As far as radio-ready pop rap goes, B.o.B’s second record is pretty decent fare. Strange Clouds has all of the markings of a hit, including a wide array of guest stars and melodic, offhand tracks good for summer cruising and spring clubbing.
As the follow-up to B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, Strange Clouds is about what fans have come to expect. That record featured edible tracks like “Airplanes” and “Nothin’ on You,” both of which featured big name guest spots. This album packs similar singles and will enjoy similar success, but there’s nothing here that sets Bobby Ray apart from the relatively mediocre range of similar artists.
B.o.B’s tendency to play things safe will work wonders, of course. The craving for safe, cushy music may well be at an all-time high and Strange Clouds, with few allowances, is the ideal banquet.
As a rapper, B.o.B actually manages to carry some good flow when the opportunity presents itself. He shines brightest on the record’s solo cuts because he is outshined by nearly all of his guest stars. His pairing with Nicki Minaj (“Out of My Mind”) does appear to bring his enunciation and cadence up to another level, however, so the psycho Barbie doll’s job is well done here.
The album opens with “Bombs Away,” a track that has the pluck to include Morgan Freeman in a guest spot. After an intro that sounds like something from March of the Penguins, B.o.B takes off on a somewhat perfunctory set of bars that seems to mimic Eminem’s flow but never musters the rage the relatively peculiar, tortuous lyrics try to draw.
Taylor Swift sings the chorus on “Both of Us,” a track that attempts to decry conformity and support the plight of the underdogs. It’s a sweet sentiment, but Swift’s treacly and dull vocals, coupled with Bobby Ray’s lacklustre flow, creates little more than an American Idol moment.
Business picks up unsurprisingly with the appearance of Lil’ Wayne on the title track. Like B.o.B.’s team-up with Minaj, his work with Lil’ Wayne causes him to hoist things somewhat. Bobby Ray wisely approaches the track more aggressively, but Wayne demolishes him on what is a fairly average verse.
B.o.B also teams up with T.I. and Chris Brown (“Arena”) and tries to cut his own version of Eminem’s “Stan” (“Where Are You”), but Strange Clouds is too average to really take off. Fans will be satisfied with his middling pop rap and his safe brand of music is great for the radio, but real hip hop heads already know the book on B.o.B. and won’t be enticed by anything on this lukewarm sophomore record.