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While it's not uncommon for albums to move back in the release schedules, to guarantee either coverage in a quiet week or a critical blackout, it is rare for a long-player to be pushed forward (leaks aside). But The Adventures of Bobby Ray is such a record, a collection that arrived sooner than expected in the US to take advantage of the success of number one single Nothin' on You. The result: a number one album, too.
So far, so what: such an achievement Over There is the equal of Diana Vickers' recent performances Over Here. But while B.o.B's radio-dominating single Nothin' on You is sweet, summertime RnB, its chorus delivered by the silken tones of Hawaii-born guest Bruno Mars, much of this impressive set showcases a deep appreciation of one of hip hop's four elements, MCing. B.o.B, aka North Carolina native Bobby Ray Simmons Jr, is a lyricist with a loquacious flow so liquid-like that he warrants optimistic parallels to Outkast and Black Star duo Mos Def and Talib Kweli. He'll get better with age–he's only 21–so don't be surprised if B.o.B ascends to a comparably lofty level of acclaim, assuming he better balances superb MCing with his less-appealing croon in the future.
That our central performer, abetted by a slew of lyrical contributors, never adopts the persona of a boastful MC is hugely appealing. More often than not his heart is on show, and he speaks openly of true love over resorting to the relative chart-rap staple of spouting misogyny. Airplanes is one such number, our protagonist asking the object of his affections just to wait a little longer for his arrival. It features Hayley Williams of Paramore, one of a pair of rockers on board. But while Williams' efforts complement the sombre tone of Airplanes, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo's turn on Magic is anything but. And the less said about Eminem's self-referencing verse on an album-closing reprise of Airplanes, the better.
But Eminem's presence, as well as that of Lupe Fiasco, is an indication of the already high standing of B.o.B. This is a musician with creativity on tap and enough of it to burn through a little filler here while ensuring the prime cuts emerge perfectly. And when the similarly hyped Janelle Monáe joins him on The Kids, the listener is evidently in the company of two of 2010's most significant breakout artists. --Mike Diver
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