Just seven years after Andre 3000 shattered every boundary and limitation Hip Hop ever really had with The Love Below, B.o.B. stands as the ideal culmination of that album’s incredible influence. Compelling, audacious, and genuinely upbeat and life-affirming (rather than “conscious,” pessimistic or whiny), B.o.B.’s The Adventures of Bobby Ray is definitely “Hip Hop,” but it may be the best Pop album you hear all year too.
The rhymes are solid, the hooks are catchy and fun, and no song sounds even remotely like the next. You simply cannot walk away from listening to this album without at least acknowledging how wildly talented B.o.B. is; he holds his own with Lupe Fiasco over the crunchy, funk rock of “Past My Shades,” samples Vampire Weekend and links up with Janelle Monae for the socially-conscious and genuinely moving (without being preachy) “The Kids,” and’ll even get the emo-punk-pop kids getting down to the ridiculously fun “Magic” (which features Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, of all people).
B.o.B. adopts a vicious flow for the southern-fried “Bet I,” though an astounding verse from T.I. definitely steals the show. And of course the infectious, Bruno Mars-assisted “Nothin’ On You” has turned into pop gold for the 21 year-old ATL native, reaching the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. But the real standouts here are “Airplanes I and II,” featuring a gorgeous chorus from Paramore’s Hailey Williams and yet another superb guest verse from Eminem on part II. “Airplanes” is an irresistible, rock-inflected gem, and it’s a surefire hit if I’ve ever heard one.
B.o.B.’s not quite as strong a singer as he is a rapper, but the results of his forays in that department are still surprisingly impressive. The self-produced, acoustic guitar-driven “Lovelier Than You” captures a laidback, bonfire jam vibe perfectly, and “Ghost in the Machine” (another of three tracks produced by B.o.B. himself) may remind you of Kid Cudi or 808s & Heartbreak-era Kanye West, but without the stoner-haze or self-loathing those guys literally steep their work in. B.o.B.’s secret weapons are sincerity and optimism; The Adventures of Bobby Ray covers a ridiculous range of styles, and he personalizes every topic he touches, but the album doesn’t sound forced or depressing, and it’s rarely boring. This guy just seems to have a lot of ideas; and he’s got the smarts, talents and testicular fortitude to pursue and execute them masterfully.
And in the end, that earnestness is what B.o.B.’s got over his emo, I-sing-and-I-rap peers like Kid Cudi and Drake. Bobby Ray doesn’t want you to know how much weed he smokes, or how much money he’s blowing; I’m thinking B.o.B. just wants you to be happy and have a good time.