B.o.B – Strange Clouds [Review]

B.o.B has come a long way. It wasn’t that long ago that he was ditching his stage name to go with Bobby Ray and at one point it was even thought that Atlantic was never gonna let an album by B.o.B ever see the light of day. A far cry for what we see today in the career of Bobby Ray that includes hit songs, a Gold album, and endorsement deals. And although he gets a lotta backlash for embracing more of a pop sound, B.o.B is now a success story. For the follow-up to The Adventures of Bobby Ray, the rapper wanted to take a more hands on approach as well as try to please fans of his mixtape work as well as his retail work. Was he successful? Let’s take a listen to Strange Clouds and find out.

1. Bombs Away
Featuring Morgan Freeman; Produced by B.o.B
Nope, that isn’t a sound bite from March Of The Penguins, Bobby Ray actually got Morgan Freeman on the album opener. The song also features Bobby Ray both rapping (the verses) and singing (the chorus) and talking about time, success, and being out of this world. It’s not bad and B.o.B sounds good on both fronts but the whole thing at times feel all over the place. Still a good start.

2. Ray Bands
Produced by B.o.B & Jamieson Jones
Looking at the title of this song, it’s gotta be an endorsement deal in here somewhere right? Corporate sponsorship aside, this song is pretty damn catchy. There are parts where B.o.B comes across as corny (“Violent bravado, call me Bobby Bravo?”) but I’m sure the point of this wasn’t to make a lyrical masterpiece. Sing-a-long rap.

3. So Hard To Breathe
Produced by B.o.B & Sean Garrett
“So Hard To Breathe” is apparently B.o.B’s favorite song off Strange Clouds (And the unofficial sequel to “Don’t Let Me Fall”). It’s also pop. Really pop. So pop that your local urban radio station probably won’t play this. But look, I have no problem with that because it’s not a bad song. It’s has Bobby Ray talking about his life (Helped by the writing skills of Sean Garrett) and I’m pretty sure you’ll hear this on movie trailers & commercials in the near future.

4. Both of Us
Featuring Taylor Swift; Produced by Dr. Luke & Cirkut
Speaking of going for pop radio. I’ve spoke about this song before but here goes again. I salute Bob for getting Taylor Swift on a song, but we’ll all know he was going for a larger audience and he’s gonna get it because this song is being rushed to radio as the album’s 3rd single. But you remember when Andre 3000 & Norah Jones actually collaborated on”Take Off Your Cool”? Yea, this is not that. This is like “Airplanes” but replace Hayley Williams with Taylor. It’ll probably be successful but it’s cookie cutter.

5. Strange Clouds
Featuring Lil’ Wayne; Produced by Dr. Luke & Cirkut
I just remembered that this song actually came out last year; I didn’t really like it then either. My opinion aside, the dubstep sound effects and the Weezy feature pushed this song to selling over 1.3 million digital copies worldwide. Hey, success is success.

6. So Good
Produced by Ryan Tedder
Speaking of success, “So Good” was the second single off Strange Clouds and it also has sold over a million digital copies. The piano heavy production is provided by OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and has a “Whatever You Like” feel with worldly art references thrown in for good measures. It seems kinda bland to me but maybe the chicks like it.

7. Play For Keeps
Produced by Valentino Khan
Here B.o.B gets back to the rapping as this song is basically one long verse:

Society is twisted, they tryna take us under
So when you see them folks, don’t forget to warn a brother
I made it out alive but still the battle is a struggle
Veni, vidi, vici, I came, I saw, I conquered
They mad cause I murdered the game
And their name wasn’t in the will
You see, most of these haters are mad rappers who just still waiting on a deal

The song has a Lex Luger feel to it which is a welcomed change of pace. Even though Bobby Ray shows he pop sensibilities on other songs, it’s good to see he still has some rhymes in him (On this album that is; he still shows it on the mixtapes).

