B.o.B perhaps exemplifies and embodies the rise and fall of a mixtape rapper like no other. After releasing a string of promising free projects, Bobby Ray was signed to T.I.’s Grand Hustle record label. His debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, was certified gold and produced three top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching #1 with “Nothin’ on You.” His follow-up, Strange Clouds, didn’t sell as many copies, but still gave him three top 20 his. His third album, Underground Luxury, was released last December to mixed reviews and hasn’t even sold 100,000 copies. Only three years after being one of the biggest hitmakers in hip-hop music, B.o.B was without the hype and sales he had grown accustomed to.
So how does somebody take that hype back? B.o.B decided that a sequel to one of his most popular mixtapes would hopefully do the trick. He released the original No Genre late in 2010, piggybacking off the success of his proper debut LP. With No Genre 2, he hopes to reclaim some of that long lost buzz and prove he’s still got it.
The first two tracks on No Genre 2 are promising. “Mission Statement” is an introduction to the idea of the “no genre” idea that the mixtape is named after. B.o.B can rap, sing, produce, and play guitar and will not limit himself to just making rap music. “Many Rivers” references the criticisms he’s received for continuing down the path of mainstream-oriented music and addresses critics by saying he’s the one in charge of his destiny and will do what he wants to do. B.o.B flows well on both tracks and conveys the charm of his earlier works.
Everything starts falling apart after that. After the first two tracks, B.o.B provides barely any of the variety that his mixtape’s title would suggest. Aside from a foray into rock music with “Follow Me,” most of the mixtape consists of standard mainstream rap songs about a small variety of subjects. In “Lean on Me,” B.o.B gets drunk, high, and meets girls. “Drunk AF” is about getting wasted and smashing ratchet hoes. “Swing My Way” is about meeting a girl at a club and taking her home. “So What” may be the most lyrically diverse of the bunch: not only does B.o.B party hard and acquaint himself with women, but he also talks about getting money. Now that’s multitasking.
For a rapper who is so adamant about his versatility, B.o.B rarely supports his self-assessment with sonic action. “The Nation” brings about the only change in pace; B.o.B aims to balance his aforementioned subject matter of standard party fare by acknowledging the trials and tribulations faced by kids on the street. His efforts come too late. This is one of the sole moments where Bobby Ray dares to get political, and consequently one of the only moments of apparent inspiration. Jake Lambo, a 16-year-old signee to B.o.B’s label, treats his verse as a message to his mom, swearing to swerve off the path laid by his deadbeat dad and taste success. The touching moment is alienated by the two tracks that envelop it, both about partying and getting laid.
B.o.B still has the tools to be successful in the rap game. He can be charming when he wants to and has talent behind the boards. He still has the backing of a big player like T.I. But if B.o.B sticks to limiting himself in sound and subject matter like he does on No Genre 2, he will never return to the old form he seeks to regain.
2.5 out of 5
You can download No Genre 2 here and stream it below.