Strange Clouds/ BoB
Grand Hustle-Rebel Rock-Atlantic (India distributor: EMI Music)/ Rs 395
Of the various music genres, hip-hop is one which I haven’t followed too closely. At the same time, I haven’t been too cut off either, having had my staple fill of Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent, 2Pac, Missy Elliott, Kanye West, Run DMC, Beastie Boys and loads of videos aired on vH1. Of course, I do have my personal preference on the kind of hip-hop I like — it should be well-produced, have variety and very few (or preferably no) expletives.
The third quality is often difficult to find — it wouldn’t be hip-hop if the lines were squeaky-clean, would it? But I definitely found the first two factors in ‘Strange Clouds’, the new release of American artiste Bobby Ray Simmons Jr who goes by the name BoB. This 15-track effort features well-known contemporary acts like Chris Brown, TI, Lil Wayne, Taylor Swift, Nicki Manaj and Ryan Tedder, but what attracted me was the name of actor Morgan Freeman, who appears on the opening track ‘Bombs Away’.
“As the war between light and darkness continues, heroes and villains become harder to identify,” Freeman begins in his distinct voice, and BoB continues, “Whenever I wake up I get this feeling that I can wait up because time is ticking bombs away.” A brilliant keyboard and drum backdrop, some controlled rapping and powerful words make this a winner.
The rest of the album has quite a few highs, though there are passable and absurd portions too. Among the better moments, ‘So Hard To Breathe’ starts with an acoustic guitar line and builds up with BoB singing, “And it’s so hard to breathe and even moreso to sleep when no one cares”, backed by a melodic chorus backdrop.
‘So Good’, which is about dreams to travel and has smart lines like “I’ll be your Da Vinci if you be my Monalisa,” is probably the catchiest and most ear-friendly tune here. Country singer Taylor Swift’s voice is sugar-sweet on ‘Back To Us’, where she sings: “Some day I will be strong to lift not one but both of us” in a song that alternates hip-hop with country-pop.
The title track has a neat vocal stretch by Lil Wayne, whereas the piano-backed ‘Arena’ has a crisp interaction between Chris Brown and TI. The other goodies include the very hummable and semi-danceable ‘Never Let You Go’ with Ryan Tedder, and ‘Where Are You’, where BoB has a conversation with himself. Singer Lauriana Mae chips in with a nice pop vocal on ‘Chandelier’, where BoB raps “What’s a song if you don’t have words, what’s a word if you don’t get heard?”
If ‘Ray Bands’, ‘Play For Keeps’ and Circles’ are quite formula-driven, ‘Out Of My Mind’ with Nicki Minaj gets too cacophonic, with an overuse of swear words. Of course, hardcore hip-hop fans would most probably prefer this one.
This is BoB’s second album. I haven’t heard his first ‘The Adventures of Bobby Ray’, barring the number ‘Nothin’ On You’ with the popular Bruno Mars, which just okay-dokey. But overall, ‘Strange Clouds’ is impressive, and definitely not as strange as a lot of stuff one gets to hear these days.
RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic