B.o.B’s ‘Strange Clouds’

4 Jun

His début album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, of 2010 saw rapper/producer B.o.B head straight to the top of the charts. The album’s leading single, ‘Nothin’ On You‘ (featuring Bruno Mars), flew to top every chart with the Hayley Williams supported track, ‘Airplanes’, close behind. The success was boarding on phenomenal, and so this May saw a return as B.o.B attempted to repeat the success with his second studio album, ‘Strange Clouds‘. The album has managed to peak at the number one spot on the Billboard Rap/R&B/Hip-Hop charts, fighting fierce with Nicki Minaj’s ‘Pink Friday:Roman Reloaded. However, here in the UK, the album has only managed to peak at number 30 after two weeks, with the single ‘So Good‘, managing to peak at 7. There have been mixed reactions to B.o.B’s sophomore album, as many critics don’t know what the artist is supposed to be representing or if he has even managed to define a musical identity at all – you’ll remember the same sort of thing was said about Minaj’s second album.

Just like Minaj, B.o.B is playing with multiple genres, trying to adjust the boundaries, proving that the line between some are nearly non-existence. The album bounces between the hybrids as it proves to be an interesting but, also, a confusing album that could appeal to the more open-minded music fans. Unlike ‘Roman Reloaded‘, the album is not split into two groups, but instead lacks any order as the conflicting sounds run riot about the track list. Lyrically, he cannot be touched; no one can deny that he is talented in maintaining straight-forward and sophisticated raps that hardly digress or become abstract. It is an album filled with inspiring lines that often boarder on the personal as the album’s subject matters tend to revolve around B.o.B’s mental conflicts, mostly based on the lessons that fame has taught him. Just like the music, the raps tend to bounce between various identities as it is one minute boastful and the next, despairing; creating a sense of the artist lacking focus. Throughout, the contrasting sounds and glowing lyrics illustrate a very unpolished and split identity that proves unsettling but at the same time remaining entertaining. Critics are quite happily putting him down for this lack of flow, but some will admit that it is this experimentation that makes B.o.B such an attractive artist. It is one of them albums that you either like, or you don’t.

However, even if the album as whole does not appeal to you, there will be a track or two that will stand out, but which will it be?

1. ‘Bombs Away‘ (featuring Morgan Freeman) is an apocalyptic piece built up by an epic orchestra and haunting chorus sections, illustrating the age-old battle between good and evil. B.o.B’s victorious lines are accompanied by a heavy bass and light, energetic synths. It is an overwhelming and powerful open that prepares for the chaos that follows.

2. ‘Ray Bands‘ is a bass-laden piece with an relaxed beat in the background. The boastful vibe is hard to miss as the subject matter follows a luxurious life filled with parties and lustful women.

3. ‘So Hard To Breathe‘ pulls the energy into check as the pace is slowed and the first signs of B.o.B’s mental conflict surface. Rock inspired guitars and drums create the sound-scape, giving the album an alternative twist. It has a desperate atmosphere as listeners are asked to sympathise with the rapper; “And it’s so hard to breathe/ And even more so to sleep when no one cares” he sings in the chorus.

4. ‘Both Of Us‘ (featuring Taylor Swift) rests on the striking vocals of the country singer who glows at the heart of the track. The heavy bass distorts the pretty country atmosphere as B.o.B takes control of the verse with his inspiring raps; “Do it one time for the underdogs”. Country and hip-hop are odd bedfellows, but the victorious vibes hold it together.

5. ‘Strange Clouds‘ (featuring Lil Wayne) finally takes us into hip-hop territory with hint of dubstep as the album’s title track. The raps are aggressive and boastful as the rappers celebrate their party-filled lives. It is an odd follow-up to the previous tracks because it is a much heavier and genre-specific sound. It’s an anthem.

6. ‘So Good‘ returns to the pop sounds with its catchy hooks and romantic imagery. It was the first single to be released from the album, and so it has already been reviewed here.

7. ‘Play For Keeps‘ is a piano driven song of triumph that returns to the orchestral opening. The aggression is pushed forward by some more heavy basses and marching beats above the strings. “Run for cover, here comes trouble” the rapper warns as he partakes in another victory lap.

8. ‘Arena‘ (featuring Chris Brown and T.I.) is another piece built up by an aggressive bass that transforms into a glorious piano led chorus in which Brown showcases his excellent vocals.

9. ‘Out Of My Mind‘ (Featuring Nicki Minaj) is a mad song about split personalities and mental break-downs. It is a crazy piece that would be well at home on a Minaj album, but B.o.B makes it work with an impressive set of rhymes and theatrical talents. It is a catchy and amusing song that is just as insane as its creators; “Been a maniac since I was knee-high”.

10. ‘Never Let You Go‘ (featuring Ryan Tedder) moves back into pop territory with country inspired acoustics and a catchy chorus that centres around the mainstream theme: love.

11. ‘Chandelier‘ (featuring Lauriana Mae) is this album’s ‘Airplanes‘ moment as it fights to motivate and inspire. Mae’s vocals are striking and unique against the coarse yet powerful raps provided by B.o.B. It is an extremely powerful song that touches the heart and exudes strength.

12. ‘Circles‘ is a bouncy and catchy song dedicated to a girl who continues to “run circles through my head”. Even with his fame, B.o.B is still struggling to catch his dream girl.

13. ‘Just A Sign‘ (featuring Playboy Tre) is a slow-paced thoughtful piece that relies on haunting synths and spaced-out vibe. It is the album’s dud track that is easily skipped or over-looked.

14. ‘Castles’ (featuring Trey Songz) wakes us up from the previous, with a catchy and bright chorus. It is another bass-led toe-tapping piece of triumph that values the idea of following your dreams. It is an upbeat version of ‘Chandelier‘ with its inspirational lines and victorious vibe.

15. ‘Where Are You (B.o.B vs Bobby Ray)‘ closes the track with the final battle between the artist’s conflicting identities. It’s a hip-hop ballad led by a beautiful piano and honest rhymes. For a closing track, there is absolutely no closure.

Personally I found it an enjoyable album, if I pretended it was on shuffle. It has some real gems on it and also shows that B.o.B’s diversity makes him a talented musician, producer, writer and rapper; he is accessible and can represent and express what he wants, when he wants.


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