B.o.B and an era of hip-hop that's pop, pop, and more pop
"I treated the early mixtapes like albums, but I was always holding back. I was holding back the alternative side," he says, adding that rock bands like Coldplay are an influence. "I don't want to be in one genre because doing that would be limiting me as an artist, if I was only being exposed to the pop crowd, or just to the urban crowd."
Growing up Bobby Ray Simmons in Decatur, Ga., he was first discovered at 16 while performing at Club Crucial, a nightclub in Atlanta's rough Bankhead neighborhood. As he subsequently signed deals with producer Jim Jonsin (Cypress Hill's "Armada Latina") and his Rebel Rock imprint, and then T.I.'s Grand Hustle camp, B.o.B toyed with idioms. His breakthrough single, the regional hit "Haterz Everywhere," matched ATL bravado with a memorable hook. On The Future, he playfully riffed over a loop of Sam Cooke's "Only Sixteen." During appearances on the 2008 Rock the Bells tour, he interrupted his brief sets by bringing out a guitar and strumming an acoustic version of his marijuana ode, "Cloud 9."
By B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray, he graduated to writing full-fledged pop songs, though none were as good as those found on The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Throughout his mixtapes, which were kind of a woodshedding process, B.o.B presented himself as an alien, a prodigal kid who doesn't quite fit in with the teacher's pets or the playground thugs. He frequently noted skipping high school to smoke weed and hang out on the streets. On "My Story," he rapped, "Rebellion is just a side effect. Homicidal? Maybe. Suicidal? Yes."
Today, B.o.B says, "It's not as dark as it was. There's still the residue there; the residue is on all my memories. It makes me who I am. It's the strikes and blows that carve me as a person." Finding success with a passion he nurtured since the third grade has undoubtedly helped. And career demands keep him out of trouble. "As I become more successful, it requires me to work more. I've got to be on my p's and q's. I gotta go to bed earlier. I can't stay up as late as I used to. Sometimes I do party, but I'm like, alright, I gotta wake up in the morning."
B.o.B may have grown out of his depression, but the ADD-manic energy remains. On The Adventures of Bobby Ray, the mixtape hiss and "down South" hood raps have been buffed away, leaving charismatic emotion and arena-ready entreaties like "Ghost in the Machine," "Fame," and "Airplanes." A chorus line of high-profile guests, from Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and Hayley Williams of Paramore to Eminem and Lupe Fiasco, appear to ease the transition.
"Everyone listens to everything. Whatever's going on in the hip-hop community, the pop people can see, and vice versa," B.o.B says. When everything's mixed up and genre lines blur, he adds, "Change is inevitable." *
with Lupe Fiasco
Tues/4, 8 p.m. $34.50
982 Market, SF