As much as he is ignored in the post-Control “best of the new school” conversation (let the following bars from “Ready” explain: all I hear is that boy pop/all I hear is that boy not top five on any list), B.o.B. has crossed an increasingly rare threshold in the hip-hop industry – he is three major label releases in. I don’t think people quite grasp the consistent hit-making ability needed to remain on a major label as a hip-hop artist. The 26-year-old Atlanta MC has enjoyed a whopping fourteen Billboard Top 100 singles in just a five-year span. The indie D.I.Y. route has certainly become the preferred strategy for a majority of hip-hop, but B.o.B. has been one of the select few to work the major label situation to his advantage.
After a smash debut in 2010, he returned in 2012 with the eclectic Strange Clouds, which showcased – to my ears at least – a mastery of pop-rap and an impressive versatility, but alas, hip hop wasn’t impressed, and B.o.B. caved to her demands with 2013’s soulless, undercooked crowd-pleaser Underground Luxury, placing him in an interesting junction in his career. With an open invitation to the pop charts, B.o.B. could likely survive making Underground Luxury-type music for the foreseeable future, or he could return to the rock-influenced, pop-rap A.D.D. that has endeared him to so many.
Last November, he pleasantly surprised me with the more contemplative and confrontational New Black mixtape, a mature yet angst-y project in which he directly and unapologetically addresses cultural issues, reigniting my support and faith in him as an artist. Nine months later, he has Beyonce’d his fans with Psycadelik Thoughtz, an album out of nowhere to hold everybody over until his proper fourth studio album. The casual release of the project certainly gave me an expectation that it would showcase a more organic and less over-thought B.o.B., and I was right.
On Psycadelik Thoughtz, B.o.B. sounds completely uninhibited, unaware of label pressures or slags from purists. Guitars have the biggest presence they have had on a B.o.B. project to date. Clean electric chords fill out “Hourglass” nicely, an irresistible track that finds B.o.B. playfully mocking male pickup lines amidst otherwise standard chaveunist rhymes. Also notable is the indie-influenced “Violet Vibrato”, which is given a lead guitar sendoff reminiscent of 70’s rock.
B.o.B. has also never been afraid to sing, but he completely lets loose on these eleven tracks and has never sounded more convincing. “Plain Jane”, a track dealing with feminine body shaming, is given a serious boost by intricate vocal harmonies. Preceding track “Back and Forth”, meanwhile, is begging for radio play. The tune’s unapologetic funk bounce may generate yet another monster hit, though it is ultimately up to the masses. My only question – what the hell is the “electric slide”? Will some drunk girl be asking me to do the electric slide at my next sweaty basement party?
Bobby Ray also thankfully avoids hip hop’s worst cliché, the overused female vocalist, so when Sevyn Streeter finally appears on track ten, “Love Life”, it works. In the song’s last verse, he successfully employs the trademark Drake technique of alternating between singing and rapping mid-flow. On album closer “Have Nots”, he blends anthemic, Imagine Dragons-style stadium rock with a quick-paced flow that calls Big Boi to mind.
Psycadelik Thoughtz contains almost none of the dexterous lyricism B.o.B. occasionally displays (for evidence please see his guest spot on Tech N9ne’s “Am I a Psycho?”…you motherfuckers, I’m so sick of having to explain that B.o.B. can hold his own lyrically). But Psycadelik Thoughtz shows such a dedication to great songs that it doesn’t matter in this case. B.o.B. continues to reinvent himself, and these eleven tracks carve a surprisingly fresh space in the world of crossover urban music. It’s different, yet tuneful. It’s funky, yet soulful. I highly recommend Psycadelik Thoughtz to any pop or mainstream rap fan. B.o.B. has once again stepped out of his comfort zone and reminded listeners that he is a formidable, ambitious artist. I am anxiously awaiting album number four.