Rapper/producer B.o.B (born Bobby Ray Simmons), now officially confirmed as the headliner for Dillo Day 2011, has had plenty of hype to live up to over the last few years. Soon, he’ll face the toughest trial yet of his fledgling career: headlining a free performance to drunk college students on a Saturday afternoon.
Can he pass the test? Yes, probably.
He’s been putting out music since 2006, and his underground single “Cloud 9” gained enough praise to warrant Atlantic Records signing him as a high school senior. With a handful of mixtapes since then, attention has just kept building. The debut studio album he released last summer, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, reached No.1 on the Billboard charts to mostly positive reviews. B.o.B’s résumé goes on: he’s collaborated with artists as recognized and varied as T.I., Lupe Fiasco, Eminem, Janelle Monáe and Rivers Cuomo. It is fitting, considering his hyperactive musical style. He recently played at the BET SXSW Showcase in Austin, and for all we know, he may have even run into Chet Haze there. In other words, B.o.B is a big deal.
There are a few things we can expect on Dillo Day. B.o.B has developed a reputation as a live performer with lots of energy and noise. He plays on a full, lively stage with a band, backup singers and dancers. Don’t be surprised to see him jump from one instrument to another throughout the set. B.o.B will even strum along on less rock-heavy fare, like “Don’t Let Me Fall,” and jump on the piano for a number of songs like Atlanta-influenced “I’ll Be In The Sky.” At the same time, B.o.B knows he’s a hip-hop star first and foremost. Hopefully, we’ll see him freestyle or run through a verse solo as he’s been known to do.
For those giving him a cursory glance before the show, B.o.B’s musical taste and enigmatic personality can be hard to pin down. He often makes clear his intentions to make a masterpiece of a record. Not only that, he wants to do so as a musician rather than a rapper. He cites Björk as an influence and a dream collaborator given the opportunity. To call him an Atlanta rapper is a bit misleading: although the southern twang comes across in his phrasing and delivery of numerous verses, the sound is a far stretch from genre-defining OutKast. However, most of The Adventures of Bobby Ray falls under the general pop/rap umbrella. Smash hit lead singles “Nothin’ On You” and “Airplanes” will be huge performances, and for what it’s worth, it’s hard to imagine nobody knowing the infectious Rivers Cuomo collaboration “Magic.”
Reaction to the announcement was mostly positive. Considering some of the huge acts Mayfest has brought in the past, there’s bound to be a little disappointment. At best, his raps are clever, catchy and flat-out entertaining, leaving B.o.B as good as or better than many of his contemporaries. At worst (and too often), the verses get drowned in overproduced and dispassionate pop noise. B.o.B’s attempt to create a full, artistic vision with his album may have gotten lost in Atlantic Records’ efforts to make him a star, but that doesn’t take away from the sheer talent behind every song he puts out. Sure, he’s a rapper that makes the pop charts, but to say he raps for the pop charts isn’t just discrediting, it’s also inaccurate. Despite his attempts to blend a range of influences together, what it all really boils down to is chart-topping hooks and sing-alongs. Whether or not you’re excited, let yourself have fun, as that’s the kind of thing B.o.B is best suited for. Chances are, he’ll be a great fit for Dillo Day.