary record when it counts, such as the aforementioned hit single “Nothin’ On You” or “Airplanes”, a metaphoric record that highlight’s his journey from the beginning to now. Enlisting Paramore’s Hayley Williams for the chorus, the 21-year-old rocker handles the duties perfectly. Taking a more southern, funky route, B.o.B. drops some serious swagger with “5th Dimension.” On this record, B.o.B. makes his best case as to why people compare him to Andre 3000; the inflections in his rhyme pattern, the vocal breaks impartial to the beat, these attributes are reminiscent of Three Stacks. Also, peat his first eight bars: “Girl, I’m eons and eons beyond these peons / Another human like me, there will never be one / The planet that I’m from I can’t even speak on / The stars is what I sleep on, the moon I put my feet on / The way my aura glows you swear I’m made of neon / Cooler than the Freon that’s in your Dodge Neon / They see the future’s now, to me it hasn’t begun / Stay tuned to me and there will never be a rerun.”
Even with The Adventures of Bobby Ray and a half dozen projects prior to its release, it still feels like we’re figuring out who this 21-year-old Georgian is. Maybe we can blame his decision to recruit a number of high-profile guests (Eminem, T.I., Lupe Fiasco,), who he ends up taking a back seat to when it comes time to show and prove. Maybe it’s because of his inclination to refrain from choosing one path of music to highlight. Or maybe he simply wants his identity to remain a mystery (as evident on “Past My Shades”). Whether he’s acting as B.o.B. or Bobby Ray, there is a groundbreaking artist at work here, despite an evident formation of identity. Like Kid Cudi‘s Man On The Moon: The End of Day last year, the new class is learning from their predecessors and offering bold, risk-taking debuts.