The first video for B.o.B.’s sophomore album hit the web almost half a year ago. Now that it’s released, will Bobby Ray shoot for the stars again or will the airplane crash and burn? The BT attempts to find out.
On his major label debut, B.o.B. sounded like a promising and versatile emcee willing take on a multitude of sounds and influences, that unfortunately ended up without any clear direction and lost himself among a slew of faceless hits tailored to radio play. It didn’t look bad on his bank account though, so to the delight of his accountant and dismay of his early mixtape fans, this one goes further down a similar road. There are a bit more raw electronic sounds to be heard this time around (just like what’s popular right now, a cynic might say) that B.o.B. is more than capable enough to handle, but the overabundance of poppy, color-by-numbers choruses and cheap synths ultimately leaves little to enjoy. Though the album lacks personality, there’s no doubt that the man can spit. It’s just a shame he does it on what’s closer to the soundtrack of ‘Glee’ than I personally care for any rap record to be.
My guess is that much of Strange Clouds’ popularity will be due to its familiarity. Hip hop artists who go platinum often follow that effort with raps about how they deal with success and subsequent fame. B.o.B.’s post-Adventures of Bobby Ray release has a similar story arc. And thanks to its abundance of guest features including Taylor Swift, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Ryan Tedder, and Nicki Minaj, it also sounds like the limited playlist already being offered by commercial radio.
So if you’re down to hear a collection of songs about another “Am I rich rap star or a regular dude?” identity crisis (perhaps best exemplified by the track “B.o.B. vs Bobby Ray”) wrapped in an easily-singable collage of sounds, then you’re the demographic at the center of Strange Clouds’ concentric red lines.
B.o.B has a lot on his mind here. He’s plagued by the trials of fame and is hyper-conscious of himself and the world around him. In the case of “Where Are You (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray)” this equals great music, but most often B.o.B comes across as reiterating the YOLO and emo-like sentiments to a tired effect. Hence the problem; we’ve heard it all before. Fortunately, he brings out the best in himself when he is celebrating. “Arena,” “Ray Bands,” and “So Good,” are all worthy tracks, if for no other reason than they sound honest and catchy. Unfortunately, there are not enough of these good moments on the album. I applaud B.o.B for rhyming from the heart, but he fails to stand out from the pack on Strange Clouds.
Abstract: B.o.B. crafts elaborate hip-hop weepers with rhymes that would make excellent high school yearbook inscriptions: “You can be whatever you want.”
Diagnosis: Blatant Popambitionitis
Symptoms: treacly raps, cupcake jingles, Taylor Swift
Cure: Lose the guitar; realize that you can’t build castles in the sky by swapping out Hayley Williams for Trey Songz. “Airplanes” only happens once. Realize that tragedy works better as comedy (and vice versa ) — the tragedy of escaping on the back of a vice while ignoring your issues, for instance, is something most people can relate to, i.e. “Strange Clouds.” And while we’re on the title track, realize that Dr. Luke is the sole bright spot on an otherwise poorly produced LP. And most of all, realize that a please-all approach could never please all.