Music

B.o.B.: Strange Clouds

What Strange Clouds makes up for in commercial clout, it lacks in creativity and cohesiveness.


B.o.B.

Strange Clouds

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 2012-05-01
UK Release Date: 2012-05-01
Amazon
iTunes

B.o.B. rode the wave of radio-friendly grassroots-fed hip-hop at the end of the last decade alongside contemporaries like Kid Cudi and Wale. While the former turned emo astronaut with his Man on the Moon saga and the latter turned club rapper after signing with Maybach Music Group, B.o.B. found his own lane in pop-rap. Success followed with 600,000 copies of his debut album sold in the U.S. alone, topping the charts on the back of massively successful singles like "Airplanes" and "Past My Shades". Strange Clouds hasn't disappointed in sales so far, buoyed by seven months of regular airplay of the Lil Wayne-featuring first single. But what Strange Clouds makes up for in commercial clout, it lacks in creativity and cohesiveness.

It has been well documented that B.o.B. is a good technical rapper. He is incredibly nimble and when he's in the zone he can go toe to toe with almost anyone. His best moments on Strange Clouds find him dropping into double-time at will and lacerating tough phrases like a master craftsman. But rapping only goes so far if the songs are overproduced to death. Take "Bombs Away", which features B.o.B. at his vocal best ("If this is an embassy consider me Ambassador / Official, no artificial preservatives or additives") and referentially off the wall with talk of the Illuminati and Niagara Falls. But add to it that track's overburdened-to-the-point-of-tipping production and you've got an ungainly beast of a song. To say it gilds the lily with the operatic cooing, full choir, driving strings, and video game trills is a serious understatement. It's about as subtle as advanced Parkinson's, and that is not even considering the Morgan Freeman voice over about the battle between good and evil.

"Strange Clouds" is definitely a highlight, where B.o.B. brings the heat against an uneven Lil Wayne, and on closer "Where Are You (B.o.B. Vs. Bobby Ray)" B.o.B. does a successful approximation of Eminem, including a co-opting of the military drums and self-loathing monologue of Em's "Toy Soldiers". But for every successful track there's a weak one. The nursery rhyme-infused lyrics of "Circles" come to mind as part of a series of tracks near the album's end where an inexplicable and distracting echo settles in over the lyrics. "Ray Bands" is "Past My Shades" minus any charm the latter track had. "Both of Us" featuring Taylor Swift is desperately trying to recapture the appeal of "Airplanes" but it falls flat, closer to Kid Cudi's collaboration with Dia Frampton from The Voice than anything Eminem would cosign.

In an interview with PopCrush, B.o.B. explained "I don’t think people really know enough of who I am," adding "I am ready to really build the connection with my fans". And this is a bigger issue even than the overkill production: B.o.B. fails at the task of letting people know who he is. There's no cohesive story or personality behind Strange Clouds in the way that there is behind a juggernaut pop album like Adele's 21. B.o.B. boasts of "Mustangs and Porsches imported from Japan" on one track, and on the next mimics a panic attack and laments that "the wealth attracts you haters like mosquitoes to a well". Then, two short songs later, he is back to bragging about his international travel credentials and "swagger like Caesar". There is one track where he goes T.I. on himself and raps as both B.o.B. and altar-ego Bobby Ray, but self-discovery isn't the theme of the album. The album has no theme and at the end of the day we still don't know who B.o.B. is outside of his affinity for protective eye wear. We just know that he is capable of more than Strange Clouds.

5

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image