Ray of light
Atlanta rapper B.o.B. embodies and embraces hip-pop culture
Published: April 14, 2011
Crucially, the success of The Adventures Of Bobby Ray doesn’t so much suggest that hip-hop’s old mantra of “keeping it real” has been replaced by an embrace of selling out, but that the definition of what it is to be a “real” or authentic hip-hop artist has been altered within B.o.B.’s generation. There was a time when even hip-hop’s most pop-friendly acts set themselves against the mainstream music world: Salt-N-Pepa, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and Kid ‘N’ Play all boycotted the Grammy awards in 1989 after feeling that hip-hop wasn’t given enough respect. Those days are gone. Now, rappers don’t just want hit songs, but want to be part of the pop scene – even if, like B.o.B., it takes performing on stage with Hayley Williams and Bruno Mars to get a spot at the VMAs.
This change in mentality befits an era where listeners swaddle themselves with masses of music every day and rarely stick to the confines of one genre. The iPod of even the hardest-headed hip-hop fan is unlikely to consist of 160 gigabytes of just rap music. That’s not the way we consume and process the seemingly never-ending streams of sound these days. B.o.B.’s own iPod backs up this idea. He says that its contents are “very diverse” and “filled with different music.” (Asked for the most bizarre song on it, he cops to Alvin and the Chipmunks’ Christmas album, laughing, “I don’t know how it got on there, but it’s there!”)
Being guided by popular taste is an approach that B.o.B. plans to carry through to his second album, which he’s currently recording and promises will feature another slew of guest artists.
“You never know where the music will go,” he says. “The sound of today may not be the sound of tomorrow.” In B.o.B.’s case, he’s putting faith in the power of popular collaboration to take him there.
> Email Phillip Mlynar