For some reason unbeknownst to me, B.o.B is facing a partial uphill battle prior to the release of his new record Strange Clouds. When he first emerged several years ago with his debut major-label record The Adventures Of Bobby Ray, it seemed like he would be the new “it” rapper. Following two major hit singles and a role on Jessie J‘s anthem Price Tag, the ball was in his court. Is it still?
Strange Clouds, his second record, opens with a spoken verse from none-other-than Morgan Freeman on the track Bombs Away. So considering B.o.B didn’t become a household name in 2010, he still made some pretty significant connections when it came time to record his follow-up album. Morgan isn’t the most surprising guest on this album that also contains appearances from Lil’Wayne, Ryan Tedder and Nicki Minaj, among others. The most surprising is country superstar Taylor Swift. No matter your opinion on the forever-a-teen Swift, she’s amazing at making unexpected connections without losing any of her country audience. Both Of Us is the standard rap/sung collaboration where Taylor volunteers her voice for the chorus while B.o.B provides the rap verses. The beat is gentle enough that Taylor doesn’t sound out of place at all but still has the oomph that would be expected for this type of song. It’s worth checking out, even if just for the curiosity factor but oddly, it’s not bad at all.
Another notable aspect of many of B.o.B’s tracks is the presence of real instruments. While having a piano or guitar in songs by rappers isn’t a terribly rare thing, having such an organic sound without an immediate beat kick off a song seems to be. Several tracks on Strange Clouds start off with a piano lead-off or guitar, such as the Ryan Tedder produced Never Let You Go. Perhaps it’s this quality that makes Strange Clouds stand apart from the electro-influenced sound of the rest of the genre these days, even if there are some songs that would fit in, such as Out Of My Mind with Nicki Minaj.
If there’s any song on this record that can emulate the success of Airplanes, it’s the aforementioned Never Let You Go. Nevermind that it not only features Ryan Tedder on the chorus, but also on the writing and the production as well. It’s one of those instantaneously catchy songs with a super-friendly beat and sonically pleasing melody, even if the song itself isn’t that impressive, it was clearly made to be the hit single. The better collaboration comes just a track latter on Chandelier with Lauriana Mae, a singer with smokey cabaret vocals that I’m sure we will hear from before the end of the year. Her role on this song provides enough of an indication of that.
Strange Clouds is a solid followup effort for B.o.B but overall, it feels underwhelming. The record isn’t a misstep in any way for him but it’s not the epic collection of songs that will push him further up the ladder. If anything, it should maintain his place in pop and rap for another short while until he delivers something unexpectedly outstanding or fades away into obscurity.
1. Bombs Away [featuring Morgan Freeman]
2. Ray Bands
3. So Hard To Breathe
4. Both Of Us [featuring Taylor Swift]
5. Strange Clouds [featuring Lil’Wayne]
6. So Good
7. Play For Keeps
8. Arena [featuring Chris Brown and T.I.]
9. Out Of My Mind [featuring Nicki Minaj]
10. Never Let You Go [featuring Ryan Tedder]
11. Chandelier [featuring Lauriana Mae]
13. Just A Sign [featuring Playboy Tré]
14. Castles [featuring Trey Songz]
15. Where Are You (B.o.B Vs. Bobby Ray)