When B.o.B. makes his way inside the DX office, he comes with a light collection of associates, management and his publicist. He introduces himself to the staff, gets mic'd up and prepares for the interview. From jump, he comes off as a genuinely nice guy mixed with that Atlanta-based Southern charm. Then again, the platinum-selling emcee/producer eventually admits to indulging in the finest California trees. All around, it’s peaceful vibes. That’s the same aura B.o.B. has been providing since his breakout moment five years ago with his first enormous single “Nothin’ On You” featuring a pre- Doo-Wops & Hooligans Bruno Mars. Featured on his Grand Hustle/Atlantic debut B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray, it placed him within the rare league of crossover successes following a slew of standout mixtapes.
However, those who’ve followed Bobby Ray’s career understands his abilities to flip between both pop and Atlanta Hip Hop. This is something he’s very much aware of as he continues to defy sounds many associate him with. Growing outside of the artist mode, he’s still incubating his No Genre label, even releasing a mixtape featuring the roster entitled No Genre: The Label earlier this year. That doesn’t mean B.o.B. has forgotten about himself. Last month saw the surprise release of his fourth major label studio album Psycadelik Thoughtz. The album represents a new creative beginning for the guy who clutched a Taylor Swift collaboration before it became fashionable in Hip Hop. Guess one could call him that forward in his thinking.
Sitting down with DX, B.o.B. explains managing both his No Genre label while maintaining his solo career, working on two projects including one with Tech N9ne and his status in music.
B.o.B.: I feel good about it man. We did a lot. It was a lot going into that project particularly, because it was a surprise project. And, because it was dependent on social media I had to get all my ammunition ready for release. Then we did Bobwood Festival the day after it came out which was also the 46 anniversary of Woodstock. It was a crazy week but it was fun.
DX: Been listening to the album for the past four or five days and it’s been five years since The Adventures Of Bobby Ray. What’s the evolution been like for you as an artists emcee and producer wise?
B.o.B.: As a producer, I think growth and producer are synonymous with each other. They go hand-and-hand. You have to evolve your sound with the times. And, you know? I hate saying it like that. It’s a conversation. When you introduce something to culture, if it’s not a new thing - like when you talk about wordplay for example. As a lyricist, when you use a word like cool for example. The first person to say cool, people were like “I like that.” He used cool to describe something that was awesome. At that point, using cool is no longer pushing the envelope. It’s the standard. As a producer, you kind-of want to stay current with the conversation. We’re talking about sound choice, tempo, BPM and everything.
DX: Psycadelik Thoughtz is a departure from your previous works. Then there’s the fact that you don’t depend on a lot of features this time. Where did that decision come from?
B.o.B.: It was a surprise project. It was a project where I wasn’t trying to reach anyone’s expectations or aim anywhere in particular. I wanted to do something that was cohesive. And, it all stands from "Back and Forth," the lead out single. I wanted to make something that could support it. It started off as being an EP and then grew into a whole project. I feel like this project is so special because the people have been asking for Bobby Ray and this is Bobby Ray in full form. At the same time, it’s the next step in getting me to where I’m going. I have to show people this. On my next album, it’s going to be even crazier. Not left so to speak but just what you’d expect from me.
DX: It’s been a busy year for you man. You started off the year with No Genre: The Label alongside the recent album. How do you build an artist roster while working to put out a surprise project?
B.o.B.: When it comes to putting together a roster on a label, it’s more about working with family because we are family. And then, you want artists who want it more than you want it. I want artists to be more successful than I want them to be successful. I want them to be successful, so they all work hard in many different ways and they all have their own hustles and lane that they want to go in. I feel like it’s a great beginning to this huge organization that goes beyond music.
DX: Is there any difficulties in that balance of building a label and ensuring your solo career stays intact?
B.o.B.: Me, it’s a part of the story. No Genre is a part of the story of B.o.B. It’s the new point of my career. I mean, I’m five years in since the first album. I guess that’s like a slick veteran. Don’t call me a veteran yet... [Laughter]
DX: It’s kind of good to even be here five years especially the way artists come and go at such a higher rate now. Being on Grand Hustle, what have you learned from your time there?
