Album: Strange Clouds
Very few artists can say they’ve walked the narrow path of superstardom and the underworld without being unscathed. And in a xenophobic genre, that’s slowly turning into a moving-wall death trap for eclectic artists who’d like to branch outside their rap locality, even fewer artists make it out alive. Although this is the story of a countless number of artists, B.o.B has been fortunate enough to escape the inferno that many of his counterparts have been cast into by cantankerous purists.
Even with shots thrown at B.o.B’s credibility as a rapper (think Tyler the Creator’s “Yonkers”) and a belief that his debut was overly commercialized despite its success, the criticism hasn’t put much of a damper on B.o.B.’s career. Indeed, this go around Bobby Ray has went on to even greater fanfare with the release of four phenomenal singles (two of which became chart-toppers) to the delight of his audience. Hoping to appease those who lost faith in the “Lost Generations” rapper, B.o.B offers to re-bridge the gap between the faithless and himself, as well as debunk any suspicion that he’ll offer anything less than Bobby Ray with his sophomore album. One could only hope he lives up to his promise.
On Strange Clouds, B.o.B sticks to the formula that he used on his previous album; high-profile celebrities that span different genres, polyphonic, genre-crossing instrumentations, and an atypical style of delivery that he’s known for. Although he still isn’t quite as amorphous as he likes to believe, B.o.B has matured his sound and lyricism exponentially. Indeed, B.o.B. has shown skyward improvement lyrically, and wastes no time showing off his lyrical chops with his intro track “Bombs Away,” which low key, could be acronymous for back on my bullsh*t, which he clearly he is. Those who are unconvinced that B.o.B is a rap gladiator may succumb to his live wire flow on “Arena” featuring Grand Hustle general T.I. and “Play for Keeps.” On the latter, you can find B.o.B “astro-turfin’” while throwing darts at effeminate gangster rappers with lyrics like, “Now-a-days n***** are killers on the beats, but where I was raised, killers were down the street.” Although annoyed with the growing number of pussy-footed rappers, he asserts that the surviving class of rap elites will take charge with lyrics like, “what’s up with these nerds, they be out here getting their salad tossed, getting their leaves turned, the game just ain’t what it used to be, the quality is blurred, but a dying breed survives, and a dynasty emerge.” Of course, album standouts also include lead singles “So Good,” the carefree, feel good song that’s strangely reminiscent of Lupe Fiasco’s “Tokyo, Paris,” and “Strange Clouds” featuring YMCMB boss Lil Wayne. Although the latter contains a pretty forgettable verse from Weezy, B.o.B takes charge and shots at haters with hilarious, but equally venomous one liners like, “these n*ggas wake up on my d*ck, at least have some breakfast first.”
B.o.B is definitely no stranger to A-list camaraderie, for he brings out a caravan of industry heavyweights for his supporting cast. Although there are a few missed hits (and I’ll touch on those later), a majority of the cameos featured play their supporting roles brilliantly. For example, the record “Out of My Mind” has Bobby and Nicki Minaj going completely bonkers over a frenzied instrumental. Those who might’ve been slightly squeamish over hearing that B.o.B would collab with pop-country idol Taylor Swfit, may be pleasantly surprised that “Both of Us” is a fairly decent track. The most memorable collaboration, however, is on “Chandelier.” On this record, the star of the show isn’t B.o.B but a little known songbird, Lauriana Mae (who’ll surely become an overnight success once this song is heard) who practically ethers B.o.B. with her show-stealing hook. Not that B.o.B came half-a$$, it’s just that Lauriana was hauling over it, so greatly you wish B.o.B’s verses could’ve been nearly as memorable as her chorus was.
While there aren’t any pivotal low points to this album, there a few missteps that could’ve been avoided had he reserved some of the more disposable tracks for a mixtape or bonus material. The single “Ray Bands,” for example, is one the least promising cuts on the album. In contrast to the rest of the album it’s the most simplistic due to its Lex Luger-esque production, witless lyricism that revolves around the same hackneyed story of hoes chasing dough, and a god-awful chorus that’s reminiscent of Waka Flaka’s turret-like chants. “Circles,” which will undoubtedly having you running them after listening, suffers because of a cheesy hook and forgettable verses about a young woman B.o.B has gone gaga for. “Castles” featuring Trey Songz packs a positive message, but the overly vivacious, borderline corny, instrumental becomes distracting despite B.o.B’s decent wordplay.
Nevertheless, Strange Clouds is hell of a lot better than his debut. Considering the context of the seminal closing track “Where are You (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray),” it’s hard to say whether this is a leap forward for Bobby, a leap backwards, or both. Personally, I chose the latter. This is not a subterranean cult classic for the purist-crazed backpackers nor an over-saturated, pop-centric album to appease the A.D.H.D population. Instead, it’s a medium and hybrid of both, and this time, Bobby has culminated his album into a perfect, paradoxical paradigm that few artist could have ever achieved. I guess you could say Strange Clouds is pre-evolution at its zenith, and with B.o.B back on his bullsh*t, you can expect Bobby Ray to be “astro-turfin” for years to come.