B.o.B is a multi-time Grammy-nominated, BET-nominated and award winning rapper, songwriter and producer. Since signing in 2006, he has produced multiple RIAA-certified platinum and gold records, bringing about classics like “Nothin’ on You” and, of course, “Airplanes.”
Hailing from Decatur, Georgia, B.o.B has become a giant in the music industry. His extensive discography is still growing and cementing his already impressive legacy in the world of hip-hop. His latest project “Better Than Drugs” and his 2022 tour of the same name will stop in Madison on Tuesday, Sept. 27.
B.o.B shared his thoughts with The Daily Cardinal in this exclusive interview ahead of his upcoming show at Liquid.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Your latest album coming out is called “Better than Drugs.” What about your music makes it better than drugs?
It’s different for different people. I have a lot of people tell me that certain songs change their lives, and it’s always the songs that I would never expect. Certain people like sad songs that get them through hard times and sometimes it’s a fun party song. It’s really different for each person, but I feel like an artist has to make a life-changing moment. And then that moment sets in and becomes nostalgic.
A lot of people, especially my age, grew up as your music evolved. What do you have to say to the people who grew up with those nostalgic moments in your earlier discography and have grown with your music?
I don’t think anything can really f— with nostalgia. It’s gotta become nostalgic. I think it being good is one thing — like music is always good — but the nostalgia side of it is what grows over time.
It has to be a good moment, and then you have to let the clock roll a little bit. It’s almost like cooking something, you gotta put that b— in the oven sometimes. As an artist I’ve had to change my mindset about a song being done. Just because it’s done being recorded in the studio doesn’t mean the song is done — it’s gotta cook with the fans.
As an artist, you’ve worked with a lot of different sounds. You started out playing trumpet, if I’m not mistaken. How did you evolve from being a band kid to starting your rap career?
It really started with me not being able to get my rocks off in band class. I remember thinking, “Man, I just want to write music.” I remember spending hours trying to take what I learned all the way from elementary school to high school concert band to all that s— and really try to make it translate to my production software.
I started out on FruityLoops — it was techno software that we got a hold of in the hood and we just started making trap beats on it. I couldn’t figure out how to take everything that I learned in band and put it into producing. So that itch that I was trying to scratch started early because of that. To be honest with you, now I’m finally at the level of understanding music enough to be able to do what I was trying to do years ago.
You’ve churned out quite a discography in terms of both quality and quantity. Do you think that as you’ve gone on, you’ve taken more time to evaluate music, or to go back to that analogy, to time it a little bit differently in the oven?
That’s actually a great point. It’s kind of interesting because my fans’ attention span is reflective of my own sometimes. I have a Discord for all of my patrons on Patreon, and they bring up old songs that I forgot I even put out. I’m like, “How the hell did you get that song, a leak?” But they definitely remember… even if I move on from it. So if it’s really good, they’ll like it.
You were signed extremely young — so you’ve been in the music community quite long even though you’re still pretty young. I read a story that when you were 17, you got snuck into a club to perform for music executives.
Yeah, I definitely got snuck into a club, but the music execs already know how good the music is. You have to play it out — like a movie you’re trying to write; you have to create a story. I really have to go perform because even with those same execs, if I bombed that night, it really wouldn’t have went well.
Is there any advice you would give to your younger self with what you know now?
I would’ve told myself, “S—’s gonna get real tough, bro. But you gotta just stick in there, dog.”
When you craft your music, you have a prolific way of integrating features. You build this narrative out and you know exactly what a person needs to do for a song to come together. When you’re in that process, what are you looking for when you’re trying to pick the perfect feature?
It’s changed over the years because it started out with having guest verses and guest choruses. When it came time to perform “Nothin’ on You” or “Airplanes” or “Magic” for TV, we could never get these artists because Bruno [Mars]’s on tour, Paramore’s on tour — you know what I mean? Because it was such a headache to perform those songs at award shows and s— like that, I kind of went, “Well, I want to sing on the hook. I don’t want a guest vocalist because then it’s hard to perform the song.”
Many times more songs are guest verses, and that kind of stifles my creativity. So now I’m like, “If it’s a good song, cool. I can go at the end, I can go at the beginning, whatever.”
Is that what was going on with a song like “So Good?” — where you got tired of having those features and you needed something to perform that wasn’t dependent on somebody else?
Yeah, that song… actually, me and [frontman of OneRepublic] Ryan Tedder wrote that in the same room. And we actually adjusted the vocals for me to sing. It was originally him singing the hook and I was explaining to him like, “It’s going to be hard to perform this song with a guest vocalist, so we shifted the vocals for me to sing the hook because he sings in a way higher range… so we had to change the key because it was beyond me. Those super high notes he sings — like no chance.
Your albums usually tell really strong, cohesive narratives. Is that something you pride yourself in, and do you think that it’s a fundamental component of music?
Mixtapes and albums can both be equally as good, but I feel like an album is about the theme. I recently recorded a rock album — and by no means would I ever call that a mixtape. A mixtape can be really ranged and really well thought out, but an album just takes a lot more time and resources and effort put into the story. An album is more timeless — and a mixtape is like a quick appetizer; but in an album, these songs are going to sit on the shelf forever.
You tend to keep your albums around 19 songs or fewer. How do you feel about a lot of artists these days who are putting out 35 to 40 song albums that are marathons to get through?
Well, my “Elements” project is four separate projects, and they were introduced separately. So it gave people a new experience each time when it was released on vinyl and released on streaming. Dumping out so many songs at once — I’m not really a fan of that. Once the tracklist starts getting to like 14, 16, I’m like “Alright, this is a little too much.”
You have a lot of lyrics in songs about cannabis. Do you have a particular favorite strain, and does that change in different situations like when you’re on stage or in the studio?
If I’m on tour, I can’t wait to go to the state of Oregon to get Durban Poison. They only grow it in Oregon. It’s one of the rarest strains in the world, so that’s one that I look forward to. Being on tour in general… I’ll take any high grade, top shelf s—. But when I’m in the studio in Atlanta, you have to just take what you can get.
Since we are a college paper, do you have any wisdom you’d like to bestow on college students?
You really have to lean into what you have fun doing. I feel like if you don’t really have fun making the music, no one is going to have fun listening to it — and that goes with everything in life.
You really have to tap into what you enjoy doing, even if it’s not your job… even if it’s not what you do for a living. But find something that you f—ing love to do and have fun doing that s—. And never let go of that. Because that thing is going to carry you through your entire life — even if it evolves and changes.
What inspired your latest album, “Better than Drugs?” Is there any particular catalyst that influenced it?
Getting money, f—ing bitches! Ha, I’m just playing. It was supposed to come out on 4/20 and be “Better than Drugs” on 4/20, but we had a bunch of clearance issues so we had to push it back to August. But basically, we were supposed to put it out before summer and have a summer tour. But now we’re at the end of summer going to Minnesota where it’s freezing.
What’s one thing people should be excited about going into your performance at Liquid on Sept. 27?
I’m releasing my next “Elements” project called “Anti-Matter,” and that’s coming very soon. So, I’ll actually perform some of the unreleased songs from that project. Other than that, look at the tour blogs. It’s pretty fun, pretty lit, and you get a chance to check out behind the scenes. That’s on my YouTube channel. Other than that, I just have new music. There’s a lot of good s— coming.