Atlanta-based rapper B.o.B rose from the underground quickly after releasing his 2010 debut, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, where he used a savvy list of guest pop stars like Bruno Mars and Paramore’s Hayley Williams to round out the record. The follow-up, 2012’s Strange Clouds, mined from the same formula and added Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne and T.I. to his list of collaborators. But his third album, Underground Luxury, aims to show a different B.o.B. side. He says it’s a return to his grittier rap roots and so far, he’s kept up that promise with the two lead singles, “HeadBand” with 2 Chainz and “Ready,” which mixes his raps with Future’s off-kilter warbling. B.o.B recently spoke with Rolling Stone about Underground Luxury, reteaming with Chris Brown, and his long-mooted rock EP.
What’s an “underground luxury”?
To me, “underground luxury” is kinda like a contrasting title and the reason for that is because on this album I plan on introducing to people and reintroducing to people the side of me that they didn’t see on the first album. On that album, I didn’t really show my underground side and I didn’t really tell my story as much and as vividly as I’m telling it now. Telling a story isn’t always a linear thing that involves going from point A to point B — it’s about putting myself back in a mind state to when I was struggling and when I had to really go out of my way to make ends meet when I was coming out of high school and really struggling. It’s really like a re-telling of the story from a different perspective.
Why did you decide to release “Ready” as the new single?
I feel like it’s the season where everybody’s going back to school and football is back in season, which is one of my favorite sports, so I just felt like it was a great song for the time. Then me and Future, we’re both from the east side [of Atlanta] so it felt like a real necessary move to make. What Future brings to the song is just crazy. Future came up with the hook and brought it to me first. I heard it and I loved it and so I spent a couple of days just trying to live with it and letting the music flow. The way I write now, I just try and let the music come to me. I really don’t try to force anything, so if I catch something like a vibe or a feeling then I catch something and go with it and let that direct me. I feel like it’s a more natural way to finish songs.
Do you remember when you first heard Future?
The first time was definitely in Atlanta, in a strip club, I think I was in Strokers. The song “Magic” came on. Atlanta was really introduced to Future through the song “Racks” [by YC], that was when everybody heard him, but to met it was “Magic” that really brought home his talent.
Is the album done?
It’s pretty much done. I got enough material to put out two albums if I wanted to but it’s really hard to narrow it down ’cause there’s so many good songs but I also want to make that overall great album.
Are the two singles representative of the direction you’re going in with Underground Luxury?
I feel like it’s representative of the club side of the album but I’m really trying to give people all sides of me. So of course there’s the side of me that likes going to the strip club and likes partying but there’s also the other side of me that’s a lot more transcendental and a lot more cerebral that’s on the album as well.
What’s the most cerebral song on the album?
I got a song called “Coast Line.” It’s not out yet, and I can’t really say too much on it yet, but it’s a very abstract song. I don’t want to spoil anything for the first time listeners, but that’s the one. I mean, I haven’t really figured out all the songs that are going to be on the album, but that one definitely will be going on there.
Your past albums feature a slew of great guests. Are there any lined up for Underground Luxury?
I got Chris Brown on there. He’s dope, man. We were at the studio and we always work in a lot of the same studios so he just stuck his head in the studio one day and I was like, “Yo, man, I got some shit that I need to play you.” So he played me one of his records for his album and we both got on each other’s album.
It was reported last year that you were working on a rock EP. How’s that coming along?
Yeah, you know what though? It’s gonna be rock ‘n’ roll done my way, you know, I’m not really chasing after a traditional rock ‘n’ roll sound. The reason I say rock EP is because I’m so inclined to have live instrumentation on it. I play guitar, keys and bass myself and I just love live music that way. To an untrained ear it might appear to be a rock EP but it’s written really just by me not holding myself back from how far I want to take live music.
Have you recorded anything for it yet?
Absolutely I started recording it. But it’s about when it’s the right time to finish it and get it ready for release.