It must be hard being Bobby Ray. Here you have an artist with such immense talent that was spawned as one of Hip-Hop’s rising stars, who has achieved success by experimenting beyond the traditional genre. Obviously as Hip-Hop has evolved so has its children, so it’s not uncommon to hear a rapper doing much more than just rapping. What is unusual is the rate at which this has been done. The artist better known as B.O.B. may have been discovered through his mix tape outings, but with his first album The Adventures of Bobby Ray, he held no punches. The ATLien came out the gate and showed the masses just how diverse his music would be, and it worked. While he gained commercial exposure and success, it’s the edge in his music that was questioned. Something he attempts to answer with his sophomore outing, Strange Clouds.
People seem to forget that when B.O.B. isn’t making radio ballads with Bruno Mars, that he can still rap. Exceptionally well at that. The album opens with “Bombs Away” and he does just that backed by a thunderous beat to compliment his rhymes. Lyrically he’s as sharp as he’s ever been, as he demonstrates once more on “Plays For Keeps”. For those looking for the old Bobby Ray then those tracks should show you that he hasn’t gone anywhere.
The same formula that B.O.B. excels in, he also seems to fall short in as well. It’s obvious that he’s influenced by a variety of genres, and unfortunately tries to incorporate them all at once. Some of these efforts like the commercial aiming “So Good” work well for his style, but other efforts like “Circles” just come off as forced. Chris Brown handles chorus duties for “Arena” which also brings a verse from Grand Hustle head honcho T.I. in a collaboration that fits. There is nothing wrong with making songs with pop appeal, since pop music is really just popular music. However the Taylor Swift assisted “Both Of Us” isn’t just an attempt at satisfying that crowd, but it fails in every way imaginable. Her voice doesn’t really do the song any more justice than his mediocre rhymes here. The same can also be said for “Out Of My Mind” which features Nicki Minaj. Not only are Bobby Ray and Nicki both exceptional rappers when they choose to be, but they can also make pretty good records for a wide scale audience. Which makes it even more confusing as to how this record seemed to come up flat on both of those levels.
The biggest strength found in this project would have to be in the production. Though several of the tracks have outside producers, Bobby Ray handles a large portion of the album. The result was a sequencing that just works. “Never Let You Go” isn’t your typical Hip-Hop song, but it will certainly find an audience in certain clubs. The same can be said about the title track “Strange Clouds” which follows a traditional sound, but is still dub step influenced to the point that it stands out.
After taking the musical journey that is Strange Clouds, the highlight of the project seems to come at the end with “Where Are You (B.O.B. vs. Bobby Ray)”. Here he addresses all of those that feel he’s lost his way musically after success, by not addressing them. Simply he ends the project acknowledging the critics in all areas of his life, and lets the music speak for itself.
As B.O.B. continues to expand as an artist, he makes it quite clear that he has no intentions of placing himself back in the box that people want to keep him in. With no apologies he makes records with pop sensibilities, that Hip Hop fans that aren’t afraid of something different will appreciate. While the results won’t always be winners, B.O.B. has discovered that trial and error will continue to work in his favor in the long run.
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