Following the success of his 2010 gold-certified debut, "B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray," the Decatur, Ga., native looked for ways to boost his image, striking deals with Target and Coca-Cola in addition to a pre-existing Adidas sponsorship and an appearance in an Electronic Arts Sports videogame. The singer/songwriter, who cracked both pop and R&B markets with the singles "Nothin' on You" and "Airplanes" (peaking at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100), wanted to expand his business portfolio with his second album and use those ties to introduce his music to a wider audience.
"I definitely see the benefit behind building a brand for whatever venture you catapult yourself into," B.o.B says. "But for me, the driving force has always been the music-it's just a way to get my music heard by more people and [potentially] more fans."
With "Strange Clouds," arriving May 1 on Rebel Rock/Grand Hustle/Atlantic, the 23-year-old signed a deal with Target to promote the album through TV and online campaigns. His conversations with the big-box chain date back to "The Adventures of Bobby Ray," but the partnership was solidified after he played them several cuts from his new project. TV spots and online ads begin April 29, and culminate with a New York event on the album's release date. Target will also sell an exclusive version of the set with five bonus tracks.
Target doesn't typically work with rap artists, but the company has previously signed exclusive deals with several rock and pop acts including Pearl Jam, Lady Gaga and Ricky Martin. Marsha St. Hubert, director of marketing at Atlantic Records and product manager for "Strange Clouds," says, "B.o.B isn't just a hip-hop artist, although he raps and makes hip-hop music. He also has the ability to do more. He sings, he plays instruments, he has a broader and more universal appeal. That's probably what makes the partnership with Target so unique."
That diversity is evident on "Strange Clouds," which teeters between the grittier rap sound of his mixtape fare and the pop sheen of "The Adventures of Bobby Ray," which has sold 597,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. ("Nothin' on You" and "Airplanes" have sold a combined 7.5 million copies.) The album is led by the platinum title track (1.2 million copies), featuring Lil Wayne, touting a buzzy, Southern-influenced beat and such radio-unfriendly lyrics as, "Stay on the greenest greens, call us vegetarians."
While B.o.B plays to hip-hop audiences with guest appearances from Grand Hustle label head T.I., as well as Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and Trey Songz, he balances the urban angle with pop and even country artists making contributions. Taylor Swift duets with him on "Both of Us," while OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder croons on "Never Let You Go" and R&B songstress Lauriana Mae contributes to "Chandelier." As with his debut, production comes courtesy of pop masterminds Dr. Luke, Cirkut, Benny Blanco and Alex Da Kid. The album's pop-geared single, "So Good," is also approaching platinum (869,000 copies).
B.o.B dates his musical flexibility back to his adolescent years. "I had always had that approach and could talk to everybody-from the jocks and cheerleaders to outcasts, nerds and gangsters," he says, describing himself as "a drifter." Later on, he says, "I developed a wide range, and it grew with my music career. I feel like I can speak different languages when it comes to music."
The artist plans to perform on the European festival circuit beginning in July, returning to the United States in August for a headlining tour he claims will continue for two years. He's already at work on an upcoming mixtape and has been recording songs with T.I. for a collaborative album titled The Man and the Martian, which will be released after "Strange Clouds" and T.I.'s forthcoming "Trouble Man."
"The last album was about the songs. The songs were bigger than Bob," B.o.B's manager Brian "B-Rich" Richardson says. "This album is about B.o.B the brand, and letting people know who he is." Richardson notes that partnerships were in place for the first album with Nintendo, Adidas and EA Sports. "Each album cycle, you have to get bigger," he says.
Beyond his touring and recording, however, becoming an entrepreneur is a top priority. " Will Smith, T.I., André 3000 and Cee Lo Green are artists who have longevity in entertainment and the business world and even beyond music," B.o.B says. "No matter what road you're on, it's going to keep moving regardless of what happens, good or bad, high or low. You've got to keep moving on that road and make the best situation out of whatever is thrown your way."