B.o.B Embraces His Journey From Major Label Star to Independent Leader
B.o.B, one of the first rappers of the aughts to turn online hype into tangible mainstream success, has had a decade that stacks up nicely when compared against that of his peers. A number of landmark moments stamped him as a promising talent early in his career. Moving millions of units between his first three studio albums, B.o.B showed and proved in terms of metrics and an ability as a hit-maker. However, after the release of Underground Luxury in 2013, the former phenom would find himself at odds with Atlantic Records, the label whose roster he joined in 2006. Falling out over creative differences during the recording of his fourth studio album, the red tape would cause B.o.B to hold fans over with one-off projects like Psycadelik Thoughtz and his mixtape series, Elements, the latter of which would spark a firestorm of controversy.
Expressing his belief that Earth is flat, B.o.B’s assertion would result in an overwhelming amount of ridicule, with Neil deGrasse Tyson among those giving their thoughts on the matter. B.o.B would stand his ground despite the backlash, however, during a recent visit to the XXL office, the ATLien would deem the chapter of shocking conspiracy theories a closed one. “I mean, not really,” B.o.B says when asked if he’ll be sharing any other unpopular beliefs anytime soon. “I feel like I done said everything that I wanted to say on the Elements mixtapes, man. I really feel like I really put my neck on the line to say some shit that’s not acceptable and that’s not common belief, so I feel like I said everything on the Elements project, man.”
Polarizing proclamations aside, B.o.B has unfinished business regarding the Elements series, as evidenced by the title of the rapper’s long-awaited album, Ether, his first major release in more than three years. Having extricated himself from his contract with Atlantic Records and signing a deal with EMPIRE, Ether is B.o.B’s first release as an independent artist and one that looks to reignite his buzz and establish his new record label, No Genre, which he spearheaded in 2014, with artists London Jae, Jaque Beatz and Jake Lambo, to name a few.
B.o.B is a leader in his own lane. He may not be dominating the charts as he once did but he's proving his resilience in an industry that never guarantees a lasting legacy. His experience—both with a major label and as an indie artist—is something his No Genre signees can not only learn from but can use as a guide to navigate the fickle music business.
XXL sat down with B.o.B to get the scoop on his new album, Ether, life as an independent artist, his thoughts on substance abuse and more.
XXL: The past few years, you've been stepping more into the role of a CEO with your No Genre label and showcasing the roster. How has that experience been?
B.o.B: Man, you know, it’s good seeing new artists really take flight on their own, man, and London Jae, one of the artists on my label, No Genre, we’re doing a joint venture with him and Grand Hustle. So, it’s just like it’s one family, you know, truth be told, but it is a certain satisfaction you get out of helping somebody else. A project becomes your baby. You believe in something from the beginning and it’s just like they become their own thing.
Your last studio album came out nearly four years ago. Did the transition into spearheading No Genre have anything to do with the lack of an official album release since then?
I mean, not really, man. I spent a lot of time when I first started the label doing projects and putting a lot of energy into it, but I’ve been putting out music since after Psycadelik Thoughtz, when I put out the Nasa mixtape and the four Elements mixtapes and just recently this Ether album, so I feel I’ve been pretty active at putting out music, but an official album, it’s definitely been a long ass time. Long overdue.
Last year, you made headlines with your back and forth with Neil deGrasse Tyson, which got his name circulating in the rap world. Recently, he appeared on Logic's Everybody album. Would you take any credit for that?
You know, that’s kind of what I do, man. I introduce people to the world, you know what I mean, through collaborating. Which is why I started my own label, No Genre, you know, from working with artists like Bruno [Mars] before he was popping, Jessie J before she blew up. You know, I kind of feel like, dang, man, it's like I’m kind of good at this, so that’s why I started my No Genre. So it’s no surprise to me that he’s getting into the hip-hop world. I mean, if anything that’s what scientists want, is to get into the young Black minds of our youth [laughs].
You've been in the rap game for about a decade at this point. How would you say you've grown or evolved over that time?
I feel like it’s all a part of the story, man, you know? Doing mixtapes, open mics, albums, going through different phases, playing the guitar, performing with a live band, dancers, background singers, to coming back and being able to cross back over and do club, urban music. I mean, it’s all a part of the story. I embrace all of it. It’s funny ’cause it’s all aligning, stories lining up, but you can’t mastermind everything. You gotta kinda just go with the journey.
