I adamantly believe that B.o.B has two pop-rap classics under his belt with the one-two punch of “Nothin’ On You” and “Airplanes”. The latter of which peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the former reached number 1 in numerous countries worldwide. A year prior to this, in 2009, B.o.B was featured on the 2009 XXL Freshman List with then newcomers such as Kid Cudi and Wale. A year later, at the start of 2010, he was 9th on MTV’s (then) prestigious ‘Hottest MCs in the Game’ list. His buzz was so immense he opened for Eminem and Jay Z for their ‘The Home & Home Tour’. By the end of the year his debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray hit 2x Platinum and B.o.B became one of the biggest rookies in rap. His career had nowhere to go but up. So how did he go from having so much potential, to receiving little to no fanfare when his “final” album NAGA came out this month?
What ever happened to B.o.B, he once was my favourite
I swear to God that I had all of his mixtapes on my playlist
He was hood, but so different at the same time
It was like a breath of fresh air, every time he rhymed
And everybody was on him and the world fell in love
The girls, the money, the lifestyle, all the above
I guess he’s stopped giving a fuck for all of his little people
– B.o.B “Where Are You? (B.o.B vs Bobby Ray)”
He claimed that his personality on the mic is split into two personalities – B.o.B and Bobby Ray. Bobby Ray the “rock star” dabbled in pop-rap, where his charm and unassuming voice lent to his universal appeal with his light yet surprisingly memorable songwriting. This side of him turned him into the international pop-star that he is today. On the other hand, B.o.B the “rapper” embraces the drug-filled women-loving lifestyle of the stereotypical street rapper. The side that gave him the credibility needed to be seen as a legitimate talent as he rose to fame. The start of his mainstream career became a tightrope act between the two and he did it rather amicably.
However, one facet of him stood out like a sore thumb and that was his lesser known third personality, the conspiracy theorist.
Having anti-establishment views isn’t exactly a new trend within the music scene, let alone the rap industry, just look at Lupe Fiasco or Immortal Technique. Still, B.o.B took it a tad bit too far. His early music championed free speech and unrestricted thinking, adamant that bigger forces were out to get him and silence his opinions. Seeing himself as a solitary leader that had to rally people to his cause, his message was clear and surprisingly potent (at the time).
Sayin’ every rapper is in the freemasons
While the cops giving out free mace to your face
Now how do that taste? I’m outta my mind
These videos tellin’ y’all lies, bruh
Tellin’ y’all we holding evil hand-signs, bruh
Last time I checked I’m from the Eastside, bruh
So do your research and make your own mind up
’Cause us musicians have influence on this mic
But they don’t like that, so they conquer and divide
– B.o.B “The Watchers” (2010)
His mainstream breakout saw him reigning in this commercially unfriendly side of his, and it worked to his benefit as he reveled in the type of success that even veteran rappers would wish for. Unfortunately, he suffered from the sophomore slump with his 2nd studio album – Strange Clouds. Despite doubling down on the pop-rap aesthetic, it sold only half the total copies that Bobby Ray did and none of the songs had the success of its predecessors (even with the only Taylor Swift-featuring rap song in history). It still did great numbers but probably not as well as B.o.B himself might have hoped.
So, maybe he saw this as a sign to switch up his style as he embraced his “rapper” side on his 3rd album – Underground Luxury, which was a lackluster and essentially forgettable project that sold abysmally, debuting only at no. 22 on the Billboard 200 (the previous two both reached no. 1). His career was rolling downhill and he knew it. And since both B.o.B and Bobby Ray failed him, there was one last route left for him to reestablish himself. And he went all out.
Flat-earthers were always ridiculed by the public but it wasn’t till this song became a viral hit that they truly became the de-facto laughing stock of our modern society. A diss song aimed at Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an absurd concept that sounds like something straight out of a South Park episode, but this was all too real. Then came a response track by Tyson’s nephew called “Flat to Fact” and we were introduced to one of the weirdest and pathetic (though admittedly amusing) rap beefs this decade. Still, B.o.B gained the notoriety he probably wished for. Headline after headline, everyone had their eyes on him. He had achieved levels of attention that he hadn’t had since his debut album.
And he followed it up with music that was the equivalent to a wet fart.
His subsequent studio albums ELEMENTS, Ether, The Upside Down and recently Naga, were all absolute messes that saw him unleashing the most inane of conspiracy theories, from celebrity cloning to holocaust denial. It shifted public perception of him being a rapper that courted controversy for publicity to a man that is clearly mentally unsound and believed every word that he spewed. Even though it’s depressing to admit, artists are still able to sustain a career in spite of their controversial beliefs that alienate their fanbase, just look at Kanye. But musically, B.o.B doesn’t hold a candle to Kanye.
Ultimately, artists just need to back their views up with good music. It’s what they built their platform on and what their fans return to. You don’t go to a clothing shop for the owner’s exquisite taste in background music. Kanye and Morrissey run their mouths at an increasingly alarming rate but their fans tolerate them because they show their genius through their music and not their Twitter. Though musically B.o.B might not be capable of the same level of genius, he needs to learn that having distinct opinions from the rest of society does not make him one.
Independent thought does not equate to being socially conscious. It is acceptable to be wrong about things that other people are better versed in. They’re called professionals for a reason. It isn’t “woke” when you end up making a fool of yourself while at the same time digging a deeper hole for yourself.
Given the trajectory of his music, both content and style-wise, B.o.B has effectively buried himself alive. It’ll take a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy kind of comeback to resurrect it and if he does, maybe I’d be willing to be a flat-earther for an hour before resuming to clown him again.