"Lauryn Hill was a huge influence to my guitar playing," B.o.B. told Billboard.com on camera after his recent headlining show at New York's S.O.B.'s. "Her whole 'Unplugged' DVD that she did... I mean, it just changed my life. It kind of gave me the inspiration to keep going, [to] invest a lot more time into the music and not the stuff that doesn't matter."
The last time B.o.B. headlined S.o.B.'s was back in November, and plenty has changed in those five months. The MC/singer/guitarist now has the No. 1 song in the country -- "Nothin' On You," his personal ode to "beautiful girls, all over the world" featuring singer and producer Bruno Mars reached the top of the Hot 100 last week. He's touring the country with Lupe Fiasco, and booking solo gigs at each stop. And his Atlantic Records debut album, "B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray," is out today (Apr. 27).
"When I made 'Nothin' On You,' I didn't know what to expect," recalls B.o.B., who's been well known on the underground hip-hop circuit for a couple of years but is suddenly finding himself embraced in the mainstream. "I've had two songs on the radio before -- 'Haterz [Everywhere]' and 'Cloud Nine' -- but nothing on a global scale. I feel like it's good that this time it's exploding, because if it would've happened from the beginning, it wouldn't have been as much of a solid foundation as it is now."
A host of artists from different genres guest on "The Adventures of Bobby Ray," from rappers Lupe Fiasco and T.I. to Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and alt-R&B singer Janelle Monae. "It's a well-rounded album," he says. "I'll say it's solid."
And B.o.B.'s next single is already proving that there are more hits where "Nothin on You'" came from -- "Airplanes," a hip-hop rock hybrid featuring petite Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams, debuted at No. 12 last week on the Hot 100. He describes the song as "a step towards blurring the lines of the genre and just letting music be music."
Even with a No. 1 hit and the lofty goal of making music with mass appeal, B.o.B. is still keeping it humble. "I'm really used to performing in front of crowds who've never seen me before," he says, "but it's just crazy because the level of familiarity that the crowd has with the songs is starting to increase. You can hear the crowd singing the song over the song, and that's a good feeling... nothing's better."