B.o.B.: For me, I was privileged to work with an artist who’s put out eight albums. That’s way more than I have. He’s seen the game evolve to where it is now. Even before I was even in it. It’s always great having that big brother, role model persona around you.
DX: What kind of advice have you received from T.I. at the moment in building No Genre?
B.o.B.: You don’t need no guns. [Laughter] Naw, I’m just joking. It just varies man. He just supports whatever I want to do. Even if he sees me kind-of going off course where he knows I want to go, he helps steer me on in the right direction. For the most part man, it’s always 100.
DX: You also have a close relationship with Tech N9ne.
B.o.B.: Yeah, Tech N9ne is cool! And, we’re both Scorpios.
DX: You were recently featured on his Special Effects single “Hood Go Crazy” with 2 Chainz.
B.o.B.: “Hood Go Crazy” came about or just my relationship with Tech N9ne came from a real organic place. Then there was the song “Am I A Psycho.” That was the first thing.
DX: That was from All 6’s and 7’s right?
B.o.B.: Yeah, we did it in a big way. We’re like family man. Whenever we’re in the same city, we link up. There’s talks of us doing a mixtape too. That’s going to be crazy.
DX: B.o.B. and Tech N9ne?
B.o.B.: Yeah man. We’re working on it.
DX: Watching what Tech’s done with Strange Music, you absorb anything from being around him?
B.o.B.: He really built a brand man. I heard he made the Forbes list and just to do that independently is like Black Wall Street type of shit. That’s always inspiring to see someone start something from the ground up and then make it to the Forbes list without having major label help.
DX: You’re first big hit was “Nothin’ On You” featuring Bruno Mars. Looking into The Adventures Of Bobby Ray album you also had Janelle Monae on the album as well. What’s it like to grow together like that?
B.o.B.: It kind of feels like a popular show and then the cast parts ways. It’s kind of like that. All the artist featured on my first album that I worked with - and I’ve worked with a lot of artists man at different points in their careers. I even had Morgan Freeman on the intro to Strange Clouds. I didn’t even think that was going to happen. That shit came through. All in all, I’m just proud of being a part of the story. That story involves many key figures and iconic figures.
DX: On Strange Clouds you even had a feature with Taylor Swift.
B.o.B.: I mean, I can name down the list now. Taylor Swift, Morgan Freeman, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown. You know what I’m saying. Like Lupe Fiasco and Lil Wayne. Everybody.
DX: I consider you a part of the upper echelon of rap. How does it feel to be in that circle?
B.o.B.: Hip Hop is a culture. It’s beyond the music. Every genre has had to embrace Hip Hop in some form or fashion. Even country music. They start rapping on the guitar and stuff. But for real, it’s a lifestyle.
DX: Adventures Of Bobby Ray came out during the infant years of Atlanta’s Trap scene. Any thoughts on where the scene is at now?
B.o.B.: I think artists like me, it’s really up to us to really show a different side of Atlanta. It’s something you don’t see from just listening to the radio. Atlanta is a mecca. Atlanta’s geographical location has something special about it. Everybody lives there, it’s like the busiest airport in the world. It’s a terminal. Because of it, it’s always these different types of flavors and styles. But, it’s still rooted in the south. It still has that native energy. It’s a musical melting pot. That’s why the music is live.
DX: Is Atlanta the Mecca of music at this point?
B.o.B.: Atlanta is like the beacon of what Southern music was or is today. In regards to all the surrounding areas, this is how I view it from Texas, Dallas, Houston, Memphis, Miami, North Carolina. Everyone who encompasses this huge scene of Southern music, having Atlanta be the Mecca and having the area influence the world musically - A&Rs ask for a Mike WiLL Made It type of beat with a Taylor Swift type of hook and Drake type of verse. You know what I’m saying? That’s amazing.
DX: Crazy because you’re particular music inspirations run the gambit of various genres.
