“Can you help me elevate?” inquires Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr. on the title track of Psycadelik Thoughtz, his newest full-length release. In his creative guise as B.o.B, the Southern-born songwriter, singer, rapper and musician appears as many things to many people: edgy and urban, melodic and thoughtful, reflective and forward thinking. And with his latest release, one message becomes very clear: He needs very little help lifting off to new heights. B.o.B rose from Atlanta obscurity on the strength of underground singles, and mixtapes. “Nothing on You,” featuring Bruno Mars, and “Airplanes” with Hayley Williams of Paramore, and its sequel “Airplanes Pt. 2” with additional vocals from Eminem and Travis Garland were an entrée into the big leagues. His first full-length, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, released by Atlantic Records and Grand Hustle (the imprint founded by Atlanta rapper T.I.) debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album sales chart in 2010. Strange Clouds, with guest spots from Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj and others, featured production from such heavyweights as Jim Jonsin, Cirkut, Ryan Tedder, Stargate and Dr. Luke. B.o.B’s third full-length, Underground Luxury, with the single “We Still in This Bitch” featuring T.I. and Juicy J, was followed by “Headband” with 2 Chainz. Psycadelik Thoughtz arrives with little fanfare and no advance warning. To talk about this project, MC caught up with B.o.B as he was cooking breakfast, with pots, pans and spatulas adding percussion to our conversation.
Music Connection: We loved your performance last weekend in Los Angeles at the BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards honoring Nile Rodgers. Since you feature so much guitar on the new record, was his playing an influence on what you do?
B.o.B: Absolutely—both directly and indirectly. He was someone I sought out to put his ear to the song “Back and Forth.” One of the interesting things he told me when he gave me some feedback was, “Bob, there are a lot of things in the song that are technically wrong, but that’s the reason the song is jamming, because it’s an unorthodox approach. I wouldn’t change anything.” That’s dope advice coming from one of the pioneers of the sound that influenced that song.
MC: When we first heard “Back and Forth” it stayed on the brain for hours. Why do you think it has this addictive effect?
B.o.B: I think the way the music comes is the way that people hear it. Songs influence your mind. That’s the way I came up with the song. I was in a hotel room and the lyrics just slipped out. If you have a microphone handy like I did, or a microphone or a voice recorder, you can record and remember it. As an artist you don’t really control moments like that. It’s like catching lightening in a bottle.
MC: The title “Violet Vibrato” is so evocative. Did the title generate that song?
B.o.B: “Violet Vibrato” was a song I wrote in 2008. It predates my first album, so the lyrics are very true and literal even, but once the lyric was written it was like, “This is the title of the song.” I’ve been sitting on that song for years so I decided to record it and put it out.
MC: We’ve written about Jon Bellion in this magazine. He is featured with you as a co-writer and also a guest on “Violence.” What was your working chemistry like?
B.o.B: I was working with Jim Jonsin in Miami a couple of months before and he was like, “Bob, there’s this dude named Jon Bellion and you’ve really got to check him out.” I watched his video, and I thought, ‘”This is crazy, really dope stuff.” I ended up meeting him and working with him, and we went into the studio again to write songs. It was a really amazing chemistry.
I compare Jon Bellion to the likes of Pharrell with a sound that can’t be duplicated. It’s all in its own world. “Violence” came about the same way. It’s crazy—all of these songs came from me playing bass or some other instrument. Jon got the idea immediately when I started playing this guitar riff. I was just messing around and he was like, “Keep playing it.” Because I kept playing it, he came up with the hook, went right into the booth, and laid it all out in one take.
Read More: Songwriter Profile: Jon Bellion
MC: You have collaborated with all kinds of artists, from Bruno Mars to 2 Chainz. What do you keep in mind in terms of maintaining your identity and integrity?
B.o.B: Both artists in collaboration have to have not just a respect but an understanding about what each other does and what they bring to the table sonically and methodically. Sometimes an artist might have a really simple idea. A lot of thoughts about music sometimes sound like a foreign language but it’s very simple things we’re talking about. “Instead of playing the guitar lick like this play it like that, add one kick here, in the lyrics say this part before the other part.” Very simple things that can make huge differences in a song.