B.o.B On Loving Hayley Williams And Hating “Rap Politics”

Becky Bain | April 20, 2010 1:00 pm

Bobby Ray Simmons—who you may know simply as B.o.B, the brilliant mind behind the hit “Nothin’ On You”—was in desperate need of some nourishment after entertaining the crowd surging around the main Coachella stage. “I think that was the biggest stage I’ve ever been on,” he told us in the press area, almost dumbfounded that he got the chance to perform on the festival’s prime real estate. “It was ridiculously huge.”

He’d better get used to it if he plans to keep on writing smashes. We talked to the Atlanta rapper (whose debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, drops next week) while he downed a cheese pizza and touched on everything from the real death of Auto-Tune to his battles with “rap politics” to the one band he just might love more than Paramore. Read our sit-down with B.o.B below.

IDOLATOR: I saw you cranking out some push-ups onstage during your set. Way to work it! B.o.B: I was trying to challenge myself because I was getting tired. I was trying to tell myself, you’re not tired, keep going!

What was that like to perform on the main stage and look out into the crowd? It seems so far apart. I wish I was closer [to the fans]. It’s more of a historical thing to play on the main stage at Coachella. I’d rather do the tents because it’s more intimate.

What new acts have you checked out at Coachella that you’ve liked? Charlotte Gainsbourg I saw the beginning of. I saw Florence and the Machine—that was dope. The crowd loved her!

I love your newest single, “Airplanes.” What made you think of Hayley Williams for the featured vocalist spot? I went to [a Paramore] concert in Atlanta. Have you seen them? I love Hayley.

Okay, so we know Hayley’s awesome, how about landing Eminem for “Airplanes (Part II)”? [Eminem’s manager] Paul Rosenberg played him a bunch of my music until eventually he got to the point where he wanted to work with me. So, he flew us up to Detroit and we got in the studio. What’s crazier than working with Eminem is how smooth that whole thing happened.

Besides Hayley and Em, what artist or acts impress you the most? Florence and the Machine impressed me the most. You can feel the energy of the crowd, everything is there. The thing about live shows is, even though you have the popularity of a band, and this and that, popularity is just what attracts people to the show. You don’t give a good show, you don’t give a good show, it doesn’t matter how popular you are. 

In “Airplanes,” you mention wanting to stop the “rap politics” plaguing the music industry. What exactly are you referring to?

Rap politics is not being able to work with another artist because somebody is mad in between them. Or, somebody just doesn’t want that. Basically, it’s just when something is a part of an agenda and usually it’s all political. It could be something as simple as signing an autograph for somebody’s daughter who has a high position or something. Let’s say if you didn’t sign that autograph… you pissed somebody off. It’s all political. People’s egos get in the way of what it’s really about.

Is this more prevalent in rap than in other music scenes? Yeah, definitely. In the rock world, it’s accepted to have a band and have a lot of musicians. But the most challenging shit for me in my career is to incorporate a band into my music, even in the studio. If it’s really about the music, how come it’s so hard for me to do that? It’s politics.

You come out of the Atlanta rap scene. How do you think Atlanta’s role in hip-hop has changed the last couple years? I think it’s shedding its skin. A lot of the artists on the underbelly, artists like Claire Monet, I remember seeing her four years ago. She’s just not emerging because Atlanta has this ceiling, the only thing making it out of Atlanta was this type of shit. Atlanta party yeah. It’s hard for that shit to make it out.

I read you were taking cello lessons. What other instruments can you play? Guitar, piano, trumpet, a little bit of harmonica. [NOTE: we can certainly vouch for him on the guitar.]

Were you in band growing up? I was in band, elementary school, middle school, high school.

Are you going to pick up anything else? Yes, I wanna put my hands in everything. Pretty much, anything I can make a sound with, I’ll play this fucking tree!

You’ve also said you don’t use Auto-Tune. You think the trend toward robotic vocals is finally on its way out? Sometimes I use it for background vocals, and I still may use it for effect. But now it’s returning to…

Using it as a garnish as opposed to the main dish? You are so good with words. And I’m an artist and I’m supposed to be a little bit better with my words.

But you wrote the gorgeous love song, “Nothin’ On You” which is currently #1 on iTunes! Tell me how to write a hit song. I couldn’t tell you what it takes to write a hit song any more than Rihanna could tell you how to write a hit song, no more than the person on the bottom of the charts could tell you. A hit song doesn’t necessarily mean a good song, which doesn’t mean to take away anything from a hit. But people write great songs all the time, but what makes it a hit? Who knows. Organized chaos.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen at Coachella? I’ve seen weirder.

B.o.B’s debut album The Adventures of Bobby Ray is released April 27.