B.o.B isn’t just a rapper, nor does he have time for such a simple statement.
Photos: Day in the Life of B.o.B
On his debut album, “B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray” (2010), the Atlanta transplant pinned his rap skills to the sounds of mainstream pop, garnering him his first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, “Nothin’ On You,” featuring Bruno Mars. Two years later, B.o.B further blends the lines between genres with the top of the charts — and only the top — in his sights.
On his sophomore studio album “Strange Clouds,” B.o.B pulls aspirations from across all boards as always — production by Dr. Luke and Ryan Tedder, collaborations with Taylor Swift and Nicki MInaj — but also sings along to the plucks of his own acoustic guitar and takes a seat behind the sound boards. B.o.B produced five tracks on the full-length opus and executive produced alongside Jim Jonsin and T.I.
Lyrically, B.o.B fills in “Strange Clouds'” bass-heavy soundscapes with the lessons learned between soul searching and living the luxurious life.
Which “Strange Clouds” track will lead B.o.B to the top of the Billboard charts once again? Here’s our track-by-track review of each song.
1. “Bombs Away” feat. Morgan Freeman: Morgan Freeman’s words of wisdom are fitting for “Bombs Away’s” building beat and B.o.B’s rhymes of victory.
2. “Ray Bands”: The uptempo second track starts strong, carrying a heavy bass through out courtesy of B.o.B and Jamieson Jones. “Ray Bands” is an ode to the girls whose foresight is filled with flashing lights and dollar signs.
3. “So Hard to Breathe”: Acoustic strings by B.o.B. set the mood for one of most candid cuts on “Strange Clouds. “And it’s so hard to breathe/ And even more so to sleep when no one cares/ It was all I could need/ But now I’m sinking, so deep/ I can’t come up for air,” he sings in the chorus.
4. “Both of Us” feat. Taylor Swift: “I wish I was strong enough to lift, not one, but both of us/ Some day I will be strong enough to lift, not one, but both of us,” Taylor opens what is sure to be a Billboard chart climber.
5. “Strange Clouds” feat. Lil Wayne: Weezy and Bobby Ray lay aggressive wordplay over Dr. Luke and Cirkut’s dubstep/hip-hop soundscapes.
6. “So Good”: The Ryan Tedder-produced track showcases B.o.B trekking around the globe with his leading lady. “I’ll have you livin’ life like you should/ You’ll say you never had it so good,” B.o.B rhymes.
7. “Play For Keeps”: Valentino Khan delivers a triumphant, audacious beat to compliment B.o.B’s boastful rhymes.
8. “Arena” feat. Chris Brown and T.I.: Breezy and the ATLiens team up on yet another Dr. Luke and Cirkut cut to reminisce on their path from the streets to the sold-out arenas.
9. “Out of My Mind” feat. Nicki Minaj: Bobby Ray tries to outdo Nicki’s unhinged-ness, and actually pulls it off right around the time he name-checks “Being John Malkovich.” Entertainingly offbeat.
10. “Never Let You Go” feat. Ryan Tedder: A spacious pop song that suffers from its placement on “Stange Clouds” — who, exactly, decided that this should follow “Out of My Mind”? — and B.o.B dropping a few clunky inspirational lines.
11. “Chandelier” feat. Lauriana Mae: First Bobby and Hayley Williams waxed poetics about airplanes like shooting stars; this time, he and Lauriana Mae try to keep “shining like chandeliers.” Mae’s vocals dominate, while B.o.B’s musings struggle for attention.
12. “Circles”: An unbelievably strange sonnet to a girl burning through Bobby’s brain, complete with emotional crooning, “Miss Mary Mac” re-interpretations and strings. Hard to swallow at first, but definitely a grower.
13. “Just A Sign” feat. Playboy Tre: A haunted house synthesizer and some snappy rhyming help B.o.B and Playboy Tre stay introspective on this mid-tempo jam.
14. “Castles” feat. Trey Songz: One last all-star collaboration for the road, as Bobby Ray recruits Atlantic cohort Trigga Trey to help him say good-bye, because, after all, he’s building castles in the sky. A silly concept, but the star wattage powers it through.
15. “Where Are You (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray)”: Sonically, the finale sounds a little like Eminem‘s “Stan,” but the lyrics recall Drake‘s “Karaoke,” as B.o.B struggles to adapt to his newfound fame. The closer isn’t as strong as either of those songs, but Bobby Ray’s unflinching honesty make this a highlight.