“A good book consists of many chapters,” B.o.B tweeted on Nov. 18.?
But the message wasn’t the Atlanta rapper turning philosophical—it was a response to fans complaining that he was abandoning his pop-rap crossover sound with his third album, “Underground Luxury,” due Dec. 17 on Grand Hustle/Rebel Rock/Atlantic.
?“I went from having a hood fan base to an alternative fan base to a pop/teeny-bopper fan base, so now I’m circling back around,” B.o.B says.?
The artist notes that the new set, which he produced mostly himself, is a return to his late-2000s mixtape roots. It’s a stark contrast from his studio debut, 2010’s “B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray,” which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and eventually sold 630,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The set’s success was fueled by poppy, melodic hits with unexpected guest stars—“Nothin’ on You,” featuring Bruno Mars, peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has sold 4.8 million, while “Airplanes,” with Hayley Williams of Paramore, hit No. 2 and has sold 3.2 million. His 2012 follow-up, “Strange Clouds,” took a similar approach, featuring collaborations with Taylor Swift and Ryan Tedder, but garnered weaker results: The album reached No. 5 and has sold 298,000.?
B.o.B’s new sound was previewed by the music—and title of—2012 mixtape “Fuck ’Em We Ball,” which spawned the club hit “We Still in This Bitch,” featuring Juicy J and T.I., B.o.B’s Grand Hustle label boss. It hit No. 3 on the Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop airplay chart and No. 10 on Rap Digital Songs, and has sold 691,000 downloads.?
“I had some people tell me ‘[We] Still in This Bitch’ wasn’t a hit, and it was. I had to go through this phase of people saying, ‘Oh, Bob is our little brother and we don’t want to see him get into this life.’ But I’m from Decatur, Ga. That ratchet side is always going to be there.?
“I will never be a slave to people’s opinions,” he continues. “I was prepared for all of the ‘Nothin’ on You’ and ‘Airplane’ fans to not get with the club material. But there are other fans who didn’t even rock with me until the club stuff came out. So, it’s a different audience.”
?The new ears that “We Still in This Bitch” attracted prompted the label to include it on “Underground Luxury.” It’s made-for-hip-hop-radio sound is mirrored on singles “HeadBand” (featuring 2 Chainz) and “Ready” (featuring Future), which arrived earlier this year accompanied by videos. But Atlantic VP of marketing Dionnee Harper says “Underground Luxury” will still resonate with pop audiences, citing the melodic, downtempo new single “All I Want,” released in early November, and “Wide Open,” a frisky, tongue-in-cheek standout featuring hit songwriter Ester Dean.
?“There are going to be some surprises for those who are assuming the entire album is urban- or Atlanta-based,” Harper says.?
“Anyone who’s been a true fan of B.o.B and has followed him from the beginning is not going to think differently [of ‘Underground Luxury’],” adds Brian “B. Rich” Richardson, B.o.B’s co-manager and A&R rep at Grand Hustle. “When you hear the songs he produced, you’re going to have an immediate connection.”?
All four singles are available as instant-gratification tracks when pre-ordering the album on iTunes; 90-second previews of all album songs will soon be available through the digital retailer, says Harper, who has planned album-listening events in collaboration with Rémy Martin, streetwear brand Downtown Locker Room and FYE. There’s also been an emphasis on college audiences, with listening and media events held at various colleges and universities.
?“They’re purely dedicated to the students and the college media,” Harper says. “[College students] are a key fan component, and it’s fans in that age bracket who we are targeting with the album.”
?A tour is planned, and B.o.B recently shot a video for “All I Want” in New York. In concert, the rapper hopes fans will take the same approach to his material that he took in the studio. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a pop or ratchet song—if it feels good to me, then that’s all that matters.”