The paradigm-changing success of Kanye West has made it acceptable, if not quite cool, for rappers to be in touch with their feminine and geeky sides. The past few years have seen the emergence of a new breed of hip-hop geeks comfortable rapping and singing about science fiction and their emotions, including Atlanta’s B.o.B. This gentleness manifests itself sonically as well as lyrically on B.o.B’s much-anticipated debut The Adventures Of Bobby Ray in the form of tinkling pianos, soothing melodies, and choruses featuring sensitive young men crooning plaintively about relationships, fame, ambition, and identity.
On “Lovelier Than You,” B.o.B even channels his inner Ben Harper in an achingly sincere love song that doubles as an audition to play a resurrected H.O.R.D.E. Festival. The album’s fusion of hip-hop and rock reaches its apex with “Magic,” a peppy, Dr. Luke-produced new wave number featuring Rivers Cuomo that’s so catchy it almost makes up for Weezer’s collaboration with Lil Wayne. Elsewhere, B.o.B gets reflective with an uncharacteristically engaged Eminem on “Airplanes, Part II” and Lupe Fiasco on “Past My Shades,” then indulges in chest-beating bravado over whistling synthesizers with T.I. on “Bet I.” A lesser artist could have gotten lost among the big names, but B.o.B’s soulful, Southern-fried sensitivity dominates this assured, thoughtful debut.