“Everywhere I plant my feet, everybody know bout me… I ain’t gotta say one word, I ain’t gotta show ID,” declares B.o.B on “Back Me Up.” His bold proclamation to deliver on that declaration signifies his current influx. Having concluded that his recently released third album, Underground Luxury, is arguably the strongest work of his extensive body of work, the Winston-Salem, North Carolina born emcee feels that he’s at his peak. In 2010, he entered the rap world with 2007’s “Haterz Everywhere,” followed by his debut album, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, and proceeded to transform hip hop with his genre-juggling abilities in adapting to almost any style.
When singles like, “Nothin’ on You,” “Airplanes,” “So Good,” and “Magic” were released, they immediately became world-wide phenomenon’s, having racked up, altogether more than 40 million YouTube hits, making the 25-year-old a bona fide star. His style is upbeat and optimistic, but upon closer inspection, his lyrics are more witty and engaging than his charismatic demeanor might suggest. Depending on who you ask, B.o.B is either the new messiah of hip hop and pop music or just an outlandish rapper who has managed to dupe the entire listening world into loving him.
Are there any myths about yourself that you’d like to put to rest?
Some people don’t believe that my name is Bob. For some reason, they think it’s something else, but it really is Bob. Also, I didn’t get my name from the Outkast song “B.O.B.” (Bombs Over Baghdad). Oh yeah, and I’m not in the illuminati.
When you started to rap and were sending your demo tapes out to record labels, what was the image in your mind of what you could see happening?
I didn’t realise until I looked back and really understood how far I’ve come. A lot of what I started doing was passing out mixtapes. For instance, with my first mixtape Cloud 9, I would go around to different cities, DJ conferences and artist showcases passing out my mixtape. I think a lot of it is all about character building. At the end of the day no matter how many mixtapes you put out, if you don’t have good music, then you’re not going to develop a following because it’s the good music that people want to hear. And you’ve got to have people around you who are honest enough to give you advice before you start distributing your music. Everybody nowadays thinks they can do it, especially with all these undeveloped music being passed around.
You’re famous now. Was that part of the plan?
[Laughs] I’m one of those artists who would rather be in the studio than anything else, but I definitely contribute everything that I’ve achieved to the music.
Let’s go back to the beginning — did you at all think you would have come this far?
I can say that this album has taken me where I’ve always wanted to be. I have been so many places already from the success of my first album, but now I feel like I can say this is where I’ve always wanted to be.
I know your dad is a preacher. Does he ever ask you about your lyrics—when you use words like “bitch” or talk about getting high?
No. He doesn’t cringe when he listens to my music. My mom on the other hand, she has to listen to the clean versions [laughs].
You’ve been very forthcoming about how personal Underground Luxury is and you make a lot of statements about your humble beginnings and personal experiences. So with that in mind, were there any tracks that made you particularly nervous when recording?
There’s really no separation between myself and my environment. I think it’s all about finding your own identity. I have an idea of who I am, but I’m also a product to my environment and I recognize that I am the story, you know what I mean? The stories that I tell is what I’ve become, who I was, it’s the past, the present, and now the future. All these things culminate, and I think if you can find comfort in that it’s easier to open up on a record and talk about the things that you’ve been through. Everything that I have been through, I’ve been through it with somebody else, so it takes discipline to create a reaction.
You collaborated with Chris Brown on the album. You’re both two very animated artists. Did that energy factor in to making “Throwback” at the time you two recorded the song together?
Definitely. I think it’s all about energy, man, and how it makes you feel. When someone asks: ‘What does it take to be an artist?’ I don’t have an exact answer, but I think it depends on their feelings at the time — some people may want to feel like Adele, Lady Gaga, or Tupac, you know. It’s all about the feeling.
I think one of your main strengths as a rapper is how you’ve mastered the art of great storytelling. Do you think that is the secret to your success?
I think finding peace in this puzzle that we call life is the greatest thing I ever discovered because I can actually articulate myself. I’m no different than your next rapper, but I just know how to articulate how the next rapper may be feeling. ‘Damn, Bob, that’s what I’ve been trying to say, I just couldn’t put it into words.’ I think that’s why I’m here.
You’ve said Underground Luxury is your greatest body of work to date. As a creator, who did you create this album for?
This album was created for me [laughs]. It was created so that I could say what I wanted to say. It’s why I started writing records. When I started rapping when I was 13, I started rapping for me. It was like I needed to get my thoughts out. I needed to express myself.
It seems you’re now at a point in your career where people are starting to understand to you.
Yeah. I think in life one has to be balanced with the sky above you and the ground below you. I have always been in the clouds, but I’ve now finally landed.
How do you think fans who were introduced to you in 2007 will perceive you today?
I think the beauty of my story is that people see growth. I mean, some artists come out polished, and developed, but for me, my fans have been able to follow me from my mixtapes to my first album to this album. They have seen me grow through all these different phases and to them it’s a bit like The Truman Show.
So, do you think rappers in general can push themselves to be “great?”
Describe what it’s like when B.o.B’s at his best.
When I’m at my best, man, is when I’m actually trying the least. Ideas should be simple. I think the craziest ideas that seem so magical and amazing tend to start with just one word. Like, if you think of somebody performing and then in the middle of a song the stage goes black — everybody goes crazy, but all that happened was that the lights went out. It’s a simple thing, yet so effortless, and it’s those things that makes art.
Hands-down, two of my favorite tracks from Underground Luxury are “One Day” and “John Doe”, which are both very soft songs, in terms of the lyrics. Can you talk a bit about the genesis of your inspiration? Was it a calculated thing, to put ballads like those on the album?
It actually wasn’t. I think with “John Doe” I just had to be transparent on that song. In fact, it took me a while to reach that point of comfort on the record. I had to write it about five times, then re-arrange and structure it. “One Day” was probably the easiest record for me to write, because it’s just like, talking about my life. For me, that was an easy thing to do, because it’s pretty much like me saying how old I am.
I love how you rhyme “Ray Bans ” with “Freebandz ” on “Ready” .
[Collapses into fit of giggles] We were in the studio, man, and the vibes were flowing. I think when you’re in the midst of those moments, you have no choice but to tap into that energy and allow things to just fall out the sky, literally.
In terms of your style, do you feel like you’re being poetic, or do you consider it just rhyming?
I never really take the mindset of a poet. I really believe that a record has got to have shoes, and you also have to think about where you’re taking it. In a way you have to dress that record. You have to give it the best shoes, the best coat, the best pants, you know what I mean.