B.o.B. • Underground Luxury • Atlantic • US Release Date: December 17, 2013
B.o.B. delivers a so-so effort on third LP Underground Luxury
B.o.B. had a hot start off to his rap career back in 2010 when The Adventures of Bobby Ray debuted at number one on the Billboard album charts, eventually being certified gold. “Nothing On You” was a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Later, a huge record entitled “Airplanes” seemed to be just what B.o.B needed to establish a viable, lengthy rap career. If only the magical fairytale had worked out that way for the ATL MC. Second album Strange Clouds (2012), didn’t receive near the buzz or success of the first. Now after a ‘bomb’, B.o.B is forced to pick up the pieces on third LP Underground Luxury. Unfortunately, the many of the pieces seem to be bent or broken throughout this somewhat underwhelming effort by a relatively talented MC.
“All I Want” isn’t the greatest opener ever. Within the intro, the MC comes off a bit ‘shallow’, playing up hip-hop clichés: “Whether I can afford it or not, n***a / I want b*tches, I want cars, I don’t give a f**k, I want it all / that’s what the f**k we’re here for.” Really? B.o.B clarifies his attitude on the verses, softening his tone from the bravado: “I used to say I never cared about the money until I put food on my momma’s table / follow the trail / could’ve been in jail / the way that I live / could have been fatal / must have had an angel…” While his ambitions are more relatable after details of his ‘come-up’, “All I Want” doesn’t have the effect it could’ve had. Follow-up “One Day” doesn’t quite get it done convincingly either, even as B.o.B continues on a personal trek. The opening duo just feels like it lacks ‘magic’.
“Paper Route” isn’t perfect, but with the clapping drums and sharp-sounding synths, it sports more oomph than the previous tracks. B.o.B strikes gold with quite the opening lyrical salvo: “You don’t know who you f**king with / ain’t no democrat, and by far I’m no republican / this the type of talk that’ll probably piss off my publicist / and I ain’t even started, the water ain’t even bubbling…” He doesn’t let up off the gas, with his most meaningful line coming courtesy of verse three: “Don’t let these f**kers rob us for our freedom and your rights.” OK…
“Ready” proceeds, assisted by the ubiquitous Future, but doesn’t achieve the same level of quality as “Paper Route”. Future’s hook may use his signature trick (autotune), but the wordiness hinders it from being catchy. Luckily for Bobby Ray, “Throwback” is the banger Underground Luxury could’ve used earlier. Sure it’s a ‘booty’ cut, but at least it good one. As for Chris Brown’s guest rap on the second verse – he’s just plain nasty. Feminists won’t be pleased, and they shouldn’t.
Playing a seesawing game, “Back Me Up” isn’t horrid, but it’s not great either. Basically, B.o.B is stating he’s got support from everywhere: “East side gon’ back me up, gon’ back me up / West side gon’ back me up, gon’ back me up / South side gon’ back me up, gon’ back me up / North side gon’ back me up, yeah.” It works, but don’t call it a hit. “Coastline” leads a group of misses – just saying! “Wide Open” features Ester Dean who’s vocal role is as follows: “Bust it wide open, let you see what I’m workin’ with.” B.o.B. predictably talks about his plans to hook-up, making a comparison to a four by four. Shameful! “Fly Muthaf***a” is even worse. It’s as if B.o.B wants to see how many f-bombs he can drop to sound cool. “N***as don’t like it when you fly as f**k / but I’m fly as f**k.” Not on this track B.o.B!
“Headband”, another ‘booty’ anthem (featuring 2 Chainz) atones for the numerous improprieties of a horrid outgoing stretch. Of course it lacks depth and really isn’t respectable, but it’s the energy Underground Luxury needed at this juncture in the album. Still, B.o.B bragging about his favorite strand of weed and his sexual desires is by no means meaningful or truly enhancing. As for 2 Chainz, he’s just as bad if not worse: “Her a$$ would knock your a$$ out, you better stick and move / chain hang to my…” SMH! “John Doe” keeps momentum flowing, serving as a stark contrast to “Headband”. Priscilla handles a superb hook while B.o.B matches the song’s tone with more meaningful lyrics – he eschews another ‘cellulite’ ode.
After “John Doe”, things grow mediocre once more. “Cranberry Moonwalk” is a bore save for some stinging one-liners including “Killin’ through the presidents / that’s assassination…” (verse one) and “I got my own lane but I ain’t got no genre / I’m sh*ttin’ on n***as, you might need a plunger…” “Nobody Told Me” is an inspirational-style rap cut, but lacks memorability. “Forever”, similarly, doesn’t feel distinctive. Single “We Still In This B*tch”, featuring T.I. and Juicy J, closes the effort with a knockout punch. Even so, this anthem isn’t enough to ‘save’ Underground Luxury, which has plenty of flaws.
The verdict? Underground Luxury is B.o.B’s weakest album to date – no question about it. That may sound harsh, but Bobby Ray isn’t always on his ‘A’ game here. Even the good tracks don’t stack up with his best from his biggest claim to fame, The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Clubby anthems do help to close the gap between abysmal and say mediocre/average, but it’s not enough to alter the judgment of the album as a whole. Two and half stars out of five might be being generous.
Favorites: “Paper Route”; “Throwback”; “Headband”; “Jane Doe”; “We Still in This B*tch”