B.o.B Explains Concept Album ‘Strange Clouds,’ Collabos + a New Term for ‘Ballin”
B.o.B is a bit jet-lagged. The Georgia-raised emcee is coming down from an action-packed weekend in Orlando for the NBA All-Star Game — but that doesn’t prevent him from promoting his upcoming “science-fictiony” titled album ‘Strange Clouds.’ In stores May 1, his sophomore release already boasts three singles: the Lil Wayne-assisted title track, the rock infused ‘Play the Guitar’ featuring Andre 3000, and the radio-friendly ‘So Good‘ including Ryan Tedder’s signature hooks. The concept behind ‘So Good’ — jetsetting the world with a gal — would put this particular morning’s traveling (which was limited to the east coast) to shame.
Regardless, accessorized with a backwards black cap, rounded Ray-Ban looking shades and brassy spear-shaped studs that match his full-bottom grill, the always smiley Bobby Ray talks with PopCrush not only about his concept album, but his relationship with his older brother, a possible collaboration with Eminem, and a new term for ballin’ he coined, called “MJ”-ing.
Can you talk a bit about the title of your album?
‘Strange Clouds’ is kind of a science-fictiony kind of title, mixed with recreational activities. It’s really like a fusion between the hip-hop lifestyle and the people whose thoughts cross into the other realm of thinking, outside of the norm, which may be considered strange or weird, or unique. And, I feel like it’s all about hybridizing these two different worlds — on the ground level to the skies. If that makes sense.
You promise your fans a “different sound” on your sophomore record. Can you elaborate a bit more on that?
I feel like the sound is a continuum from the last album, just more mature, more refined, more conversational at moments. You know, I really bring people closer to who I am, and what makes me think, and … my story, growing up as a kid and just letting people know who I am really. I don’t think people really know enough of who I am. You know, I had a really good year last year, and it happened really fast … I needed to sit down for year. I recorded my album — I spent about 13-14 months on it. I’m ready to really build the connection with my fans.
Speaking of your childhood, I wanted to ask you about your relationship with your older brother …
My brother has given me crucial advice in the most casual conversations. And, I don’t think he even realizes when he does it. Like, when I was 15, he read an article about a Joe Budden, and this is when Joe Budden had that song, [sings] “pump, pump it up!” He was hot at that time, and [my brother] knew I wanted to rap, he was telling me like, ‘you know, if you want to get signed, it’s gonna to take you five years,’ and I didn’t believe him, and then five years later I got signed.
But, [laughs] uh, he was saying [that] in the article [it said] Joe Budden was writing like 15 pages a day, [and] well, he was 15. I was like ‘Well, s—, I’m 15, I need to be writing 15 pages a day!’ And I started writing 15 pages a day. Now, being a kid and going to school, trying to write 15 pages a day, it pretty much takes up all of your attention. So I had a lot of rap notebooks that were confiscated from me, [laughs] that I’m not sure if I got back or not. But I still have a drawer, or a box, about this deep [holds up his hands for measure] with all of my rap books that I wrote. I don’t really write down anymore, I just write it in my head now, but … it saves trees!
Drake‘s ‘Fancy’ has a line where T.I. says “B.o.B play the guitar” — I assume that’s what inspired you to write what is now your second single?
[Laughs] I was in the studio with [producer] Salaam Remi and it seemed like it all came together at the same time. We were listening to an old Bo Diddley record and we were like, ‘let’s take this and put it in the club,’ because it has that classic guitar feel, and he was like ‘yeah man you play the guitar on it, we can add a guitar lick in there.’ Then I was like, ‘we should put the “feel good, play the guitar / feel good” and so we actually had to get [it]. We had Tip’s engineer send us over his verse [from the Drake song] and we chopped it up, and we put it in there. And the actual thing is, [Tip] went back and rerecorded it, with his voice. It really was a … I think it was meant to happen. And then Andre got on it, and that was great. Plus, the guitar solo [Andre] did was great. So it really came out the way we planned it, and structured it.
How was it working with someone like Andre 3000 on that track, who is such an icon in the hip-hop genre?
You know, working with Andre, you really understand how much creative time — I won’t say time, I say creative time, because if you sit at a wall for three hours and stare at it, you’re not really doing anything — but you know he really puts his energy and quality into what he’s doing. And really with any artist who’s been in the industry and put out more than five albums, you kinda get this sharpness about what you do … I think that’s kind of what you can pick up from him, or at least what I picked up from him, over the record … and just the thoroughness of it. I think I’ve grown to become more thorough with what I’m doing.
Listen to ‘Play the Guitar’ Feat. Andre 3000
There’s a track on your album called ‘MJ.’ A lot of people, before they listen to it, are going to assume it’s about Michael Jackson …
You’ve heard that song?
I haven’t necessarily heard it, but I’ve heard about it. I heard it’s about Michael Jordan.
It’s not … really … about Michael Jordan. And it’s not really about Michael Jackson. But it is about ‘MJ.’ But, it’s just a reference in the song. But, it’s not even out yet, so … I don’t know when it’s coming out.
Do you think it will be your next single? Number four?
I don’t think it will be number four. But, it’ll see the light of day. But it is very high energy.
So you’re saying ‘MJ’ is more of an ambiguous reference?
[The song] is about ballin’. It’s like, I feel like ballin’ has grown into a universal term. You know, anybody can say it. You know, a 5-year-old kid enlisted in minor league sports can say, ‘I’m ballin’.’ The CEO of a business down the street getting off of work, making choices in business left and right, getting into his car, he can say, ‘I’m ballin’.’ A college student could crush up the final exam, end up with a 4.0 [GPA], graduate summa cum laude, they could say, ‘I’m ballin’.’ And that’s what it’s about. It’s about ‘MJ’-ing.
Is it more rock like ‘Play the Guitar,’ or hip-hop?
It’s more hip-hop / pop. But it’s more hip-hop than pop. But it can get pop, if that’s what you want it.
What’s your favorite track off the album and why?
Captin’ Crunch. Oh, sorry, I thought you were going to ask my favorite cereal.
Now we know your favorite cereal.
It’s actually Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I got the crunch part mixed-up … My favorite track on the album is … it’s called ‘Hard to Breathe.’ It may have a different name. I’m not sure what I want to call it yet. But now I guess it’s [going to be called] ‘Hard to Breathe.’ I could call it ‘Asphyxiation,’ but then it wouldn’t be [something] very good.
Can you tell me what that song’s about?
It would kind of be the answer to ‘Don’t Let Me Fall’ [off his last album, 'B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray'].
Are you working with Eminem at all?
Is he going to be featured on your album?
It’s a possibility.
I heard you and T.I. are working on an album together — Is it a mixtape or an album?
Yes, we are. But it won’t be a mixtape, it will be an album called ‘The Man and the Martian.’ And, we’re really just having fun with it. There’s no rules or barriers or preconceived ideas or expectations … So we’re just really going in with a clean slate. We’ve already recorded, starting working on songs, but, you know, we’re gonna have a really great project on our hands.
Will it be a lot like ‘Watch the Throne’ swapping verses throughout the songs and incorporating samples?
I think it will be a completely different type of feeling / vibe to it. I don’t even think people will compare the two. You know, it’s funny because we’ve been talking about this for a very long time, it’s just that he’s had to take some time away and now he’s back [from jail] and we’re ready.
Can you talk about the upcoming video for ‘So Good’?
We just shot it, it’s done. We went to Europe, South America, different places and we shot it.
Watch the Teaser Clip for ‘So Good’