B.o.B.: Like I grew up listening to DMX, Eminem, Nas, Bone Thugs. But I’m in Atlanta so I’m influenced by Lil Jon and the whole New South movement. I’m influenced by it anyway because you hear that all the time. In my personal time, I listen to eclectic music. I went from that to getting into Coldplay, Foo Fighters, My Chemical Romance, Paramore and stuff like that. It’s crazy because I always wanted to do a song with Paramore and then I ended up doing “Airplanes” with Hayley Williams. Then I have their bass player Jeremy Davis on Psycadelik Thoughtz for a few tracks. It was like I started working with Paramore.
DX: In a recent interview, you mentioned having an awakening moment for Psycadelik Thoughtz. Where was your mind at during that time?
B.o.B.: Before I made Psycadelik Thoughtz, it really wasn’t the direction I was trying to go in but it ended up being what was right. I wanted to pick up the guitar again. Just trying to show people what makes me different. Cause a lot of people forgot. I just did an interview where the reporter was like, “I forgot you played guitar.”
DX: You have the “Play The Guitar” track with Andre 3000.
B.o.B.: Yeah exactly. People forget and you have to. You have to remind them. For example, when I released my first album, I’d ask people what their favorite song was. Some would say “Nothin’ On You” and “Airplanes” to “We Still In This Bitch” and “Headband.”
DX: Your fans seem to take from different parts of you. Was that the intention in the first place?
B.o.B.: Not really man. It’s just that I can’t stay in one place. I’m like a busy body. Ultimately, the goal is to have as many as my fans at my shows as possible and to be a part of my album. This is until I have an album that encompasses all of them into one project. I don’t want my Hip Hop fans to be all like, “Ah I’ll sit this one out” or my pop fans won’t be like, “Ah he’s working with Future I’ll sit this one out.” My whole approach to this is; honestly, I didn’t grow up listening to rock music or what we’d call weird shit in the hood. I didn’t even like it. Man, my brother tried to put me on to this and I didn’t want to hear no Smashing Pumpkins or Nine Inch Nails. I was like put on some David Banner or something. By the time I really started liking rock, I figured if I could show people the similarities and help evolve the taste that Hip Hop fans have for music, I feel like we could really open the doorway. I think five or six years ago, I don’t think people realized collectively that everybody listens to all types of music. I think people really was thinking Hip Hop heads didn’t know who Kings Of Leon was. Now, everybody knows about everybody. I went from performing at Coachella to Bonnaroo and it was just rock fans. Years later, it’s like 2Chainz and everybody crowd surfing like yeah! That’s where we’re at.
DX: Do you find it difficult to evolve people’s taste?
B.o.B.: People have to like what they like. When you have a huge, successful record and everybody likes it. You can’t control that. Just make what you like. Making a good song, you can control that or great song. A hit record that’s going to steer culture in a different direction, you can’t predict that.
DX: Was that an issue you ran into when Underground Luxury dropped?
B.o.B.: Underground Luxury was a very successful album because I had two platinum singles from that album. But, Beyoncé dropped her album the same day. On that project, I just wanted to be in the clubs. I got what I wanted out of it.
DX: Considering where Hip Hop is at, can you say you’re one who was able to steer those taste in a specific direction?
B.o.B.: I’m absolutely aware of what I brought to the game upon me being introduced to the world. I didn’t think it was going to be that big from the jump. You know, I have a foundation of fans when I was doing my mixtapes. Then when I did my album, it was so many more people who were introduced to me through “Nothin’ On You.” It took a lot of re-engineering. It’s reintroducing myself again. I know y'all seen that but look, I got some more shit. It’s like a constant conversation.
DX: You’re working on another album already?
B.o.B.: It’s actually almost done. It’s very blunt and open lyrics. Like there’s nothing I didn’t talk about on this next album. Internally, personally, publically. Musically, it’s an album you can play if you were in the club, BBQ or it’s the weekend and you want to drive with your top down. It still has that B.o.B. feel that people relate to.
DX: Do you see yourself having a creative burst at the moment.
B.o.B.: Most definitely. It’s a creative burst of energy. Eventually in this game you start not to give a fuck. And even if you do give a fuck, you start giving a fuck less. As you enter the game, it drops as you keep going. You can’t do things to please people you have to just be yourself. It’s not about just being yourself during an interview or yourself during a rap verse. Everything in being the spectrum of what being yourself is. I’m meant to be different. I can’t be everybody else.