With Breaking Bad coming to an end on Sunday (Sept. 29), I’ve been thinking a lot about the series finale of The Wire, the greatest 94 minutes of television of all time. The main takeaway from that episode is the concept of circles, or regeneration; Marlo becomes the new Stringer Bell, Jimmy is staring down the barrel of a career spent on the back burner like Lester, Chris Partlow enters the fraternity of imprisoned former hitmen with Wee-Bey, and Michael starts robbing drug dealers like he’s the second coming of Omar. It’s the never-ending cycle of the streets as the show presents it, the idea that everything that happens will happen again; history always repeats itself.
Hip-hop today can be viewed largely in the same way, one case of which XXL detailed in our recent story on Meek Mill—
B.o.B is another example of the same idea—in different ways, he’s following in the footsteps of his label boss at Grand Hustle, T.I. It’s not just looks—though B.o.B is looking more and more like the King Of The South every day—nor is it necessarily his musical output. It comes more in the decisions he makes, the way he carries himself and the distinctly T.I.-way he goes about his business in the hip-hop game. And that was never more clear than at his performance at Fader and Vitamin Water’s #Uncapped show at the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen last night (September 30) in Manhattan.
Taking place in what had the look, and particularly the smell of, (and it turns out, actually was) a library, Bobby Ray brought his own cocky brand of energy to the stage while busting out some of the material from his upcoming third album, Underground Luxury, due out in December. Big Boi, out on his rescheduled tour with Killer Mike and in town before his Brooklyn Bowl show tonight, came out to perform “Nothin’ On You”—B.o.B’s song with Bruno Mars that Big had remixed almost three years ago—and “Shoes For Running,” the track he has with Bobby and Wavves on his latest solo effort, Vicious Lies And Dangerous Rumors. And the hook master of the moment, Future, emerged during “Ready” and then performed his new single, “Honest,” with a snippet of his hook on Ace Hood’s “Bugatti” sandwiched in between. And when B.o.B was on stage by himself—performing tracks like “Headband” and “Out Of My Mind” during his nearly hour-long set—he more than held his own alongside his ATLien brethren.
But it was when he performed tracks like “Airplanes,” his No. 2-peaking song with Paramore’s Hayley Williams from his 2010 album, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, that it really struck home how much he’s following the formula that has kept Tip near the top of the charts for almost a decade. T.I. has had an uncanny run of popping up on songs you wouldn’t have expected him to, or that you didn’t remember him on; not that he necessarily makes the song worse or adds nothing of value, just that he’s not always the most memorable performer on the track, even being relegated to supporting act on some of his own singles.
Take “Live Your Life,” the No. 1 single from 2008 that instantly became the soundtrack to every inspirational commercial or montage and single-handedly reminded the world that yodeling existed. That song is so closely tied to Rihanna that for the past five years I thought it was her single. I was wrong. Then there’s “Dead and Gone,” which took a lamenting Justin Timberlake all the way to No. 2 on the Hot 100. Turns out that one was a Tip song too. And of course, there he was grooving alongside Robin Thicke and Pharrell on the summer’s ubiquitous “Blurred Lines.” Not his song, sure, but he’s taking up the same position in the background as he has on his other tracks.
B.o.B has taken a similar path, with his own chart success to show for it. Bruno Mars is so closely associated with “Nothin’ On You” that the fact that he isn’t the lead name on that track is always surprising. “Airplanes” is all about Williams on the hook. And Bobby actually had a pretty good guest verse on Jessie J’s “Price Tag,” but he was never going to be more memorable than that “ch-chang ch-chang” line. T.I., of course, will always be considered a rapper first; B.o.B, maybe sensing the possibility of gaining more hip-hop credibility while staying in the mainstream, has 2 Chainz and Future on his first two Underground Luxury singles. T.I. has worked with every major rapper in the business; B.o.B has collaborated with Lil Wayne, André 3000, Big Boi and, to counter Tip’s work with Rih Rih and Timberlake, Taylor Swift. “You always forget how many hits B.o.B has,” someone said to me at the event last night. It’s true for his label chief as well.
What with his own label imprint on the way and a potentially career-shifting third album out before year’s end, it’s time for B.o.B to really figure out which direction he’s headed. But as he was being carried out of the library on someone’s shoulders while performing “Still In This Bitch” surrounded by screaming fans, it was hard to imagine he’d be disappearing any time soon. —Dan Rys (@danrys)