By// Quinn Peterson
The common path to success for an up-and-coming artist in hip-hop these days is to release a slew of strong, free mixtapes containing album-quality cuts to build one’s buzz. Such is the road traveled by Atlanta MC B.o.B. In fact, he’s proven to be one of the most sucessful employers of the strategy, as his 2010 debut album, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray, was a mad hit, achieving such accolades as gold certification and No. 1 spots on the Billboard 200’s hip-hop/R&B and rap charts.
In addition, B.o.B earned five Grammy nominations behind the album’s two multi-platinum smash singles (“Nothin’ On You” featuring Bruno Mars, and “Airplanes” featuring Hayley Williams). His triumphs could have made for a letdown, or set a bar too high to reach again, but B.o.B has welcomed the challenge and is already on his way to meeting it with his second album, Strange Clouds, released last week.
“I’m the kind of person that always works better under pressure,” B.o.B tells JETmag.com. “I just don’t like to get complacent. I can’t, I have too much energy. No matter how good the first album was, I was gonna naturally try to get better. And some of those songs that I did on that album, I was, like, 18 — I’m 23 now. So obviously there’s a difference, your perspective grows a lot.
“It was definitely easier this time, because on the second album I understand a lot more,” he said of the conception of his follow-up album. “I feel more prepared because I understand the business, I understand what it takes to really deliver a phenomenal album.”
Thus, here he is, two years since his debut, with no sophomore slump in sight. Following in the footsteps of the first singles from B.o.B Presents, “Strange Clouds” (the title of the first single), which features Lil’ Wayne, is a top-10 hit that’s already achieved platinum status.
“Once the song took a life of it’s own, it kind of inspired the name of the album — I got the name of the album from the title track. From that point, it inspired the whole direction of the album, how the songs were gonna flow and how the artwork flowed, so it definitely led the way.”
“The intention of the first album was to introduce myself to the world. The intention of this album is to let the world know who I am,” he said. “It takes people through my personal life, how I’ve grown, what I’ve done to get this point and how I’m trying to go further.”
Though he’s clearly from Georgia (you can hear the country in his voice), home to Gucci Mane, Waka Flaka and the hip-hop sub-genre of “Trap Rap,” his appeal and sound extends far beyond that, breeding the foundation for his immense crossover popularity.
To be sure, B.o.B can spit with the best of them — and he does so often — but his knack for catchy hooks and acoustic guitar is what has opened him up to a far more diverse audience. That’s where Bobby Ray, his alter ego with a lust for alternative music, comes in. He dealt with the duality leading up to and on his debut album, and it’s still there now, albeit a bit less noted.
“I think no matter what, I’m always gonna have the urge to make something really alternative, as well as something else — I can do it all whether it be club music, rock music, pop music, etc.,” said the Decatur, Ga. native.
This time around, he actually included more live instrumentation than before.
“I did a guitar solo on “Circles,” I came up with the piano riff on “Arena” and working with [producer] Ryan Tedder, I was just vibing on the acoustic guitars on “Never Let You Go.” So I’m definitely showcasing a lot more of what makes me, me.”
“For me, on this project I kind of blended everything and really let what needed to be happen. When it needed to be digital, I let it be digital. When it needed live bass and live guitars, I wasn’t afraid to go forward and do that. Live strings, live horns, on the Target version, there’s a song called “Ms. Professional” and I’ve got a live horn section on that song and it just works. I feel like when it’s there and it can make the song better, why not do it. Why settle for the bare minimum of what’s gonna make the song good.”
The guest list of featured artists on Strange Clouds is as diverse as the album’s sound is, with appearances ranging from Morgan Freeman to Nicki Minaj to Taylor Swift to Trey Songz.
“All these features happened naturally,” he said. “It gave space to just be natural and naturally talk about what I wanted to talk about, for the vibe to make people feel closer to me and [understand] that this ain’t just no formula.”
There may not be a formula, but there is definitely a common result: chart-topping success. B.o.B’s career took flight with his first album; now on his second time around, he’s still soaring through the sky with Strange Clouds.//