B.o.B. has to be one of the most interesting specimens in Hip-Hop. Entering the game with conscious lyrics and unique vibes, the ATLien soared to new heights last year with explosive mainstream success off his debut album- which showed an array of sides to the rapper. With this taken into consideration, fans know to expect an eclectic sound and something outside of the box on his sophomore LP, Strange Clouds. The question is, how strange will this be?
The intro, “Bombs Away” features actor Morgan Freeman for dialogue on the track. The first piece of strange is encountered, though the feature goes well with the cinematic production that Bobby Ray utilizes to flex his straight rap skills (“I am in drive, y’all are in park/ Look at my shot, look at the arc/ Look at the crowd as soon as I start”). Each song takes on its own personality, and makes for an adventurous ride. “Ray Bands” sounds like a T.I. influenced, but ultimately B.o.B.-stamped, boastful track.
Tip makes an actual appearance on “Arena” alongside Chris Brown, and B.o.B. shows some of his best lines (“Flow dumb, but I’m so smart/ I compose art, call me Mozart”). Standout “So Good” is where B.o.B. sounds the most comfortable; with ambitious production, catchy chorus work, and no features. The entire album is filled with big name artists that can cramp B.o.B’s style at times, and this sounds like he’s stretching out his musical arms for a breath of fresh air.
The guest appearances cover a great distance, from Nicki Minaj letting her wild cadence loose on the equally unstable and fluctuating “Out of My Mind”, to OneRepublic front man Ryan Tedder’s involvement on the tranquil “Never Let You Go”. However, the biggest features come on the album’s two biggest singles. “Both of Us” features Taylor Swift; and while Hip-Hop fans may fight the urge to hate inside of them, fans of “Nothin’ on You” and “Airplanes” may have found a song to fill a void these left. In contrast, Lil’ Wayne has a verse on the jamming title track, “Strange Clouds”. Showcasing heavy, distorted bass thumps, both Southern rappers display their excellent wordplay (“I’m top chef/ you Top Ramon/ I’m top shelf…”).
The album’s two singles are polar opposites of each other in sound, but stand right next to each other on the track-listing; which speaks greatly to what B.o.B. is as an artist. He swings for the fences on every song, making the listen incredibly fun. Because he spans such a great length of sounds, there are sure to be a few not to your liking, as well as many aimed right towards it. B.o.B. has nearly mastered the crossover record in Hip-Hop, like music’s Allen Iverson. But if he was an NBA player, Bobby Ray would more accurately be Dirk Nowitzki – a player doing what he’s not supposed to be doing at his position. He dares genre boundaries to guard him.