2010′s B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures Of Bobby Ray was a chart-topping smash, housing both of the aforementioned singles. The greater public found an adept lyricist who could churn out Hip Pop with only a hint of saccharine, and Hip Hop could have a rapper that didn’t disgrace them like Flo Rida did. However, by 2011 a guy named 2 Chainz emerged from the flames of his previous moniker Tity Boi. His take on Trap Rap was palatable; enough for Future to follow, and the mainstream was more drawn to Trap than ever before.
By 2012, B.o.B. dropped Strange Clouds, straying even further from what was happening in Atlanta, boasting collaborations with Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Morgan Freeman (yes, you read that correctly) and many others. Dr. Luke had a heavy hand in the production, only furthering the Pop trajectory that Bobby Ray was embarking on. His third LP Underground Luxury sits in between the two worlds of Pop and Hip Hop. B.o.B seems willing to embrace his hometown’s “new” sound, and while his effort feels forced at times, the greater whole of the work solidly reflects B.o.B’s star power and current mindstate.
“It’s just so many women, it’s just so many chains. It’s just so many watches, it’s just too many things I want,” he coos on the opener “All I Want.” Filled with chants of “Money!” and a laundry list of ways to spend it, B.o.B reflects on his need to pay the rent. “One Day” follows with more dreams that money can buy. The aspirations come to a screeching halt though with “Paper Route,” as B.o.B leaves no fucks on the table as he tosses bars around about distorted reality and temptations to the tune of zips and handclaps.
Future lends a helping hand on “Ready” and naturally it sounds more like a Future song. The same goes for the DJ Mustard-produced “HeadBand,” where the whistling beat gets blown away by 2 Chainz. Even Chris Brown assaults the beat (too soon?) on “Throwback,” rapping over an apropos chant “Go crazy to this.” The songs with features are all top notch — especially the Mike WiLL Made-It-laced closer “We Still In This Bitch” with B.o.B’s Grand Hustle leader T.I. plus Juicy J. They all sound like B.o.B is a guest star though, which is a detriment to enjoying Underground Luxury for the person who created it. Still, songs like “Coastline” exhibit B.o.B’s solo knack for Pop; it’s when he ventures into Hip-Hop that he appears to need some help.
However, there’s a message to this madness, etched out clearly in “Nobody Told Me,” as he says, “I guess I bit off more than I could chew, and nobody told me,” while adding, “Nobody told me money don’t make you rich.” B.o.B has officially entered the Drake period of his career, where the success (while still being too Pop for Hip Hop and too Hip Hop for Pop) is catching up to him. He’s not all the way emo (yet), but he might get there. Underground Luxury will sate B.o.B’s Pop fan base, provide the Hip Hop heads with some fodder, and leave the rest of us confused. His next step will have to be his best step, since the fork in the road has finally arrived.
Best Song That Wasn’t the Single: The intensely lyrical “Paper Route,” where B.o.B has bars on bars on bars. Sure he hangs out with Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift, but Bobby Ray is a rapper by trade. Now if he can only do that all the time.
Best Listened To: While holding a match and a camcorder, staring directly at the American flag, contemplating rebellion but making sure your YouTube account is set to “Private.”
Idolator Score: 3.5/5
— Kathy Iandoli