B.o.B is what we like to call a "young veteran." It's kind of crazy that the rapper born Bobby Ray Simmons is still only 25 years old. That means that he's younger than peers like Drake, J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, Wale, and Kid Cudi, even though he seems to have been around much longer—probably because of his Billboard dominance. In the last three years he's had 15 songs land on the Billboard Hot 100, seven of which landed in the Top 20.
Still, B.o.B is rarely the central figure of the zeitgeist conversation happening on blogs and Twitter. Though he didn't have a Top 40 hit this year, this week the Atlanta rapper just dropped his third album, Underground Luxury. We caught up with B.o.B to talk about how get got the title for his album, how he's working on starting his own label, and his memories of recording on desktop mics.
Interview by Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
How you doing?
I’m doing luxurious.
Right on cue. Your album drops this week, how are you feeling?
Very relaxed. Usually I’m a little more tense. I think I’m just very comfortable in the music. It’s just a liberating project, that’s why I’m in this state.
What was liberating about this project?
I feel like if you didn't know who B.o.B was, you know who he is now on this album. Every aspect of my personality, things that I like, where I came from, what I’ve been through, how I feel on issues, you know where I stand on everything on this project.
You mentioned being comfortable. When I look at a guy like you—and also guys like J. Cole or Wiz Khalifa—I feel like you’re all in this "young veteran" category. You’re all in your 20s but you’re veterans because you have multiple albums, multiple hits. Sort of the new made men of rap stars.
Exactly. You hit it on the head. I like that term. I’ll take that term with me, young veterans.
I was recording in a makeshift studio. Hanging up sheets in the bathroom, taking all my momma 'scomforters and hanging them up. Recording on a desktop mic. I’m talking about the mic you had to plug into the computer when you web chat, that microphone. I’d rap into that, that was underground luxury.
But I think that comes with new challenges as well.
Yeah, it does. But, I feel like the journey is what’s so great about it. The challenge at one point was to put out an album. Then you do that, then that’s not a challenge anymore.
What are the goals now? You're successful already, what's the next milestone to reach?
Now, it's to create offspring. Having a label and an artist on it. I really got to find the right artist to really put my arm around and embrace them fully.
Oh, are you looking to start up your own label?
How far in that process have you gotten?
Now, I’m just getting myself situated. Getting all of my paperwork right. I’m looking, just watching to see what’s out there. Sometimes as an artist, you want to find out about things organically. You know how artist come out with a second song and now you know about them. But, their first song caught your ear. Like the first time you heard Lorde or the first time you heard MGMT.
So you’re looking for that process to happen organically and not forced?
Exactly. And, then I’ll tell the story. We’ll be on the phone again and I’ll be like, “Yeah, man. I was in the club one night, I wasn’t even looking for an artist.”
Interesting that you mentioned Lorde and MGMT. I think the one thing about you that we’ve learned over the years is that there is no box to put you in, you’ve dabbled in all types of music. Are you looking for the next hottest rapper? Or the next hottest band or singer or whatever it may be?
Yeah, I want to sign a band, you know what I’m saying? That would be dope. I just want to do dope shit. It’s not time to get all formulated. Just do what’s dope.
Word. Lets talk about your album a bit. I love the title, Underground Luxury. Where did that come from?
It came from a dinner conversation. Truth be told, I really didn’t understand it as much as I do now. It was just a name, but now it’s a culture, a lifestyle. It’s how I came up. We really didn’t have much, so I had to learn to make the best of what I had and make that luxurious.
When you see all these styles on runway in L.A., New York, Tokyo, and Paris, those styles started in the slums. They started with someone who just had fabric or made their own jacket with their last paycheck. They wanted to go out on the limb and start a clothing line and then it blew up, that’s underground luxury.
Who were you having dinner with?
Well, those select few individuals will remain anonymous. [Laughs.] But, it was me and three other people who I work very close with you can probably guess them.
Was one of them T.I.? [Laughs.]
See, if I mention one person and I leave somebody out they going to be mad I left them out. So, I’m just going to say it was three other people and someone said, “Bob, you like an underground luxury.” It just clicked all around the table. Light bulbs went off. It was like, “You know what? You right.” That’s the name of the album. I sat on it for months and there was no better name.
What was the underground luxury for you growing up?
Man, anything from making clothes to selling snacks and hustling for money. I made my own clothes. I would get a boot, get paint on them. I would put Timberland prints on the pants and on the shirt. I was recording in a makeshift studio. Hanging up sheets in the bathroom, taking all my momma comforters and hanging them up. Recording on a desktop mic. I’m talking about the mic you had to plug into the computer when you web chat, that microphone. I’d rap into that, that was underground luxury.
The great thing about it is longevity is my forte. So, people will grow with me. My reputation, which I don’t really care about by the way, is the music will stand the test of time. 10 years from now you still going to see B.o.B.
What about now? What are some of the luxuries that have been afforded to you?
It’s always funny how I used to not have the money to buy things, but now that I do I get everything for free. I think that’s ironic. That’s the joke that life plays on you.
What kind of stuff you getting for free these days?
You know, man. The medicine man may come through. [Laughs.] Free shirts, free clothes. I can tell you one thing that ain’t going to give away, they ain’t going to never give you no house or car for free.
What do you think about the perception of B.o.B? You’re always on the charts, you’re a big star, you have a big fan base, but I feel like you're not a very talked-about rapper.
The great thing about it is longevity is my forte. So, people will grow with me. My reputation, which I don’t really care about by the way, is the music will stand the test of time. 10 years from now you still going to see B.o.B. and it’s not because of anything else but the fact that the music is the core and essential point of what I’m doing.
When you first came out I think you were a very respected rapper on the mic. Do you feel like you are as respected as an rapper today?
I really don’t know. For me, every time I see somebody or I run into somebody or fan they tell me all good things. They could be just saying that because they in front of me. But, it’s whatever, man. I don’t really trip. I don’t really care what list [I’m on]. If I ain’t on somebody list, then fuck they list.
What are you looking for with this album? Like what is success with this album?
Just for people to know more about B.o.B and who I am. That’s the whole goal. It ain’t about numbers, it ain’t about top charting. It’s about me. So, whoever with it, they going to get with it. If not, then see ya at the Grammys.
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