The spaceship that is B.o.B's debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, is finally ready to crash land on the Billboard charts. And this 21-year-old Atlanta-based rapper/singer/guitarist has a lot to be excited about. His album is loaded with high profile guest spots by everyone from hardcore rappers like Eminem and T.I. to rock singers like Weezer's Rivers Cuomo and Paramore's Hayley Williams. Plus his single, the Bruno Mars-assisted "Nothing On You," is the #1 song in country. Oh, and did we mention that his other single "Airplanes" debuted at #12? When you consider the hits, the co-signs, and the talent, it might seem like B.o.B's ride here was short and sweet.
But like all "overnight sensations," it actually took years of hard work for B.o.B—who gets his namesake from the Outkast song. He burst on to the scene in 2007 backed by Jim Jonsin, whose Rebel Rock imprint he was signed to, with the Cloud Nine mixtape, and a regional hit single called "Haterz Everywhere." However, after being featured on XXL's cover in '08, his single "I'll Be In The Sky" didn't connect, rumors spread that he was retiring, and his album kept getting pushed back. But 2010 has obviously been much kinder to B.o.B, and Complex caught up with hip hop's man of the moment to talk about the success of "Nothing On You," signing with Grand Hustle, and having Justin Bieber as a fan.
LISTEN: Key B.o.B Songs You Should Know...
B.o.B - "Nothing On You" ft. Bruno Mars
B.o.B - "Airplanes" ft. Hayley Williams
B.o.B - "Haterz Everywhere" ft. Rich Boy
B.o.B - "I'll Be In The Sky"
B.o.B - "Generation Lost"
Interview by Insanul "Incilin" Ahmed
Complex: You just had a sold-out show at SOB's. It feels like all eyes are on you right now.
Bobby Ray: Yeah man, definitely. It was a packed house that night. It was crazy. I be saving up all the energy. It's like a breath. Throughout the day I'm inhaling, but when I get on stage I'm exhaling.
Complex: You definitely experienced a lot of setbacks to get to this point. How hard has that been?
Bobby Ray: There's a lot of broken promises. Everything is not always the way that it seems on the outside looking in. And the perception of things is really as an artist, you have to carry over through the cold. When you're going through a hot period, that's all cool. But when you're going through a cold period, that's what makes you great. I feel like when "Haterz" started dying down it was kind of like a cold period. People weren't calling for shows. It was like, "What do you do?" But then after "I'll Be In The Sky," it was so different and weird. It wasn't really a club song but it wasn't really a pop song. I just really had to find my lane in terms of performing. I feel like now everything is coming around and it's on the incline.
Complex: Are you saying "I'll Be In The Sky" was the turning point for you?
Bobby Ray: "I'll Be In The Sky" was the catalyst for the turning point. The turning point was when I didn't feel attached to what I was doing. I felt like I was just another product and I didn't want to be another product. I wanted to something more than that.
Complex: I'm still confused about your label situation. You're signed to Rebel Rock and Atlantic, but then you did a deal with Grand Hustle.
Bobby Ray: The deal with Grand Hustle was something where it was a work in progress since '06, but it didn't come about until 2008. It was like a collaboration and a joint venture that we felt would benefit the movement because the project is so big it takes big space. Even if it's on a minimal level, just the help and the awareness and the support is needed.
Complex: So you felt Grand Hustle would give you the kind of exposure you weren't' getting with Rebel Rock?
Bobby Ray: Yes. I felt like that kept me attached to my roots. Grand Hustle kept me grounded to the urban side of things where my roots are. I started out with "Haterz" and in Atlanta, that's the sound that I learned. Even though I've always been influenced by numerous genres of music, Atlanta is my home. When I come home to Atlanta, it's like yeah. East Side.
Complex: "Nothing On You" is the #1 song in the country. Do you feel it's better than some of your older songs like "Haterz Everywhere" or "I'll Be In The Sky"?
Bobby Ray: I feel like it's more relatable. Because I'm so left field, sometimes the spaceship has to land. I feel like "Nothing On You" is when the spaceship landed and everybody else got to see it like, "That's a nice spacecraft you got there, B.o.B."
Complex: I feel like "Generation Lost" was your best song. On that you said, "If you make good music that's okay, but on the radio that they don't play." But now a year later, the radio is playing your music. How does that feel?
Bobby Ray: It's kind of weird, right? I never really intended on trying to aim for radio. I wasn't like, "I need to make this song for radio." In my world, I'm cool because I know there are fans of music who don't listen to the radio and I'm completely confident in that. So it's kind of a blend of both worlds. But I'm coming to an understanding that people like honest and heartfelt stuff like "Generation Lost," where you just get into how you feel.
Complex: Right, in the last few years, commercially-viable, extremely creative artists like Kanye and Andre 3000 have really opened the door for guys like you, Drake, and Kid Cudi.
Bobby Ray: Yeah, definitely. I feel like artists like Gnarls Barkley are making it more acceptable and understandable so people will be open to it. You know what's funny? Some people will be closed to some music just because of the music. Like West Side, I won't say the name, I know there's a school where they won't listen to a certain type of music just because of a rivalry. I mean like actual high schools and colleges in Atlanta where they won't listen to a certain type of music or artist. It's just kind of saddening that people are holding themselves back.