8. Arena
Featuring Chris Brown & T.I.; Produced by Dr. Luke & Cirkut
The thought behind this song was that it could be performed at big concert arenas. I guess. Other than the Chris Brown hook (Complete with hand claps), the verses don’t really seem like their big crowd sing-a-long ready. Also, not a lot gels here until you get to the chorus. Even the production seems to be waiting for that part.

9. Out Of My Mind
Featuring Nicki Minaj; Produced by Dr. Luke & Billboard
Of course the Nicki Minaj song is titled “Out Of Mind”; it makes sense and kinda obvious. From the Skrillex like sound of the production to the Nicki singing “Airplanes” in her verse, the whole things is basically saying their crazy flow wise. It’s not really true here though. The verses are serviceable but not great and sometime so-so (“You can be the He-Man, I’mma be the She-Ra/You can be the Grim, I’mma be the Reaper”). I expected more.

10. Never Let You Go
Featuring Ryan Tedder; Produced by Ryan Tedder & Noel Zancanella
I confused about the metaphors on this song; B.o.B uses a lotta court room & jail references that leads me to think it’s about a girl going to prison for him. Maybe it’s just about him losing his girl. I am sure that this could be on the on original soundtrack to The Notebook with no problem. Really sappy and just not for me.

11. Chandelier
Featuring Lauriana Mae: Produced by Frequency & Super Water Sympathy
I’m not familiar with Lauriana Mae but she almost got a whole song on B.o.B’s album (He has two quick verses but it’s mostly Lauriana). Moving on…

12. Circles
Produced by Mynority & B.o.B
This song is about B.o.B thinking about a girl who out there living the fast life (Not a “Black Girl Lost” type of situation though). I thought it was kinda odd that he used the “Miss Mary Mack” rhyme. It also seems like the whole song is mostly repeated after the first verse & chorus.

13. Just A Sign
Featuring Playboy Tre; Produced by Kutta
It hasn’t been a lotta rap features on this album but I’m happy to see Playboy Tre show up here (Although I wish it was on another song instead). The whole thought behind “Just A Sign” is looking for something more and seeing if God is really there. I don’t have no problem with the subject matter but the end results sound like something that would be the last song played at an 80’s prom. Yea.

14. Castles
Featuring Trey Songz; Produced by Kool Kojak
Most of the time when you see Trey Songz’s name as feature, you can expect a song for the ladies but not here. The song talks about having dreams (“I’m building castles in the sky”) and then achieving them. Yea, it feels like we already covered this topic but it seems like that’s the theme as we get to the end of the album. So-so.

15. Where Are You (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray)
Produced by B.o.B
B.o.B ends the album on a strong note. With all the talk about him totally changing his style to get more fans, Bobby Ray (and B.o.B) tackles the subject head on:

You’re becoming so cocky
I asked you for a picture after your show
You walked right by me, I’m like
Ain’t this the dude that said that it ain’t about the price tag
Now on your records all that you do is brag
Come on, Bob, I thought you was better than that, dawg
What happened to Cloud 9 and “Generation Lost”?

This song shows self-reflection that’s great to hear but I’ll admit that I don’t think he ever really answers his own questions. But with a great piano backdrop (Points for re-using the melody though I may be wrong) you have to let all that go to the wayside. This is my favorite song off the album and a good way to end.

Bottom Line:
B.o.B has certainly found his lane with the music created for Strange Clouds. It’s the same lane that Flo Rida frequents and it’s one that I’m not really fond off, but it’s there.

I have no problem with B.o.B going after a sound that gets him radio play; in essence the main objective of all musicians is to get heard by as many people as possible. But for most parts of Strange Clouds it feels like that may have been Bobby Ray’s only objective. I’m not expecting the rapper who made mixtapes like Cloud 9 or B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray to stay the same and not evolve, but he is too talented to just try to recreate “Airplanes” & “Nothin’ On You” over and over again.

There a few moments on Strange Clouds worth a listen and I’m sure to broader audiences there is more than that, but hopefully on the next go around B.o.B gives more substance than style. Then again, reports are out that B.o.B’s next album with be a Rock album. Never mind…