I think we’ve finally come to the point where mainstream hip-hop has become so insufferable that fans are willing to anoint anyone who goes even slightly off the beaten path as the next big thing. Atlanta rapper/singer/instrumentalist B.O.B. is the latest recipient of those next big thing conversations, and while his debut effort “The Adventures of Bobby Ray”, doesn’t totally live up to the hype, it’s certainly the most noteworthy hip-hop album of 2010 so far, and rivals last year’s efforts from Wale and Kid Cudi when it comes to worthwhile rap debuts.
Actually, calling “Adventures” strictly a rap album is a bit of a stretch. Sure, B.O.B. raps, but he also sings and plays instruments. He does all of those things capably, although he’s no Lauryn Hill, whose “Miseducation” is still the benchmark for hip-hop hybrid albums. Folks have compared his rapping style to fellow ATLien Andre 3000, and I’ve gotta say, comparing B.O.B. to Dre is like comparing Justin Timberlake to Michael Jackson. There are similarities, sure. But Andre is one of the 20 or so best emcees in history. B.O.B., while talented, is maybe just a step or two ahead of Kanye West in terms of rhyme skill.
Nevertheless, this is not a dog-out at all. Like I said, I enjoyed “Adventures” immensely. Possibly the most striking thing about the album is the alternative rock influence. Not many new artists would be able to pull in the likes of Rivers Cuomo (on the bouncy “Magic”) or Paramore’s Hayley Williams (on the hit single “Airplanes”) for cameos. Not many hip-hoppers would sample Vampire Weekend (“The Kids” samples the indie-pop favorites’ “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”) and turn the song into a socially conscious jam. There’s also the summery hit single “Nothin’ on You”, the arena rock-ready “Ghost in the Machine”, and stellar hip-hop cameos from B.O.B.’s label benefactor T.I. (on the otherwise unlistenable “Bet I”) and a recharged Eminem (who delivers a stunning verse on the album-closing remix of “Airplanes”). B.O.B’s a talented dude who apparently brings out the best in his collaborators, as well.
Thanks to guys like B.O.B., there’s the sense that one-note gangsta rap has diminished in popularity, and things like intelligence and musical exploration are back in. While this may not immediately pay off at the cash register (B.O.B.’s #1 debut notwithstanding), it bodes well for the creative future of a genre that had been running on fumes for a minute. While B.O.B’s definitely not a savior of rap, “The Adventures of Bobby Ray” is a solid piece of work that should appeal to fans of many different genres. Something tells me that this guy has an even better album in his not-too-distant future.
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