“The Adventures of Bobby Ray,” the 2010 major label debut of Georgia rapper B.o.B, was immediately embraced by pop fans won over by the sweet R&B rap hit “Nothin’ on You,” featuring Bruno Mars. But it did not receive the same reception from die-hard hip-hop fans, many of whom heard the dizzyingly eclectic, guest-filled project and wondered, “What are Hayley Williams and Rivers Cuomo doing on this album, and what have they done with B.o.B?”
On “Where Are You (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray)” a track from “Strange Clouds,” B.o.B’s sophomore album, the rapper addresses the backlash that came from fans surprised by his pop-leaning, genre-bouncing debut. Imitating a disgruntled fan, he raps,”Where’s the integrity?/You on that other [stuff]/You don’t even sound the same, I liked your other [stuff].”
“Strange Clouds” should quiet some of that criticism, though. Through varied production and a diverse mix of guests (rapper Nicki Minaj, singer/songwriter Ryan Tedder), the album is a good mix of the light, mainstream sound that has brought B.o.B fame, and the more straightforward hip-hop of early mix-tapes, such as 2007s “Cloud 9,” that once prompted rap fans to label him the next Andre 3000. For every track like “Both of Us,” which mixes radio country and alt-rap, and features Taylor Swift, there is an offering such as the uptempo “Arena,” with T.I. and Chris Brown, and “Castles,” which basically takes the formula of “Airplanes,” another hit from “The Adventures of Bobby Ray,” but replaces the air imagery with land, and swaps out Paramore singer Hayley Williams for R&B singer Trey Songz.
But “Strange Clouds” is at its strongest when it manages to appeal to all, as with the Morgan Freeman-assisted intro “Bombs Away” (Who doesn’t like the sound of Morgan Freeman’s voice?), and the title track, because nothing unites music lovers like a hazy ode to weed.
“Strange Clouds,” “Arena,” “Castles”