Complex: Right, as Wayne would say, "Stop being rapper racist."
Bobby Ray: Rapper racism does exist.
Complex: Justin Bieber told us his favorite rap song is "Nothing On You." How does it feel to have fans like Justin Bieber?
Bobby Ray: I actually ran into Justin Bieber. He has got some personality. It definitely shows just how big of an audience the record hit. I think Obama probably knows the song. I'm guessing Obama finally knows my name now. [Laughs.] When I meet Obama, we gonna make sure we get a picture of that handshake.
Complex: Are you into politics, or are you just into Obama because he's Obama?
Bobby Ray: Well, I understand what type of person would do what he does. Regardless of him being the President, when you work on that certain type of level it takes a certain type of person. So there's this mutual respect level.
Complex: One thing about "Nothing On You" is you've got Bruno Mars on it, he's singing the hook. Do you worry that your biggest hit might not have enough B.o.B on it?
Bobby Ray: Nah, not really, because it was really a breath of fresh air that people accepted "Nothing On You" so much. I'm like, "Wow, if they like this, wait until they hear the album where it's a lot more of me on it."
Complex: Speaking of the album, when I look at the tracklist, you've got guys like T.I. and Eminem, but then you got guys like Bruno Mars and Rivers Cuomo. Do you worry the album might have a disjointed feel between hardcore rappers and more left field singers?
Bobby Ray: Nah, not really, because I feel like the way the music flows over the album, it's going to be like a summertime soundtrack. Also, we got bonus tracks on iTunes, and the Best Buy version, and the Target version. There's actually like 17 tracks in total, or 19. But the main 12 are on the album.
Complex: I saw the tracklist, and the production credit list, and Jim Jonsin didn't produce any tracks. Why is that?
Bobby Ray: You never really know, you can't just predict, "Okay this is definitely going to happen" because it's all about the final product. As far as features, I'm not the type of guy who really needs to do features. That's just how the songs ended up being because I like working with people. I just ended up with a lot of features on the album. But I feel like there's enough of me on the album so that people won't miss a beat.
Complex: Your album has a lot of really big pop records. A lot of internet commentators were like, "This guy is trying to be the Black Eyed Peas." Is that something unintentional or something you aspire to be?
Bobby Ray: I feel like because it crosses over to a lot of worlds, certain hip-hop fans be like, "Oh, what's he trying to do?" I think that's just something where people hold themselves back when even if they like something they won't embrace it just because. It's kind of that determining element that keeps something from being accepted until it's done on a wide scale and somebody makes it cool.
Complex: In the past, you've said you listen to Coldplay and Bjork and all these other artists. How much rap do you actually listen to these days?
Bobby Ray: [Laughs.] Unfortunately, not as much as I wish I could. I mean, I check out artists like J. Cole, I check out Lupe, Donnis, and Wiz Khalifa. Because I'm in the hip-hop community, I'm kind of aware of what's going on a certain level. But in the grand scheme of things, it's so much. I'm always trying to find new stuff. Even overseas, I been checking out this artist named Tiny Temple from London. They got this whole Grime scene over there and I think its very interesting because I see a lot of parallels with southern music.
Complex: Do you see yourself working with those kinds of artists or incorporating that sound into your style?
Bobby Ray: Definitely. I feel like in the States we should outreach more to other countries because the way the technology is moving and the lines between genres are starting to blur. I feel like the walls that we have in our minds about other countries is going to start to blur. And then the ego of being an American artist will start to fade away. Honestly man, I feel like it's more so in hip-hop. I don't think it's like that in other genres. I think its just hip-hop because we're so competitive. It's not a bad thing. I love competition. I was actually talking to J. Cole about this. He was like, "I love competition. It's something that's good." It's just about choosing your opponent, even if the opponent is yourself.
Complex: So who do you see as your opponent?
Bobby Ray: I don't feel like I have an opponent. I feel I have a lot of friends. I don't know, I may run into some opponents and some healthy competition. [Laughs .]
Complex: Is Bobby Ray secretly a battle rapper?
Bobby Ray: [Laughs.] It would be interesting, very interesting to see the whole battle rap thing re-emerge in the hip hop community on a large scale.
Complex: I'm wondering what a B.o.B diss song would sound like? A little rapping, a little singing, but it's hardcore?
Bobby Ray: [Laughs.] It's one thing when you're competitively on a record with someone else and it's another thing when your making a diss record. That's when it gets escalated.
Complex: You have songs with Eminem and T.I. How was it competing with them on a track?
Bobby Ray: Well you know, Eminem is a different beast. He's been doing it for so long, he's been here for a minute. So you look at it with a new level. Same from Tip. These are artists I've learned stuff from. But I ain't gonna lie, I'm competitive. I'm definitely gunning as much as I can but in the end of the day, I kind of make myself a student to learn and soak it up. That's how you get better, by learning and soaking it up.
Complex: You were talking about how the hip-hop audience is sometimes afraid to embrace a new style, the left-field style that you come with. Do you care about the respect of the hardcore audience?
Bobby Ray: I appreciate the respect of the hardcore audience. But the intention of making my music wasn't to gain that respect. It's more so to create a change in the music industry.