12.07.2010

ARTICLE: B.o.B's "No Genre" Drops and Soars

The art of the "mixtape" as it pertains specifically to hip-hop goes back to the musical genre's origins. In fact, it's arguable that without mixtapes, hip-hop would have had a much rockier start. Through what were then essentially demos, often consisting of live performance recordings, artists managed to expose themselves to wider audiences.

These days mixtapes are typically samplers meant to promote upcoming albums. For example, Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Diddy's promising (and seemingly B.o.B-inspired) new undertaking, Diddy - Dirty Money, recently released "Last Train to Paris Prelude", a mixtape teasing content from their upcoming debut album, which releases December 14th. Diddy monologues at length on "Prelude", describing inspirations for his new direction. Occasionally a background vocalist will sing to the effect of, "Buy the record December 14th!" Earlier in the year, B.o.B himself released "May 25", a mixtape similarly (and perhaps, based on the title, even more blatantly) teasing his "Adventures of Bobby Ray".

With the epilogical "No Genre", however, B.o.B isn't promoting anything but himself. He's rocketed to fame with hot singles like "Nothin' on You" (featuring Bruno Mars) and "Airplanes" (featuring Hayley Williams) and as a result, as is usually the case with new stars we attempt to hastily define, has been put in a box by popular media. As this mixtape's title largely suggests, here B.o.B is answering this popular definition with his own more detailed and versatile one... and he's doing it monologue-free. In this regard, "No Genre" plays like an album proper.

With previous mixtapes such as "Who the Fuck is B.o.B?" (which I highly recommend getting the DJ Scream-less version of), Bobby Ray has put forth a unique honesty. He alludes to difficult beginnings and refers to rapping as something he's simply capable of, thereby a talent he uses to defeat financial struggles. I've learned much more about the artist through these recordings than relevant Wikipedia pages. Like a diary with a soundtrack, a mixtape offers opportunity for the expression of somewhat less marketable content, and our man takes full advantage. Now he's doing it again under the context of mainstream fame.

From opening moments, "No Genre" fires on every cylinder in spite of the relatively lesser production value that is typical of this format. Track number one (and possibly the number one track), "Beast Mode", is an immediately energizing sum-uppance of Bobby's post-"Adventures" mentality. Already a stronger confidence is riding high. This is palpable in full through track three, "How U Do That".

We gear down (but certainly not quality-wise) with the slower, piano-accompanied "Feet Don't Fail Me Now", featuring someone called Spodee and the now-incarcerated T.I., who as the owner of Grand Hustle Records is essentially Bobby's boss. This and the following track, "Higher", featuring Playboy Tre of B.o.B's "HamSquad" among others, portray an appealingly sensitive fellowship.

From there, "No Genre" hits a comfortable groove and remains consistently solid for its duration. At one point B.o.B plays with Foreigner's "Cold as Ice" as he once did with The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby", and later samples the "Sanford & Son" theme for "Grand Hustle Kings". The tracks "American Dreamin" and "Dr. Aden" even address socio-political issues.

I'm not exactly a fan of modern hip-hop (and if the superb "Who the Fuck" track "Generation Lost" is to be believed, neither is Bobby), but greatness makes for easy exceptions. The fusion of rapping and singing we heard in early single "I'll Be In the Sky" - the fusion that carried "Adventures" to such great heights - is oft present to be sure, but more than anything this is an artist letting loose and breaking through encircling barriers. B.o.B's etched a foothold. Now he's clarifying.

Download "No Genre" for free from B.o.B's official website.

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