Let me just start by saying that I’ve been a fan of B.o.B since well before his debut album. I was supporting the Atlanta-born rapper back when he was working the mixtape scene and making quite the name for himself. When April 2010 came along and brought with it Bobby Ray’s debut disc The Adventures of Bobby Ray, everything changed.
Fast forward a few and a couple mixtapes later and we now have B.o.B’s sophomore effort, Strange Clouds. Anticipation is high for the album and after listening to non-stop for a few days now, I’m here to tell you how it is.
As good as B.o.B’s debut album was, it did receive some backlash from fans who were upset about the more mainstream direction that the talented young rapper had taken. Some even went as far as to call him a sellout for moving more towards pop and dismissing his rap roots. No doubt he still had that energetic flow but by producing songs like Airplanes and staging odd collaborations (Rivers Cuomo anyone?), many of his original fans gave up on him.
Admittedly, Strange Clouds is similar in that way, it’s definitely more mainstream and a far cry from his mixtapes but does that mean it’s no good? Well, it depends.
B.o.B has come a long way from being named an XXL freshmen-class pick. He was one of the most respected rappers on the mixtape scene when he first broke out but his image and career trajectory has changed in recent years. The Adventures of Bobby Ray showed a different side of the rapper and thus, he received backlash. And it’s this very backlash that he addresses on Strange Clouds. As we hear the rapper dismiss his haters, it’s hard not to be reminded of Mr. Kanye West doing the same thing during his Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Strange Clouds is not going to change your mind if you hated The Adventures Of Bobby Ray. Yes, there are songs that have Bobby Ray going back to his roots and when that happens, those oh so sweet mixtape memories come back. But then you come across fluffy songs like the Taylor Swift collaboration, which is just pure Top 40 filler. That being said, fluff is catchy and songs like Both Of Us and a couple others, namely So Good, will undoubtedly achieve huge success.
In all fairness, most rappers have been taking the same route that B.o.B has. Nicki Minaj did the same their with her last album. It was a mix of pop-y chart climbers and some more hardcore rhyme focused tracks. People need to understand that to succeed in the music industry and achieve bonafide fame, artists do have to sell out to a certain extent. I’m not saying I support it but I do understand it.
So, where does that leave Strange Clouds? Well, it’s pretty similar in structure and nature to The Adventures of Bobby Ray.
Like its predecessor, Strange Clouds is full of interesting collaborations. The Young Money crew comes in (Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne) on Out Of My Mind and Strange Clouds (the title track), respectively, but neither make much of an impact. Strange Clouds is a good song but Weezy doesn’t add much to it and Out Of My Mind is just way too over-produced and far too weird for my liking. There’s also collaborations with artists like Trey Songz, Ryan Tedder, Chris Brown and even, Morgan Freeman, who lends some awesome narration to the first track Bombs Away.
I mentioned fluff before and there’s certainly a lot of it to be found on Strange Clouds. Castles is the biggest culprit. It’s essentially the new Airplanes and it will infuriate “mixtape B.o.B” fans to no end. It’s a sell-out track but it will have no trouble climbing the charts.
Circles is also a bit of a ridiculous song that couldn’t be further away from what made B.o.B so popular when he started releasing mixtapes. It’s so pop-y that it will sicken those who hate the rapper’s ventures into the dark side of music.
And then of course there’s Both Of Us, the Taylor Swift collaboration. It feels terribly out of place and would be better suited on the female country singer’s album as the focal point of the song is her hook.
Fluff aside, there are also a few tracks that just completely miss the mark. Ray Bands is an odd track that never really finds its rhythm. Although, it does announce that the rapper’s next album will venture into the genre of rock. There’s also the aforementioned Out Of My Head which is just an absolute mess.
All that being said, the album isn’t all bad and there is a small chunk of really good material.
So Hard To Breathe is a beautiful and sincere track that is very well produced. Here, B.o.B is at his most introspective and the well written song is full of angst as the rapper reflects on his path to success. Following along similar lines is Where Are You (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray), another honest and self-reflecting track that has some great lyrics and feels very personal and raw.
For those looking for strong verses, check out Arena. Featuring two prominent artists (T.I. and Chris Brown), the song has Bobby Ray reflecting on his journey from streets to sold out arenas.
That’s not the only place to find strong rap though, Play For Keeps is an excellent track for “mixtape B.o.B” fans and it reinforces the rapper’s talents on the mic. The album’s opener, Bombs Away, also features some great bars along with an awesome narration from legendary actor Morgan Freeman.
Overall, Strange Clouds isn’t a bad album but there’s not enough of the true B.o.B on it. It feels more destined for the charts than The Adventures Of Bobby Ray did. Truthfully, I don’t mind when B.o.B goes pop-y but that being said, I do have a point where it’s just enough.
His debut album did have a fair amount of pop but there was still enough of the energetic flow that B.o.B is known for to make up for it. Sure, we had chart climbers like Airplanes and Nothin On You but those songs were at least respectable pop songs and they were for the most part, well produced. Tracks like Circles and Both Of Us are just shameful and so blatantly obvious in their objective that it’s hard to listen to them.
Standout tracks on the album like Bombs Away and So Hard To Breathe make up somewhat for the selling out of Bobby Ray but ultimately, it’s not enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I love B.o.B and whether it’s pop or rap, I do tend to enjoy most of his stuff. But some of the stuff here is just too much for my liking and it seems like as times goes on, the rapper moves further and further away from his roots. While I do understand the need to produce radio friendly material, you can’t forget your roots and what made you famous.
Mixtapes like Cloud 9, Hi! My Name is B.o.B and B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray did tremendous things for the artist and it’s a shame that he’s starting to forget that. At times it’s hard to remember that this is the same Bobby Ray who once rapped on Generation Lost about this very issue.
“Honestly I don’t even listen to rap/Cause when I turn on the radio out comes crap/And if you make good music that’s okay/But on the radio that they don’t play/”
Strange Clouds may achieve commercial success and find itself being played frequently on all the major radio stations but fans like myself will continue to wait for the rapper’s next mixtape.