Georgia rapper addresses politics, flat Earth conspiracies
B.o.B. rarely lacks for something to say. But on “Peace Piece,” the standout cut on the rapper's most recent LP, Ether, words tumble from him like flood rains overwhelming a country dam.
Within the song's first 90 seconds, B.o.B. manages to address the United States' troubled history with race (“They say let's make America great again/Except for the slavery and genocide”), the ill-conceived war on drugs, a history of segregation that has gifted black America with little more than “a month and a television station” and the rise in police shootings of young men and women of color. “The last words that a man should ever hear,” he raps, “should never be, ‘Get on the ground.'”
“There is still a market for black lives. Whenever there's a shooting, television ratings spike and news corporations get more money. It's like blacksploitation has evolved,” said B.o.B., born Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr., who performs at Alrosa Villa on Sunday, June 18. “But the song ‘Peace,' it's not just about black people. I talk about when women didn't have rights and Native [Americans] and any race or sexual orientation that has gotten the shorter end of the stick at any point in time.”
On Ether, B.o.B. presents as the constant outsider — on “E.T.” he compares himself with an alien life form — taking in all facets of society from his oft-lonely perch. It's an attitude the rapper adopted at an early age, forced to navigate home life in the inner-city while being bussed across town for school “where there was more of a diverse crowd,” as he explained it.
“I learned how to talk to people in the hood where I'm from, but also how to talk to Hispanic and white people and really understand the way people think,” he said. “When you're young you're so impressionable, you just pick these different things up. And I think that comes out in my music with my vernacular and my tastes. I never fit into just one crowd, and that's probably why I'm a drifter.”
Stylistically, Ether bounces between spacy, drugged-out jams (“Xantastic”), angry tirades (on “Fan Mail” he reads from hate mail and relives a phone conversation with a controlling record executive) and glossy, Auto-Tuned anthems like the twinkling “Avalanche.”
B.o.B. described this versatility as “a double-edged sword,” saying it allows him to flex his creative muscles while at the same time instilling his music with an unpredictability that might dissuade some listeners drawn to only a single aspect of his personality.
“It's definitely a tricky situation when it comes to figuring out what songs I'm going to do for [a particular] crowd. When I do bat mitzvahs, it's a completely different set of music because it's kids,” he said. “But it's a beautiful thing. Because I'm versatile I can do many different types of venues and play to different types of audiences.”
According to B.o.B., Ether is the first project that has encompassed all the varying shades of his personality, from the playboy to the space alien to the political provocateur — a development he credits to his decision to release the album independently, a first for the rapper.
“[A song such as] ‘Substance Abuse' probably wouldn't be on the album if I was going through a major label, but it's a side of me people should see,” he said. “There probably would have been more intervention, like, ‘Well, this song sounds good, but we need to get our producers on it and we need to fix that hook. We need to fix that verse.'”
He also addressed the flat-Earther conspiracy comments that set off a social media firestorm in early 2016, albeit briefly.
“You know, I never had any regrets [about making the comments],” he said. “I tell you what, though, I definitely never knew people felt so passionately about the shape of what we live on.”
Blame his view from outer space, I guess.