A few months back, Atlanta rapper B.o.B invited some writers into the studio to play a sampling of music he’s been tinkering with. At the time, he hadn’t quite made the call on which tracks would make the final cut of his next album, but he wanted feedback all the same.
Did he, he wondered back then, have a track on the album that would generate a club smash in ’hoods near and far? Because when B.oB sits in the VIP, popping bottles and doing what folks of his ilk do when out on the scene (and you know what scene we’re talking about), he needs to hear his voice pumping out of the speakers.
He got that hit earlier this summer when he dropped “We Still in This B*tch,” a fun strip-club ready track that also features T.I. and Juicy J. But he wants more. And he’s hoping that fans will find it on Underground Luxury (released this month), a play on the tightrope he straddles between the ’hood and the world of big money pop music. The album once again melds B.o.B’s street savvy lyrics with sharp beats and a sound so palatable, it’s just ripe for a Grammy stage.
EBONY: How does being a musician play into what you produce as a rapper?
B.o.B: It comes into play in the studio and onstage. I remember playing my music for somebody with a regular nine to five, and they were telling me about certain parts that they heard, telling me, “Man, I hear that in the beat! I hear that noise in the background.” I’m like, “Wow, you hear that? You pay attention to that?” That lets me know that all those hours I spend laying down guitar lines and laying down bass lines and producing, it doesn’t go wasted. It doesn’t fall on deaf ears.
EBONY: Does that elongate the process for you?
B.o.B: It’s fun for me, especially really learning how to perform onstage with a guitar. Back when I was 20 and I picked up the guitar… of course, it wasn’t my first instrument, but I had to get over that whole mental thing of, “Well, you didn’t start playing guitar when you were a kid.” I can do whatever. I can learn this. Let’s do it. I had to really overcome that, but now it’s natural. Now it’s like the most natural instrument that I play.
EBONY: Why is it so important for you to get that club hit?
B.o.B: I just wanted to hear myself in the club when I go to the club! I would go to the club and then the DJ will mix “Airplanes” with some crazy euro beat or some techno sound, and it just wouldn’t go. I was like, “I’ma make some club music so I can come to the club and hear myself in the club, and the DJ doesn’t have to mix a record that doesn’t fit.” It’s just fun when you’re traveling the world and performing, and then you get off at the end of the day and you want to go to a club and party. Sometimes you want to hear your songs.
EBONY: What’s the strategy for having an album that speaks to different types of music consumers?
B.o.B: I kind of let this album lay how it wanted to lay. I couldn’t micromanage my natural creativity and say, “Nah, let’s make it like…” You know? I didn’t want to be like, “Let’s make one song for these people, one song for these people, one song for these people.” It’s gotta just happen, and if it comes out sounding a little bit more urban than usual, cool. That’s the world that I come from anyway. If a song comes out sounding pop, cool. If a song comes out sounding too rock, cool. It’s what I do, and I think my style is the thing that stands out, regardless if I did a whole rap album or a whole rock album or a straight pop album. My style is gonna be the thing that carries it on.
EBONY: Does it bother you that you’re established in this pop realm?
B.o.B: It used to. Maybe two albums ago. And the thing that dawned on me, it was like, I’ll go to the ’hood, and every ’hood I would go to, people would tell me their favorite songs. And it’d be, like, real eclectic songs. You know what I mean? I did a song called “In the Rain” on my mixtape, and had people in the ’hood singing! This one dude told me his favorite song was “Magic.” He was the most street dude you’ll meet, and he was like, “Man, I like ‘Magic’.”
It just dawned on me that people listen to all kinds of music in the ’hood. You can’t tell me when OutKast put out “Hey Ya!,” everybody wasn’t in the middle of the ’hood in Decatur fist pumping. Now it’s like whatever. Now it’s just about the good music. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a club or for an arena. It’s whatever.
EBONY: What’s our big takeaway from this album?
B.o.B: I’m telling people who B.o.B is. All my thoughts, uncensored. Whether it be something I feel vulnerable saying or something more primitive. No matter how intellectual or primitive my thoughts may seem, I’m just putting it all out there and letting it be heard.
EBONY: How difficult is it to do that, especially when you have a big label behind you?
B.o.B: I dance the line between being somewhat anti-establishment… but not really. I’m really not. I’m not like a political figure or nothing like that. I think I just speak candidly. I really let my thoughts be heard, whether the one side may not like it or whether one side may like it. But at the same time, still working with people who could fall on the other side of not liking it.
EBONY: This album feels like a bridge. Do you feel pressure to bring all people together through the course of music, where you make hip-hop accessible to people who aren’t from the streets, but you also make it feel very relevant for people who are and have come to expect something particular from hip-hop?
B.o.B: Yeah. You know what, I realized that what you just described… that’s what I was doing was building a bridge, but I never really set out to do it. I realized what was happening, and because it was naturally me, I just keep on going my merry way.
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EBONY Entertainment Editor