Being a rapper can be demanding on your personal life. What are some sacrifices you've had to make over the years?
It’s definitely a trade-off, man. It’s definitely a trade-off, but it’s the road that I signed up for. Everybody can’t do it. That’s why everybody don’t do it, you know?
Your album is named Ether. What was the inspiration for that title?
Ether is the fifth element. It’s the realm in which all matter and material or thought moves through, you know what I mean? So, I feel like I knew I was gonna have to do an album and I was gonna have to do the Ether tape but I just didn’t know that they were gonna be the same thing. So, you know, I really like bringing that conscious crowd into merging my fans, you know what I’m saying, kinda making something everybody can listen to without being like, "I like this project," [or] "Well, I like this project." I don’t like it being all divided.
How would you describe your process creating this album, from A to Z?
From A to Z, man, some songs were done long before other songs were. It’s just like... it’s just like choosing. It’s like designing a room, you know what I’m saying, like feng shui, you know what I mean, how you want people to feel when they come in, where you want them to gravitate when they walk in your house. You gotta put it together cohesively and I think that was the biggest challenge, from A to Z. But you gotta just trust your gut, you gotta trust the way you feel about a song.
You have a song with Young Thug titled "Xantastic." What was the inspiration behind the song and how did that collaboration come about?
You know, I feel like it was perfect for “Xantastic” because it’s a different-sounding record, you know, it’s not what anyone is doing right now. With all of the features, nobody’s expecting what they’re gonna sound like and that’s kinda my approach with everything, man. I just wanna do something new and make good music, man, really. At the end of the day, it’s gotta be good music, it can be as artsy as you wanna be, but it’s gotta be good.
Speaking of "Xantastic," what would you say was the trippiest night you've ever had, as far as psychedelics or prescription pills?
Man, this one time, I had this doctor that used to have this doctor that used to bring me these medicated lollipops. So he gave me four one day and was like, "These four with the silver twist tie, these are cool, but this one with the gold twist tie, don’t eat that mutherfucker by yourself." So, I was doing press one day and I had took one with me and I didn’t look at it, and of course it was the gold one and I got high as fuck, mid-interview.
And it was the same day the TLC biopic came out, the same day, and I wanted to watch that shit, but I couldn’t, I was just laying in the bed, high, man. I remember what it sounded like, but I couldn’t see that shit [laughs].
What were the lollipops made of?
It was the weed, the edibles. So, one of them had the high dosage.
What are your feelings about the pill-popping era going on now?
I got mixed feelings about it, kind of. I‘m a naturalist, man. I don’t like processed stuff, so, I feel it’s better stuff or a more natural way that people can go about experimenting with the psychedelia realm. Sometimes it’s recreational, and to some people, where it originated from, psychedelics is like medicine, places that have not been colonized, and that’s how it starts. Like Ayahuasca is a part of a South American ceremony that the Shamans use, but it made its way to America, you know what I mean? So, you know, I got mixed emotions. I done took some pain pills before when I wasn’t in pain, so, I can’t judge nobody that do, but, you know.
You also have a song called "Substance Abuse." What's was the message you were trying to send with that song as opposed to "Xantastic?"
Man, I just feel like the conscious communities gotta get off these high horses. I guess they feel like people gotta be perfect. Nobody’s gonna be fucking "Namaste" all day, you know what I’m saying? I’m flawed. I fuck up to. I smoke and drink and fuck like the rest of the people they perceive to be sleep and unawake and unaware. I just wanna shed light on both of them, on both sides of it.
Another single from Ether people should look out for is "4 Lit," featuring Ty Dolla $ign and T.I. How did that collaboration come about and why did those two in particular end up on the album?
Like always, I like to fuck with people that fuck with me and Ty [Dolla $ign] been fucking with me since day one and Tip been fucking with me since day one and when you do a song with somebody you really teaming up with them, you’re really doing a joint venture, it really is. So with all of the features, shouts to everybody that participated and wanted to be a part of my project, man, that’s what it’s all about.
Lil Wayne also makes an appearance on the song "E.T." What's it like seeing him getting back in the swing of things with all the drama he's been in over the past few years?
