Previously on The Adventures of B.o.B aka Bobby Ray, Atlanta rapper/singer B.o.B was busy claiming the many plaudits for what was a superb year for him back in 2010. Emerging from under the tutorship of DJ Drama and southern kingpin T.I., Bobby Ray broke away from the limited expectations many had of his career and became a household name thanks to a charming persona plus a clutch of monumental Hip Hop records that tugged at the hearts of daytime radio’s core audience.
Now a name which the masses instantly gravitate to, B.o.B‘s next adventure finds him tackling the much dreaded second album, which has claimed many careers due to the difficulty of matching the lofty heights of one’s previous efforts. How will his sophomore effort Strange Clouds fare in the challenge?
The first signs that show B.o.B is now in the A-List of musical celebrities are found on the opener “Bombs Away,” where the ominous tones of acclaimed actor Morgan Freeman can be found narrating the closing stages of the track. B.o.B’s impassioned verses possess the same hunger and venom of previous material, which should assure fans of his loyalty to rhyming. The platinum selling rapper’s verses are part reflective, part self lauding – both delivered with the same free spirited enthusiasm.
“Ray Bands” boasts of the admiration females have of his A-List status, with its Jamieson Jones-produced instrumental further adding to his performance. B.o.B again provides further evidence of being able to master the art of crafting the ideal radio friendly song with “So Good,” a playful, skip along to single has the ideal hook to draw the mass audience into his new album.
As proven on his 2010 Adventures of Bobby Ray album, Atlanta’s free spirited musician isn’t afraid to aim his appeal at the masses, with huge former hits “Magic” and “Airplanes” having brought on board musical guests who are miles away from his rap habitat. Country pop sweetheart Taylor Swift duets with B.o.B on “Both Of Us” and hit songwriter Ryan Tedder handles the chorus on “Never Let You Go.”
Somewhat unfortunately, this clutch of radio bound singles doesn’t hit the mark with regards to containing the effortless charm which made the likes of “Nothin On You” and “Airplanes” successful. Taylor’s contributions to “Both Of Us” add little to the lukewarm Hip Hop/Country merger, whilst Tedder’s appearance on the schmultzy love-lost “Never Let You Go” adds nothing of significance to the album.
On Strange Clouds, the material worthy as the main attraction stems from B.o.B’s rougher, less polished performances. The title track which features Young Money’s Lil Wayne blasts through speakers with its audio distorted bass and B.o.B’s middle finger to the world verses of basking in the high life, resulting in an amped anthem which shows off the other side to the recognised singer.
When rhyming on this album B.o.B sounds hungrier, almost eager to be let off the leash – and does so on “Play For Keeps.” With no distinctive chorus, Ray’s lyrical tirade over a chaotic orchestra is heavy on the machismo and leaves behind the sensitive side of the artist. The same can be said when Ms Nicki Minaj drops by on the distorted, mind bending “Out Of My Mind” as B.o.B and Barbie deliver tongue twisting, left brain verses – and for all its alien warbles and ear splitting drones, the collab passes off as a success.
A teaming up which is pulled off with a lot more sanity is “Arena” featuring T.I. and Chris Brown; a piano orchestrated power anthem, Brown’s overcoming-against-all-odds chorus sits well between Bobby Ray’s emotive tales of the testing come up and Tip’s out-the-block bars.
With standout work from his previous effort still fresh in the mind of many, B.o.B seemingly opts to steer away from attempting to create spectacular hit records with Strange Clouds and instead focuses on crafting solid album tracks. The rapping/singing balance is evened out and, whilst his more blatant attempts at mainstream appeal will lead the album charge, ultimately it’s the downplayed Hip Hop nuggets where satisfaction will be found. A tidy follow up to his empirical first studio album, Strange Clouds steadily keeps B.o.B’s name in the higher musical ranks and provides enough assurance that the artist won’t freefall anytime soon.