When Nas announced that hip hop was dead back in 2006 it was hard to disagree with him. Mainstream hip hop had undoubtedly become stale, a sad parody of its former glory. Ringtone rappers dominated the scene, the most successful being the infamous Soulja Boi, while clever lyrics and wordplay seemed to be a thing of the past.
It was difficult to see who could come and change the state of the game. Jay-Z had yet to emerge from his ‘retirement’, Eminem was in rehab, Outkast were a distant memory, even Nas himself had never come close to equalling the magic of his classic debut album.
Fast forward to 2010 and hip hop is again alive and well. The new school of rappers gave it a shot of adrenaline by doing two things. The first was by rapping about something other than ‘money, cars, clothes and hoes’, extending the subject matter and lyrical content to topics that people can actually relate to.
The second way was embracing aspects of other genres as diverse as rock, dance and soul. Drake, Kid Cudi and Wale are leading the wave of artists influenced by sounds that have never been heard in hip hop before.
No rapper embodies the recent trend of expanding the art form’s horizons more than the Atlanta born B.o.B. In fact, calling him just a rapper does him a disservice. As well as being a hugely gifted rapper he also sings, makes beats and plays the guitar and piano. He is a musician.
There were very high hopes for B.o.B’s debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, after several great mixtapes and the phenomenal success of the first single, Nothin’ On You, which sold over a million copies in the US. In the days leading up to the album’s release B.o.B occupied three spots on the iTunes Top Ten, showing how desperate fans were to hear new music from him.
It doesn’t disappoint, the overall quality from start to finish is astonishing. Managing to create a superb, cohesive album is even more impressive when you consider the diversity of sounds. B.o.B collabarates with some of the best rappers around (Lupe Fiasco,T.I. and Eminem) as well as some typically unorthodox choices (Paramore, Weezer and sampling Vampire Weekend). For the most part, it comes together seamlessly, the different styles blending into a feast for your eardrums.
The album opener, Don’t Let Me Fall, starts with a nice piano melody, then the electric guitar kicks in and it slowly builds in pace and intensity until your mind explodes. Lovelier than You is a charming ballad and Nothin’ On You is the perfect summer jam. Despite all the genre-bending and experimentation, even the most hardcore of hip hop heads will be impressed as B.o.B showcases his ridiculous flow over some banging beats on Bet I and Fame.
Not everything works so well. Magic, featuring River Cuomo of Weezer, strays so far into pop territory it sounds like it belongs on a Justin Bieber album. The languid Ghost in the Machine is intriguing at first but just becomes bland after repeat listens.
The standout song is Airplanes Part 2, which is about the obstacles he had to overcome to get to where he is now. It also features Eminem and Hayley Williams from Paramore sings the great hook. Eminem has made a habit of working with other artists and destroying them on their own song. Just ask Jay-Z, Drake or Lil Wayne. Here he delivers yet another monumental verse and like many before him, B.o.B is outshined by Marshall Mathers. It serves as a reminder that Bobby Ray is ultimately still a rookie, despite the accomplished debut album he has put together.
Right now is one of the most exciting periods in hip-hop history as sounds from different genres collide and take it to places it’s never been before, opening the doors to a whole new audience. B.o.B is at the forefront of this movement and judging by his first album, he’s going to have an incredible career. His adventure is only just beginning.