There’s been a sense of artistic duality to B.o.B’s (a.k.a Bobby Ray Simmons Jr.) career from the beginning. Growing up in Decatur during the era when Outkast, T.I. and Ludacris were putting Atlanta on the hip-hip map, he established himself as one of the city’s finest underground MCs four years before the release of his debut, The Adventures of Bobby Ray.
His more accessible pop side (plus guest spots by Hayley Williams, Eminem and Bruno Mars) made the album a smash, charting three Top 10 singles earning five Grammy nods. B.o.B. was like no hip-hop crossover artist before, writing his own hooks, playing multiple instruments, producing, rapping and singing with charm and charisma. But where was the loquacious mic-spitter of the early mixtape days?
B.o.B’s third album suggests that he’s merely been lying in wait. His latest single, “HeadBand” (featuring 2 Chainz), seems more squarely aimed at the strip club than the radio, with the edgier lyrics that he promised would dominate this album. The Future-assisted “Ready” is catchy, but tracks like “Wide Open” and “Throwback” seem unnecessarily crude. The epic “Paper Route” and the incisive “John Doe” fare better, but in the end the album finds B.o.B. struggling to reconcile the dichotomy within himself.