Reviews

B.O.B. – “Psycadelik Thoughtz” – (Album Review)

B.O.B. - "Psycadelik Thoughtz"

Twenty-six year old Decataur, Georgia native Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr., commonly referred to by his stage name B.O.B., has announced that his fourth studio LP Psycadelik Thoughtz, released on August 14th of 2015 through Atlantic, Grand Hustle Records, was a return of the alias he established on April 27th, 2010 with his debut album B.O.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Our first journey with Bobby Ray peaked at number one in the Billboard Rap charts early after its public unveiling and was met with oddly favorable reviews, though its singles “Nothin’ on You, “Airplanes” and “Magic” did nothing to stir my interest.

Since than he has attempted to show his verbal chops by doing tracks with a credible underground mastermind like Tech N9ne on the astonishing “Am I a Psycho?” from 2011’s All 6’s and 7’s (which was Tech N9ne’s only uneven affair to date). On this track he abandoned the generic and rote sentimentality and by the numbers dance infused vibe that is inescapable from his solo work and actually provided a verse that was so unorthodox and lyrical it was worthy of comparison to an early Eminem tune.

Having done a largely introspective ditty, far more stalwart in emotion than anything present on his latest full-length endeavor, with the genius that is Mr. Mathers himself on the smash-single “Airplanes, pt. 2” it did little to shake him out of his lazy and careless in the flow department persona. Though Marshall was the sole saving grace of the record, outside of a pleasurable hook, there was still hints at another far more interesting personality than the one that dominates his individual releases to B.O.B. This side of him sporadically shows itself and would appeal to a more mature crowd of Rap listeners who want variety in content, true aggression and content in lyric driven Hip Hop which actually speaks to the soul and not directly to the wallet.

Instead, B.O.B. clings, as he does for all but five of the eleven tracks in his latest forty minute and thirty-five second LP, to the saccrine dance melodies, vague narrative clichés that simply sound like an infant stringing nonsense syllables together, as he does in the putrid fifth track, “Plain Jane”, and hooks that reek of a desire to be ‘catchy’, and no more, to unassuming pop music masses as he does in the desperate ninth track, “Back and Forth”. The majority of the choruses found throughout the endeavor are the simple structure of one phrase, or when B.O.B. is at his most complex: two lines. When he, predictably, begs to go “Back and forth all night”, as so many artists have done in so many songs before him, in the previously mentioned tune we cannot help but see his hand out and hear the mainstream gears clicking into place with its usual mechanical whine.

It’s sad that so much of this album sees B.O.B. refusing to break out of his topical comfort zone because there are several genuinely ear-perking tracks throughout Psycadelik Thoughtz that hint at a rapper who wants to be more than another member of what we can best call: “The era of watered down, strictly for financial gain Hip Hop.” For example, the opening and title track, “Psycadelik Thoughtz” is undoubtedly Simmons most impressive display of rapid-fire flow and lyricism throughout held within this full-length endeavor. Though it is still a serviceable affair at times, the substance laced commentary on our need to uplift and unify is as timeless and necessary as ever. The beat is ear-gripping, off the wall and shockingly original. This is made all the more impactful because the track is packs much might into its three minutes and forty seconds and ,primarily, for a song that could’ve easily become another Hip Hop drug anthem it is elevated by an emphasis on self-expression. Alas, it is deceptive because it paints the picture that we will be digging deep into his mind for the entirety of the LP, with random thoughts thrown at us with the delightful fury he does here, but the façade is exposed once we get to the third track, “Confucious”.

Feebly attempting to align the idea of “Keeping your head high” with the philosophical genius of the individual whose moniker grips the title, “Confuscious” sounds like a clever attempt at an imagination fueled Pop/ Rap track. Instead it comes off in the manner of the later album affairs, “Back and Forth” and “Plain Jane”, as a noisy, soulless disaster. The melodies and hooks set up these sonic tragedies well for a balanced, if obviously radio friendly track, but it immediately becomes ingratiating by being simply becoming another painful exhibition of auto-tune in place of singing or rapping talent in the ineffectual verses. What could’ve continued the creative stride B.O.B. set-up with “Psycadelik Thoughts” and the wonderfully haunting refrain, which is married incredibly well by the low-key and unique tonal changes of the elegantly grim production of the two minute and twenty-seven second “Violence”, which cries out with the vibe of a classically funky track from the Hip Hop fusion band The Guerillaz, has now turned to the pallid, imitation of recycling what sells for further profit demeanor that dominates these aforementioned displays of vague generics.

This is filtered most noticeably through the words and sound of the dull and uninspired, “Hourglass”, a forcefully cheery test of tolerance, and “Up”, which is no more than another arrangement of money-making and being hated on (two of the most dissected topics in the genre of Rap). To make matters worse, both of these lackadaisical, coma inducing snorefests are no more than a notch above average elevator music.

Some of his obvious attempts at adding to the numerous hit singles currently to his name actually work. The tenth track, “Love Life”, features invigorating vocals by Sevyn Streeter (who is refreshingly the only featured artist on Psycadelik Thoughtz and I credit the record as a whole for not being another genre effort which sees more of the guests than the artists). The beautiful production fits the feel of a heartfelt Rap song and the classic style of a ballad tremendously well. B.O.B.’s lyrics and approach aren’t quite as sincere as Streeter’s soaring singing but, the duo have undeniably crafted a surprisingly listenable radio hit that seems largely genuine.

As is evident by the title track and “Violence”, B.O.B. is at his best when he is at his most experimental. On one of the massively impressive album highlights, “Violet Vibrato”, Simmons seems to be summoning the feel of a Doors record. His auto-tune trappings are completely obliterated and he belts out some astonishingly strong vocals over an infectious Rock groove that calls to mind the 1960’s and 70’s when an album with a title like Psycadelik Thoughtz would have been commonplace. Because of the overall sound herein he seems to have captured the mind-altering impression promised by the moniker of the LP the most on this smooth, inventive tune.

To Bobby Ray’s credit, he ends the album with much of the power with which he began it. “Have Nots” is three minutes and thirty-four seconds of uplifting, triumphant production. The hook which reiterates the tried and true idea of stating “You can have it all” weakens it, along with B.O.B.’s usually grating voice and unusually substance laced, but vastly unimpressive, rhymes. Still, this represents one of Psycadelik Thoughtz few successful marriages of sound and vibe and it results in a suitable, moving finale.

With the exception of the title track, “Violence”, “Violet Vibrato” and its two closing tunes, more than half of Psychodelik Thoughtz screams for radio play and, in so doing, sounds no different than anything else we hear nowadays. This seriously hinders B.O.B’s inclinations toward scant, but noticeable, attempts at genuine artistry. Some may call this “variety’ but I sense in an unease taking hold of him and stopping Simmons from evoking something that is wholly new and unique. It’s this concern with singles and selling records that keeps B.O.B. returning to the familiar format of the dancefloor, laughable attempts at sounding hardcore in the inflectionless manner which is acceptably mainstream, as he does in “Up”, and the conflicting attitudes throughout could’ve made for another strong argument of being multi-layered if it all didn’t seem so phony and pre-calculated.

Psycadelik Thoughtz opens and ends well, and has a few pleasant surprises in store, but is largely a disjointed venture aimed at capturing as wide of an audience as possible. It’s that lack of sheer intimacy and originality which holds Bobby Ray back from being the individual he hints at becoming and when combined with the fact that he still has no charisma, little personality or likeability as a singular artist and individual on the microphone, it makes for a mostly off-putting, disingenuous listening experience.

 

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