- Strange Clouds by B.o.B Label: Grand Hustle / Rebel Rock / Atlantic Release Date: May 1st 2012
If there’s anything that I give to B.o.B, is that’s he has managed to find the perfect balance between hip-hop and pop music. A perfect mesh of keeping it lyrical, while at the same time finding a way to give a song Top 40, mainstream appeal. Rather than drown out and cheapen his lyrics with the current trend of synths and dubstep drops that artists are currently clamoring for, he keeps it simple – and it absolutely works. B.o.B Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray was an amazing debut out the gate, really personifying the artist he was, and essentially introducing himself to the world with hits like “Nothin On You” and “Airplanes”, and while most artists feel the ferocious wrath of the sophomore slump – B.o.B meets the challenge head on, and crafts quite possibly an early runner for Album Of The Year.
B.o.B opens up the album in epic fashion, the track “Bombs Away” pits B.o.B in a battle against naysayers, and urges people to follow their own path. And who does he have in his helm narrating the battle filled with some of the best lyrical imagery, Morgan Freeman. Just a feature by Morgan Freeman, the voice – the voice of GOD (in Bruce Almighty), is just a powerful statement and opens up the album in a powerful way.
The next few tracks continue to showcase the skilled, yet diverse moveset of Bobby Ray with the club banger “Ray Bands”, the introspective, powerful, electric guitar-heavy drum charged, “So Hard To Breathe”, and then “Both Of Us” featuring Taylor Swift. While the genre meshing of the latter could easily be compared to his major hit, “Airplanes” featuring Hayley Williams of Paramore – one cannot ignore the amazing quality that this song boasts. The combination of the soft vocals of Taylor Swift, backed by an acoustic guitar leading into the hip hop heavy beat by B.o.B – you can clearly see that THIS is what hip hop needs. B.o.B pushes the boundaries of the genre, and the result is complete magic – and if I had to pick any song on this album to go the distance, it would be this one.
The tenacious flow of B.o.B returns on the Lil Wayne assisted, “Strange Clouds” – which makes for an exciting number as Lil Wayne provides his nonsensical, yet entertaining bars which doesn’t cheapen the single by any means. While “So Good” proved to be radio friendly, the track overall didn’t sit well with us – falling flat of the quality of B.o.B we approve of, as he trades his tenacious rhymes for his attempt at lavish life raps. “Play For Keeps” continues the trend of lukewarm tracks from B.o.B, and it picks up with the following track “Arena” featuring Chris Brown and T.I. Another single quality track with the powerful, anthem hook by Chris Brown that he has provided on past hits like “Champion” (Chipmunk) or “My Last” (Big Sean). Not a major standout, but not a fail for Bobby Ray either. “Out Of My Mind” featuring Nicki Minaj showcases the full spectrum of the lyrical prowess of B.o.B as well as Nicki Minaj. With Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded turning fans away at the door, Nicki’s verse provides shades of her “Monster” verse – as she comes completely correct on this joint. “Never Let You Go” featuring Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic is another bumping joint boasting the lyrics, “They can’t take my words / It’s all I’ve got / They can have this fame / It ain’t worth a lot / Only Thing I know, is I’ll never let you go.” B.o.B’s first attempt at a love song throughout this entire album, and he knocks it out of the park with another single quality track.
The album continues with the inspirational “Chandelier”, the story of the unattainable beauty in “Circles”, and the Playboy Tre assisted “Just A Sign” – all solid, yet lukewarm tracks at the worst. Trey Songz comes correct with a major hook for “Castles” in the ol’ story about the build from nothing to something. It’s really the classic theme for a track, and Trey Songz adds the exclamation on it – really transitioning from the hood hooks from the earlier parts of his career, to something bigger. It all closes with “Where Are You (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray)” another familiar theme where Bobby Ray tackles the song from the viewpoint of someone who’s been beside him (who would know him as Bobby Ray), and a fan who grew up listening to him (B.o.B) who believes that he’s changed, and finally answering both – concluding that while the new B.o.B is here to stay, a piece of the old him before the fame still lies in the melody.
Strange Clouds doesn’t provide the same fresh feeling that B.o.B Presents The Adventures Of Bobby Ray may have, but it’s an overall step-up from the album in terms of overall quality. Strange Clouds continues to prove that you don’t need to take the easy way out and follow the same sound the world is listening to for success, instead – it takes a bold person to re-invent the wheel and provide something fresh and unique to the table. Strange Clouds shows off the growth of an artist, which is what an album should do – and continues to prove that Bobby Ray’s career will stand the test of time.
Meelz’s Favorites: Bombs Away, Ray Bands, Both Of Us, Strange Clouds, Out Of My Mind, Never Let You Go, Castles, Where Are You (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray)