Bubblegum rapper B.o.B has managed to pop his way into mainstream superstardom since his 2010 debut album, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray. It’s not surprising — a genre-blender at heart, B.o.B’s music can go from jangling acoustic pop (“Airplanes”) to party pop rock (“Magic”), showing fans many musical faces. This continues to be the case in his sophomore release, Strange Clouds.
Strange Clouds is a fitting title for the album; it’s stuck in some otherworldly universe of grandeur, where only the mighty and successful may gain entrance. After all, who else do you know who has had their album opener narrated by acclaimed actor Morgan Freeman? It happens. On “Bombs Away,” the actor narrates a cliched good-versus-bad storyline that, although awkward and misplaced, does a better job at captivation than B.o.B’s witless lyrical content.
But this has always been a problem for B.o.B. What he may believe are well-crafted rap punch lines are actually stale and unfulfilled. You can take your pick on “Bombs Away:” “Official, no artificial preservatives or additives,” or “Good God, if I go this hard, by the time I’m 90 I won’t need Viagra naw” they’re laughable in all the wrong ways. It’s unfortunate that B.o.B’s wittiness can only be found in the yearly mixtapes he manages to put out.
Take his latest mixtape, E.P.I.C., for example: “That’s why I’m never threatened by these little boys with big toys/They can’t even aim, it’s piss poor,” raps B.o.B on “Wrong.” Maybe the lack of wit comes from differentiation; it seems that B.o.B’s mixtape world (often filled with harder lines and rap alumni such as Mos Def and Eminem) wants to remain separate from B.o.B’s pop world, sacrificing lyrical creativity in the process.
If you take away the guest collaborations (Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne, to name a few) and impressive production of longtime collaborators Jim Jonsin and Dr. Luke on Strange Clouds, all you have is a rapper whose rhymes are mediocre at best. He’s not doing much to separate himself from his contemporaries, opting out for generic and quote-worthy lines that have already been said, but in different ways. “Arena” is a perfect example of this: “And if you too fresh in the building/Then take your hand, hold it high to the ceiling right now and say damn I’m killing them.” It’s big and bad, with the latter dominating the former.
Strange Clouds feels more obligatory than anything else. There’s no doubt that B.o.B made this album for his fans, but he doesn’t take up the chance to experiment or redefine his pop voice, remaining in his comfort zone instead.
Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as: 'Strange Clouds' proves B.o.B.'s genre-blending