It’s a great thing, man, it really is. I feel like me and Wayne got a good track record. Every song we’ve done has been awesome, so, we just gotta keep up the reputation at this point. I think it’s good ’cause he’s really full stride in this verse, you know what I’m saying? People are gonna be like, "Old Wayne’s back!" you know what I mean? He fucking snapped on that shit.
You've had a history of scoring big songs with R&B and pop artists, and on Ether, you've got Usher. How do you feel that song stacks up to those past collabs?
I like doing unorthodox shit, man. I like to do the unorthodox always. I mean, fuck, I done collaborated with everybody. I mean, it ain’t nobody [left], you know what I mean? It’s a lot of artists, though, it’s always some new artists, but at this point, I’m just taking it as I go. I think every new artist kind of has a wish list of who they wanna collaborate with, but at this point, whoever I vibe with. Yeah, that’s my first time working with Usher, second time with CeeLo. You know, it’s kind of like that song needed Usher to sing it, like, there’s nobody better who could’ve done that. And I think that’s also another thing, you know, like with Ty, I fuck with Ty, but “4 Lit,” he had to be on it, you know what I mean. And then he just killed it with the runs and the [imitates Ty Dolla $ign singing] [laughs].
Who are some of the producers that worked on the album?
Me, 30 Rock, who did “4 Lit,” “Finesse,” “Xantastic” and “Middle Man.” And me and Jaque produced a lot of stuff, he’s another artist on No Genre. He produced “Big Kids,” and he produced with me on “Substance Abuse” and a couple of other joints. And then I produced “E.T,” “Fan Mail” and “Mister Mister.” Between the three of us, we all did all of the production, in-house, real organic, the way it’s supposed to be.
Is there a message you wanted to send or a point you wanted to prove on this album?
You know, being that it’s my first independent album, I just wanted to show people what I could do when there’s no red tape.
What would you say the experience has been like being on an independent label thus far?
Man, it’s just stress-free, man. It’s just way less stress. Life’s too short. I just wanted to cut out the middle man between me and my fans and just get them the music—the music they deserve to have.
What would you say are a few of the biggest lessons you learned being a major label artist?
The biggest lesson I learned is that label or no label, you gotta do it, you gotta be the driving force of your creativity and your career. Nobody can stop you, nobody can tell you what to do. It’s just certain things when they come from you, it’s more natural. Like I’m sure when Kanye did the Yeezus album, I’m sure nobody told him, “Yo, do a Yeezus album and don’t do a cover, just do the CD.” He had to become inspired to do that. I feel every artist should know that you can be any type of artist you wanna be.
You've also got a 33-city tour coming up this June. Who are some guests or surprises fans can look out for?
Forty-five [dates] really. More dates are being added. It’s crazy. Yeah, I’m taking No Genre, and you never know. You never what could happen.
What are some of the wildest nights or tours in general that you can recall where things got a little wild?
Man, the wildest nights be the nights where you gotta leave right after the show. The shit be so wild right for that moment, just gotta party as hard as you can for like a hour and then you gotta go [laughs].
What would you say is the wildest tour stop you've hit thus far?
London. London nights always be wild, man. I think it’s how they party ’cause all of the clubs be in the basement. So, every club is like a house party, you know, you in the basement, it ain’t nothing but music and liquor. That’s it.
With your tenure in the game and all that you've accomplished, what would you say is the next level for you moving forward?
Really, getting into acting. I mean, not to sound cliché, but I get enjoyment out of that, my artistic side, producing shit, putting shit together, you know? I feel like eventually, ain’t no telling, I gotta see. I think it’s good when you’re able to do something creatively and you don’t have to do it ’cause you necessarily need the money, you know? Even though you’re getting paid, it’s not like you need it, you just like doing it and that’s the ultimate goal as an artist, to be able to get to that point to just do whatever you wanna do.
What's the lane you're gonna take in acting? Is it gonna be more comedic or more dramatic?
A little of both. You know, do a Seven Pounds and then do a, nah [laughs]. You never know, man. You gotta just see what you wanna do, you know what I mean. I think a lot of people try to fit into somebody else’s mold and they feel they’re unsuccessful at it when they’re just not doing them at it.
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