I saw this one coming months back… B.o.B.’s debut has been hyped and talked up so much in the run up to its release that it comes as no surprise that the final product is underwhelming.
The Adventures of Bobby Ray is overrun with guest collaborations and only four of the twelve tracks see Bobby Ray Simmons on his own. B.o.B. sticks his fingers in many musical pies, the best of these being the indie-poptastic “Magic”, which features Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, and “The Kids” featuring Janelle Monáe is lyrically the strongest and has a really cool, authentic vibe and a good groove. The backbone of “The Kids” is borrowed from a sample of the Vampire Weekend song and for this to be the strongest moment of the album really sums up it up – this entire record is propped up by the work of other artists.
The first track “Don’t Let Me Fall” should really have been stuck at the end, and its pleas for the listeners to “relate to this” are completely lost on me. B.o.B. is doing nothing fresh here – on the plus side, nothing gets close to being gangster rap, but there are plenty of other tired cliches from the rap genre, especially the whole ‘rags to riches’ tale. I’m completely the wrong audience for all the talk of fame, the bling-bling and the self-proclaiming greatness while putting down others – one Kanye West is enough, thank you. Oh, at the other end of the scale, when Simmons goes all sentimental and lovey-dovey with “Lovelier Than You” it is simply cringe inducing.
I just don’t believe any of it, and much of the lyrics seem lightweight and even out of date (there’s a David Blaine reference in there… didn’t the world stop paying attention to him 10 years ago?). OK, don’t get me wrong, there are some good songs, but, I reiterate, these moments are with the support of other artists. The two versions of “Airplanes” are both good, but the latter, the final track with both Paramore’s Hayley Williams and Eminem, was the real eye-opener for me – Eminem sounds more authentic and pissed-off than Simmons ever is. Eminem still sounds raw, like a chained rottweiler as he spits out lines with such rabid intensity, whereas in comparison Simmons seems as tame as a coiffed and manicured poodle.
This album seems destined to go to number one in the charts in its opening week here in North America, and of course, in those terms B.o.B. can rest very happy on his laurels and has perhaps already placed a down-payment on some big obnoxious car. But while Bobby Ray is enjoying his Benjamins and maybe the odd Bentley, I’d encourage anyone alarmed by my shoulder-shrugging dismissal of The Adventures of Bobby Ray to go seek out something with a bit more rhyme and reason; from Canada’s underground hip-hop scene I’d suggest Chokeules, who’s solo debut Hypergraphia is easily more creative and ‘real’ than any of this. Or for something more mainstream (and pure bonkers) seek out London’s Dizzee Rascal, while to my mind Marshall Mathers still holds the throne for the heavier stuff, with a combination of lyrical nous and pure intent that remains unmatched.
Bobby Ray Simmons has been hyped as the new face of rap but with this debut, and all its collaborations, he might well have sold-out before he even had the chance to make his own identity as an artist.
© Brian Banks, Music Vice