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B.o.B, Strange Clouds

Listen back to some old B.o.B. Check out “I’ll Be In The Sky,” from 2008’s Who The F#ck Is B.o.B?, or “Satellite,” off of B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray the following year. Then listen to his new album, Strange Clouds. Really, from a sonic standpoint, there’s no grand deviation toward pop sensibilities—a criticism that has been hoisted in Bobby Ray’s direction time and again since he began to enjoy mainstream success. Instead, the Atlanta native is continuing to flex the swelling muscles of his many talents—rapping, singing, producing, and playing instruments—to create a musically diverse listening experience.

Surely by no coincidence, some of the finest moments on Strange Clouds come when the 2009 XXL Freshman is performing each of his many tasks. The opener, “Bombs Away,” featuring an epic voiceover from Morgan Freeman, relies on cycling synths and chorus-like background vocals to supplement B.o.B’s crooning and his balance of lyrical boasts (“You hustle? Well we are Grand Hustle, nigga we mastered it”) and out-there rhymes (“The world’s run by a few people and we never seen them at all/How do they exist if we don’t know who they are?/They can be you, they could be me, they could be queens and gods”). It’s this general format that informs much of the album, as bellowing hooks sandwich stellar (if not stunning) bars backed by melodically sequenced keys, strings and heavy bass.

The album holds up throughout in that it flows within itself musically. Many of the beats could be considered pop-centric, with Top 40 producers like Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco and Ryan Tedder lending their touch, but they suit the Atlantic Records artist’s style. The featured guests fit, as well. Chris Brown again reminds that he’s the hip-hop hook killer, as he shares the stage with B.o.B on “Arena,” which also includes a whirlwind verse from T.I. The most surprising feature is Taylor Swift, who hogs the attention with her chorus on “Both Of Us;” it’s easy to write off the collaboration, but the reality is that it works.

There are times when a break from the attempted chart-dominating approach would be welcomed, though. The female-focused “Circles” becomes a bit of a bore, while the up-tempo “Never Let You Go” is a narrative endeavor that never fully plays itself out and comes off a bit cheesy. So, too, does it occasionally feel like the ATLien’s content—a little something for the ladies here, a grappling with fame there—isn’t quite as varied as it was before all he knew was success.

On the album’s finale, “Where Are You (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray)”—likely to become a favorite for early B.o.B fans—the star of the show considers the changes in his life, how he’s grown personally and professionally, and how people perceive him because of it. From the moment he became a buzzing name in hip-hop circles, B.o.B has proven to be a singular musical talent, unable and unwilling to fit within any neatly defined parameters of what defines a rapper. His methods meld his many abilities, and the result with Strange Clouds is a sophomore album that straddles genre lines but does so with an authenticity that many rappers testing the pop waters lack. —Adam Fleischer (@AdamXXL)

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  • Smashed

    This is a pretty solid album, I can’t stand a lot of these young rappers but B.O.B seems to know his place, he doesn’t rap about being the greatest after one mixtape or dissing the godfathers of hip hop on the back of one hit, like Drake does for example. He knows where he stands, and I respect that.

    It’s music for kids, but it doesn’t make it a bad thing, there’s songs about weed, being the underdog etc, the usual stuff, but there always is this sense that the guy is humble in his rhymes. The Atliens reference in the review is pretty good, B.o.B. has an Outkast-lite feel about his music, it’s not in the class of Outkast but in a few years he may well drop an album that turns out to be a stone cold classic

    • http://ETG Tope Olaleye

      it bothers me when the gods get to acting like the broads ?? are you fucking dumb ? if common wasnt talking like he did then there wouldnt be no shit ! i would never let another man disrespect the art im creating , so why would drake just leave sum like that unattended and not say anything . fuck outta here man

  • Sir Escobar

    Love the review. Very on point. The only problem i have is that the lyrics are L. These lyrics should be an XL. Its an amazing step-up lyrically from EPIC (Which was an awesome mixtape).

  • Michael

    Can’t believe this got anything more than an M.

    • J.R.

      how dumbshit??? the albums good!! M’s are reserved for soulja boy and lil b

      • alex

        not even! lol soulja boi got a s on one of his mixtape lmao which is rare

  • D-Lloyd

    L for lyrics? really? Adam Fleischer you a dumbass.

  • TOney

    Actually most reviews of this album have been positive sooo far!!! I may buy this thang

  • Sure

    It’s not a bad album honestly. I think B.O.B. isn’t really pretending to be a hardcore rapper and you know that you’re going to get the pop-rap style when listen to him. I don’t see why people always hate on rappers because they don’t follow the same formula as one of the greats. Haha, I’m not even buying the album (or downloading it), I just think it’s good to understand that this is pop-rap and you shouldn’t hate him for it because he’s doing what he wants and he’s being honest about it.
    Don’t like it, don’t listen. It’s like saying you hate a country album but you don’t even listen to country.

  • Tc

    I don’t dislike this album because I think he sold out or became too poppy. I dislike this album because I love him as a rapper. He’s one of my favorite rappers of all time but when he does pop-rap, I really can’t stand it. It honestly is like a separate genre. I want music from B.o.B the rapper, not B.o.B the Taylor Swift back-up singer.

  • LetoEl

    ”Where Are You Now?”

    Exactly what I was asking myself after listening to the album.

  • Joey

    L lyrics really? So what your saying is Tyga is as lyrical as B.o.B?

  • jhwg624

    i think originality should have been an m i mean hes just a sell out other than that its a fine album

    • King_Sky

      Please explain how B.o.B is a sell out.

  • honest reviewer

    honestly i think this is a big step foward from his debut……..lots of good music on this one. lots of hits/potential singles. lyrics should be an XL because he got some good lyrics unlike other rappers. and this dude didnt sell out!!! unlike these other rapper this guy isnt in capris wearin’ snapbacks and rapping about coke and bitches and best of all there isnt any trap beats on this. this good music here!

  • BobFan

    I actually thought B.o.B had a chance at a XXL rating but I think that Chandelier song just messed it up