Bobby Ray, best known to the world as rapper B.o.B., has come a long way since a series of mixtapes grew his popularity between 2007 and 2008. First it was “Haterz Everywhere,” a hard-hitting, underground-leaning track that prompted a remix featuring Rich Boy. Three years later, B.o.B. was better known for a more lighthearted track titled “Nothin’ On You,” that reached commercial stardom alongside the fellow hit “Airplanes” featuring Haley Williams of pop punk group Paramore. His 2010 debut album B.O.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray was an eclectic mix containing verses from Lupe Fiasco and T.I. as well as vocals from Janelle Monae and Bruno Mars, and earned him multiple Grammy Award nominations.
Fast forward to 2015, and B.o.B. is an afterthought in Hip Hop. At just 26-years-old, many have written off the energetic emcee, whose latest project, 2013’s Underground Luxury, was a flop. Aiming to reclaim his spot in music’s top tier, B.o.B. released a surprise album titled Psycadelik Thoughtz on August 14 with little warning aside from a series of tweets. B.o.B. is back, but his return once again falls short of reaching the success achieved earlier in his career.
“I’m searching for an outlet, trying to charge my phone / Looking through my contacts, ain’t no one to call” begins the first verse of the album’s title track. B.o.B. has never been considered one of Hip Hop’s top lyricists, yet his ability to switch up his flow and produce lines like “This is how my day go / Wake up, cross over, fade ho / I wake up with that leggo, 28th Floor but I lay low / No lease ‘cause it’s paid for, stack chips with my queso,” off the 2011 mixtape EPIC: Every Play Is Crucial, earned him plenty of fans. Now the topic of discussion is the struggle of a low cell phone battery.
It’s almost as if B.o.B. truly does have two personas: the aforementioned acronym and Bobby Ray. One is still focused on his wordplay and Hip Hop’s crown. The other is a borderline pop rapper with catchy hooks seemingly made for radio. On Psycadelik Thoughtz, it seems the latter has won out.
With the help of Visionary Music Group’s budding star Jon Bellion, B.o.B. raps about his arsenal of hit songs, facing competition and his rise to fame over a strumming guitar and beating bass drum. The song is a far cry from past B.o.B. songs like “Strange Clouds” and “Bet I,” but fits perfectly into the scheme of his previous pop-leaning tracks.
Other songs, such as “Confucius” featuring Soaky Siren, embody the psychedelic tendency of the album, with lines like, “She said my head high, cause now is my time / And if I lose sight, just use my third eye.” The electronic instrumentals found across the album are nothing new for B.o.B, but the ’60s rock and R&B inspired production – which openly presents itself on tracks like “Back and Forth” – certainly feels experimental, as does his broad use of instrumentation.
“Plain Jane” the album’s fifth track, best exemplifies this. The beat, which starts with a shaking tambourine, marching bass drum and guitar – presumably played by B.o.B. himself, who is an avid guitarist – overtop an electronic pulse, sounds like something better suited for a boy band. “Plain Jane, she doesn’t like Jane Plain / She was smiling to hide Jane’s pain / But there was something about Plain Jane / Yes there was something about her,” rhymes B.o.B., his storybook lines preceding a song about a girl full of self-doubt. While there’s nothing wrong with attempting to be a conscious lyricist, B.o.B. seems to be pandering to those that most enjoyed his commercial hits, leaving his knack for witty and punchy hooks behind, along with his underground past.
While Psycadelik Thoughtz is by far B.o.B.’s most open offering, it seems that after years of treading the fine line between Hip Hop and hip-pop, it’s finally apparent which side he belongs on.