B.o.B just wants to fly. The 21-year-old Decatur, Georgia native has spent much of his young career writing songs dealing with his desire to be above the clouds. Spanning six mixtapes, several EPs and three years, tracks like “Cloud 9,” “I’ll Be In The Sky,” “On Top Of The World,” and “Satellite” offered a glimpse into the imagination of a lanky rapper who was wise and talented beyond his years.
Years in the making, B.o.B presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray continues this trend. The singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist offers a tormented look into the quarter-life crisis, but unlike his left-field contemporaries like Kid Cudi, he doesn’t wallow. Instead, the music remains hopeful.
“Airplanes” is an autobiographical look into the life of Bobby Ray Simmons. Backed by a somber piano ballad paired with rolling military drums, guest vocalist Hayley Williams of punk band Paramore sings “Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars? I could really use a wish right now.” The song’s sequel explores the “what ifs” of life, and pairs B.o.B with Eminem, who delivers his best verse in years.
Bobby’s Adventures aren’t always so introspective, though. He lets loose on “Bet I,” a trunk-rattling Atlanta southern anthem, complete with braggadocio verses from T.I and Playboy Tre. And, as if to show how diverse his musical influences are, B.o.B pairs with Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo for the synth-pop “Magic,” which wouldn’t be out of place on a Disney Channel show.
Almost everything about The Adventures eschews hip-hop norms: B.o.B rarely curses, songs are honest and relatable, and musically, live instruments trump programmed beats and samples. First single “Nothin’ On You,” with Hawaii-based singer Bruno Mars, is a perfect example: A warm electric piano accompanies Bobby as he reassures a lover that he WON’T cheat on her.
But B.o.B shines most on the songs that he produced himself. “Past My Shades” finds him and labelmate Lupe Fiasco chastising critics for judging them without knowing them personally, over a backdrop of Rhodes piano and blaring electric guitars. The haunting “Ghost In The Machine” is an angst-filled, experimental rock number that is more Radiohead than hip-hop.
Two-year-old “Lovelier Than You” also made the cut. One of the best love songs ever written by a hip-hop act, Bobby sings “If I could rewind both the hands of time, still I would never find a lovelier design… than you” while playing an almost Country Western acoustic guitar melody.
Nothing tops the album-opening “Don’t Let Me Fall,” though. The song builds and deconstructs itself with a classical piano melody, heavy metal guitar riffing and southern hip-hop drums, all of which B.o.B played himself. Continuing the motif of flying, he fears his own ascent, singing “what goes up, must come down, but don’t let me fall.” He has nothing to worry about, though. With The Adventures of Bobby Ray, he’s already soaring beyond most modern music-makers.