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B.o.B's 'Strange Clouds' is a Successful Genre-Jumping Endeavor

Published: Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 20:05

B.o.B.

Strange Clouds
(Atlantic)
Grade: B

Not a lot of rappers can say they're feuding mercilessly with critical darlings Odd Future, modeling for fashion lines, or collaborating with Chris Brown, Taylor Swift, and Morgan Freeman, all at about the same time. That's B.o.B.'s job.

The North Carolina-reared hip-hop singer/MC made his first album, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, into a genre-jumping, conceptually schizoid affair. The follow-up, Strange Clouds, benefits from his debut's messed-up musicality. "So Hard to Breathe" is a hook-heavy honey of a cut with a handsome jumble of tenderly acoustic and epically electric guitars. "Where Are You (B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray)" reflects his Southern upbringing. "Arena," featuring T.I. and salty crooner Chris Brown, is aerated and arena rock-hopping grand.

Although it lacks Adventures' fantastical thematic through line, Clouds still has the same melodious singsong quality to B.o.B.'s raps, whether going it alone ("Circles"), doing a brown-eyed soul routine ("Castles," with Trey Songz), making nice with the voice of God (Freeman on "Bombs Away"), or doing a duet with Swift, country-pop's sweetheart of the rodeo. Together, B.o.B. and Swift make "Both of Us" into a buoyantly sentimental blend of ukulele-filled folk and syrupy dubstep-lite. That's some dumb – but weirdly effective – genre-jumping.

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