Bobby Ray aka B.o.B walks into the room and asks one of the Atlantic Records staff if there is an acoustic guitar around – or if they can possibly get his from his hotel room. He wants to get more comfortable and stay creative throughout the day, even though it’s jammed with back-to-back interviews. Cool, laidback and in shades, this 21-year-old fast-rising star (he has two hits already behind him – Nothing on You and I’ll Be in the Sky) seems relaxed but very focused about his what he’s after. If first impressions can offer a glimpse into the future, the first impression of B.o.B is of someone set to make his mark in the ever-changing world of hip hop.
You’re a rapper who is also a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Would that potentially make you hip hop’s equivalent of Prince?
[Starts laughing] I guess you can say that… I didn’t really think about it like that!
You’re amongst a new breed of rappers, like Lupe Fiasco [his label mate], Kid Kudi and Charles Hamilton… Do you think this is just a trend that’s happening at the moment or is this the next level of hip hop?
I think it’s like where before you had artists who just spit lyrics to someone else’s beat, but if they also made the beat themselves, it was just extra and rare. Now, you have an artist making their own beats and it’s like standard. But then you have someone like me playing guitar, or Charles [Hamilton] who can play the keys – I don’t mean someone in the studio just pressing a few notes and making a melody for a beat… I mean he can play! I was in the studio with him one time and he’s a beast! Chords, scales and everything, he knows how to play and you would never know just looking at him! In Put Me On, I used a sample from A Tribe Called Quest [Bonita Applebum] but also played live guitar on it. I mean, you can only sample so much music until you run out and actually gotta start making some new music to use, you know? [Laughs]
When did you go from just Bobby Ray, performing locally, to T.I. signing you to his Grand Hustle label where you’re now charting high on Billboard and have a growing fanbase around the world?
Well, I was “discovered”, I guess you can say, at T.I.’s club – Crucial – in Atlanta. I mean, I had met him and his managers before and we’d speak from time to time, but if you want to put in at a certain point in time when it all changed, it was when I performed there on that night and… it just went from there.
OK, so which one… B.o.B or Bobby Ray and what’s the acronym mean?
[Laughing] It’s whatever you want it to mean… I don’t really worry about which one anymore; it’s just more about the music for me.
Southern hospitality. How would you host a Brit around the ATL for a day?
If it was like a grime rapper, I would take him to the hood and show him around, you know? I think there
are parallels between grime and Southern hip hop. It’s the energy and… you know… just that feel to it. I would show him around and then we [would] just go to the studio and get into it.
You’re getting ready for a US Tour with Lupe Fiasco now, so when is the UK/European tour?
Right now we’re just doing promos. Some people know me over here as much as they do Stateside, but there’s still more to do before a tour over here happens – but I’ll be back soon. My album is releasing over here on May 31, but that’s like one month later than the US! That’s crazy! [Laughs]
Are they any UK rappers that you’re familiar with that you like?
I like Tiny Tempah, Dizzee Rascal… those are some of the ones I know, but I’m still learning about the grime/UK scene over here. I was listening to the soundtrack to Shank and was feeling those guys. [Starts thumbing through the issue of Flavour on the table featuring the film on the cover]
What can UK audiences expect from one of your shows?
For one, they’ll probably be surprised to see a rapper playing a guitar, and just the whole live band… They’ll get an experience because that’s what it’s about, and showing them all of what I can do!
Interview by Ahmed Sirour