B.o.B is laughing. And who could blame him? The quirky MC and instrumentalist is marveling over his own improbable success. Just how did a former Decatur, Georgia underground mixtape standout evolve into a pop chart-topping artist whose big label debut B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray’s has produced two of 2010’s most omnipresent hits, “Nothing On You” and “Airplanes?” Bobby Ray dissects his momentous run; answers his critics who label him a pop rapper; explains why he identifies with Eminem and unleashes his otherworldly knowledge of the "astral realm." —Keith Murphy
VIBE: You have been unavoidable as of late following the enormous Billboard pop chart success of your first two singles “Nothing On You” and “Airplanes.” Are you trying to rub it in with your high profile feature in the latest Adidas commercial?
B.o.B: [Laughs] It’s just crazy to me. They are spoiling me too much by giving me these looks. I’m just humbled. By me saying “Kick it like Adidas” [in my new single “Magic”], which is the line in the commercial that they used, I guess that’s what sparked the initial interest in including me. Dr. Luke produced the song, but originally it wasn’t the track we planned on releasing. But after “Magic” became a fan favorite during my live shows, the song took on a life of its own.
Given your start as an underground artist, are you shocked that your songs have dominated the pop music charts?
Yes, I’m shocked. I didn’t think “Nothing On You” or “Airplanes” would be as pop as they would become. But pop music isn’t just pop music anymore.
How do you explain such success to the longtime B.o.B fans that know you from your mixtape days when you were dropping songs like “Haterz Everywhere” and "I'll Be In the Sky?”
For the true fans who knew me before the mass fame; who knew me as an aspiring artist; who knew me as the underground mixtape guy that just loved making music and performing—I want all those fans to know that the changes that have happened in my career are the equivalent of a college football player going pro. When you are on the playing field, a lot more things matter—such as what type of shoes you have on or scoring a Gatorade commercial. But you still have to be true to yourself, and that’s what I’ve been. I’m the same artist I was before all of this.
Does it bother you that some rap blogs have labeled you as a pop rapper?
No [Laughs]. It’s kind of funny. I guess some fans are kind of frustrated and some fans want the old B.o.B, and then some fans are cool with the new B.o.B and some fans really don’t care. But that sort of talk is inevitable when you look at the type of growth that my career has taken. I actually had to let go for this to happen. I let go of a lot of my worries and let myself just make music. I actually feel like I’m in more of a solid space than I was in when I was doing the mixtapes.
You no longer feel artistic constraints…
Right! Because when I was making the mixtapes I was really lost…but I wanted to be lost. I wanted to run away from reality and get lost. I was kind of like going on a vision quest. You know the Native American vision quest when you go out to the woods and you get lost in nature while under the effects of some form of hallucinogenic? That was the state I was in during those mixtapes from "Cloud 9" all the way to 'May 25." But the main thing is deconstructing your previous beliefs and exploring yourself and really understanding who you are.
Your label mate Lupe Fiasco has been going through a power struggle with Atlantic Records. Do you identify with his issues?