Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr. has gone from left-field mixtapes to two Top-5 singles. All that's left is to avoid getting played out.
What the hell happened to B.o.B.? When we first got wind of the kid from Decatur, Ga. (by way of Charleston, S.C.) with a cloudy acronym for a name, he was a new rapper with a mean spit game and Andre 3000 sensibilities. His mixtapes featured songs that had him carrying the ATLien torch into rap's new era. Early tracks "Haterz Everywhere" and "Cloud 9," while not smash hits, garnered plenty of attention and set up the young producer/rapper for what seemed like inevitable success. Then everything changed. Citing frustrations with label politics and trouble dealing with his newfound fame, B.o.B. came close to quitting the game before he even released an official album. A short while later, the 21-year-old born Robert Ray Simmons, Jr. retracted his plans and returned with all-new everything: a new moniker (Bobby Ray); a new musical direction (rock 'n' roll); and a new mentor (T.I.). Then—again—everything changed.
The second single from his debut album, B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, "Nothin' On You"—a syrupy, overtly pop ode to down-ass chicks—went stratospheric, grabbing the top spot on the Billboard 100. His next single, the Paramore-assisted "Airplanes," followed suit, reaching #2—and that was before Eminem added a verse. Suddenly, the MC who everyone thought might go the way of Charles Hamilton ended up becoming the most successful artist among his non-Drake peers. How'd that happen? A wise, rich man once said, "You can accomplish anything if you don't bellyache." Instead of complaining about how no one understood him, Bobby Ray took it upon himself to change what needed to change. So what happened to B.o.B.? Simple: success.
Do you feel that Europeans understand your music as well as people in America?
What do you mean by status? You mean how popular someone is?
Do you feel that you don't have the status you want in the U.S.?
Listening to your early stuff and listening to your music now, there's been a big change in the sound, which has turned out to be very successful. Do you feel gratified?
Can you really be an underdog when you've got T.I. and Jim Jonsin co-signing you?
But you do admit that it helps to have those kinds of heavyweights in your corner.
In a recent XXL article, there was a small bit about how you and T.I. initially argued over the sound of your music. Could you elaborate?
So he was supportive throughout the whole process of making the album?
What kind of advice did he give you?
You were saying that T.I. was giving you business advice. With movies and clothing, T.I. has made himself into a brand. Do you have any intentions of following in his footsteps?
Would you consider it "selling out" if you were to do an endorsement deal or license your music for ads? "Nothin' On You" could easily be a Diet Coke commercial or something.
You don't talk about the stuff you buy as much as other rappers. Is that a conscious decision on your part?
B.o.B. vs. Bobby RayLaughs
How would you describe your style?
You talk about fame a lot in songs and interviews. You seem almost averse to it. But you're one of the most popular rappers of the moment. How are you dealing with that?
So you don't feel yourself being any more famous than you were last year?
Well, before your two hits, there seemed to be a point where people started to think that you might not be able to pop at all.
And that's critique from the label?
So when you sensed your window of opportunity was closing, did it force you to concentrate on making a hit single? Or did everything just unfold as an organic process?
Do you think you could've had the same success today with the mixtape songs that you were making when you first came out?
Do you fear being pigeonholed into making songs that sound like your hit singles?
You no longer want to retire, but how long do you see yourself being in the industry?