What is it about rap music that strikes fear into the hearts of music fans and record labels right now? While there seems to be a steady flow of rap releases every year, it seems the actual time spent “rapping” on them has been declining. It’s not a matter of guest appearances from R&B singers like the over-collaborative late-90s, rather rappers seem to be doing everything but rapping in order to help their rap record find an audience. Is the market for a straight-forward rap album just not there, or in this apocalyptic age of an everything-has-to-sell mentality are rap labels not comfortable enough with the rap audience being won over by a rap sheet of just rapping? Case in point, The Adventures of Bobby Ray the depressingly disappointing debut from Atlanta rapper B.O.B.
B.O.B. rose to prominence in summer 2007 off a string of mixtapes that made it seem like he was the rightful heir to the Outkast throne. For all the love Andre3000 gets (and rightfully so) for being one of the best rappers on the planet right now, it’s easy to forget that from 2004-2006 his “I-think-I’m-Prince” output was irredeemably awful*. So at a time when most of us were “kinda sour cause our favorite group ain’t comin’ with it,” B.O.B. appeared not as a poor imitation, but rather a heavily influenced artist who was now carving his own niche with songs like “Daddy” and “Sing My Song” that not only were great rap songs, but packed enough personality and seemed catchy enough to crossover to any audience. Then, he signed to Atlantic**. While early releases like “Grip Your Body” and others still showed tremendous promise, they were not an accurate indication of The Adventures of Bobby Ray’s 2010 release.
The album is 48 minutes of “hey everybody, please like me.” While B.O.B. has shown an interest and talent in branching out from just rapping in the past, such as his B.O.B. vs. Bobby Ray mixtape that split the tracklisting evenly between rapping and singing, the presentation here just sounds contrived. The soundscape is heavily over-produced, the spaced-out singy-songy delivery is redundant and the guest list is one of the most blatant attempts at pandering I’ve ever seen. Joining B.O.B. are people who haven’t been interesting in a decade (Eminem, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer) and the people who are “interesting” in the most uninteresting ways (Lupe Fiasco, Janelle Monet). Many cite B.O.B.’s own musical fandom as the
excuse reasoning, but if he were a real fan wouldn’t he know that not since 1996 has even Rivers Cuomo sounded interested in Rivers Cuomo?
The main reason why The Adventures of Bobby Ray fails as a rap album is how little rapping there is on it. Granted, the response to this is the same as Kid Cudi’s contingent who claim his is “not a rap album” as if there’s some sort of critic-proof forcefield that surfaces the second a rapper decides he knows how to sing. B.O.B. made a name for himself as a rapper, promoted this release as a rap album and it’s catagorized in the rap section. If it doesn’t walk like a duck or quack like a duck, why would you sell me such an awful duck?
I’m all for experimentation in music, but what the post-Gnarls generation of rappers fail to realize is that the greatest creative achievements come from what’s done within certain limits, not what’s done with no limits***. The disarming “Lovelier Than You,” a very genuine straight-forward sing-along, is great and would have worked perfectly as an endearing breather moment surrounded by actual rap songs. The fact that the album ends with it, “5th Dimension” (with worthwhile spacey non-sequitors) and “Airplanes Part 2″ (where Eminem kicks the same ‘what if I never blew up’ verse he’s kicked for six years now, but this is one of the best times he’s done it so it works), the three strongest songs on the album, heavily devalues the rest of the album with each re-listen. While The Adventures of Bobby Ray might attract some audiences looking for a spaced-out existential singing endeavor, as a rap record it’s a dubious failure that should be banished to where the Idlewild things are.
We Give The Adventures of Bobby Ray a Two Out of Five
So until next time…let’s agree to agree!
*A vivid memory of the 2006 Tower Records liquidation sale was, on the final day, the rows and rows of unsold Idlewild CDs next to as many copies of the Held Up soundtrack. The fact that a group whose previous effort moved ten million copies couldn’t get people to buy their new record for $1.00 is a testament to how wretchedly awful that album is.
**Not unlike Jive Records, Atlantic has proven completely inept time and time again with breaking new rap talent. While they have had success with TI and others who had already debuted on other labels and had the A&R work done for them, the streets are littered with everyone from Little Brother to Apathy that they clearly had no idea what to do with.
***Except, of course, for what’s done with No Limit Records. Those results are often bout it bout it.