Given the sudden success of Bobby Ray Simmons, a.k.a. B.o.B., it would appear as though he arrived out of thin air (which the title of his latest single, “I’ll Be in the Sky,” seems to insinuate). Abandoning the trajectory of Southern hip-hop to focus on blending everything from cellos to trance, B.o.B. seamlessly chips away at the industry’s well-reinforced genre-confined walls. Although a fellow ATLien has also made that his life’s mission, listening to B.o.B. isn’t like hearing Andre 3000 through beer goggles. His is a brand-new journey into the abstract and whole new story to tell, complete with incense-laced dreams of Björk and, thankfully, no Auto-Tune.
Are you still recording your album?
Yeah, I’m still trying to get it spick and span, because I want it to be a masterpiece. We’re slating it for late spring/early summer, when it’s real vibrant. I think it’ll go with the vibe of the season. I have so many songs, we could put an album out right now if we wanted to, but I don’t want it to be like a mixtape, with a bunch of songs thrown on there. I want it to be like a story, movie, epic journey type of deal. I also just started playing the cello, so when I get my skills sharpened on that, I want to incorporate a little bit of that on the album. I’m gonna have a whole symphony [laughs].
What made you decide to learn the cello?
I think it was the president of Universal Publishing. He came by the studio to talk to me, and he was like, “You play the guitar?” and I was like, “Yeah.” Then he goes, “Well, let me go grab my cello.” He went and grabbed his cello and showed me how to play it. Then he starts playing my acoustic and I’m playing the cello along with it. This was my first time ever playing it, and I’m hitting notes along with him. I’m thinking, “Man, I may wanna learn how to play this.” So on my birthday, my parents and asked me, “What do you want for your birthday?” I said, “A cello.” They thought I was kidding, but I got it and have been playing it ever since. It’s been about three weeks.
Your single “I’ll Be In the Sky” definitely coincides with your goal to tell a story. What was your thought process making that song?
I laid the beat and made the hook because the song had just been in my head. It was one of those melodies that wouldn’t leave. I’d always hum it around the house. So I laid it down, and then I had to go out of town and my manager B Rich heard it. He was like, “You need to put some verses on that. It’s the jam.” I wanted to go deeper than that “when I go, don’t cry” type of song. I wanted it to relate to the state of music and the influences in music that I saw. I went deeper with it and tied it into the bridge by saying, "I was a man with no name/ But now I’m attributing mo’ fame/ But all of this ain’t gonna matter when I die." While we’re here, we have lots of bad influences, but don’t focus on all that. Live your life because we’re gonna die one day. Not that it’s a bad thing because [breaking into song] I’ll be in the sky.
Considering those lyrics along with the whirlwind of success and magazine covers that have been following you this past year, did you see it all coming?
It’s crazy because I wrote that maybe two years ago, but when you’re working with a label it takes a while for them to see where you’re trying to go. For me, there’s no specific demographic — I’m not just an urban artist or I don’t want to just market myself to America, I don’t care who comes; I just want to have fun with it. Because of that, because I didn’t confine myself to one box, it took the label a while to understand what I was trying to do.
Your Ode to Auto-Tune is funny as hell. Since you actually have a nice singing voice and you can rhyme, how do you really feel about Auto-Tune?
You know, when I first started singing in songs like two years ago, I’d use Auto-Tune. It seems like since then, you hear someone sing with it and you’re like, “OK.” Then you hear someone rap with it and you’re like, “OK?” It keeps getting overused now. I started taking voice lessons about a year ago so I wouldn’t need Auto-Tune. The thing is, whatever you do with Auto-Tune, make sure you can do it on stage [laughs]. That’s why I stopped using it as a crutch. When I’m doing background vocals and I need one high- pitched sound like a girl, I may use it. But as far as the overall presentation, I don’t want Auto-Tune on my voice.
So you use your own vocals to emulate a woman’s?
Yeah, I’ll do everything myself. I wanted to have a step team sound, so I went and did 20 steps myself and stacked them all up to sound like a step team, claps and everything. I can’t bring a full band in the studio or a whole step team, so I’ve gotta improvise. A lot of the stuff you’d probably think was a sample, but I did it.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
I wanna work with Björk. She’s out there. She’s on some other stuff, and she definitely knows the social barriers and constructs and doesn’t care.
Wow, left field, although considering your influences…
Yeah, most of my hip-hop influences have been earlier in my life during middle school and high school. Once I got into this industry and started seeing the behind the scenes and how things work, it kind of made me branch out to other genres like rock or older like Beach Boys, Frankie Valli type of stuff.
Did people look at you funny for that?
Oh yeah, people would grab my MP3 player to see what I was listening to and hand it right back to me like, “Here. I don’t want that.” Even now I listen to all different stuff. Before I go to bed I’ll listen to Zen music to get to sleep, where they’ll be playing the sitar and I’ll be burning my incense. I’m like a modern-day hippie.
If you weren’t here, where would you be?
I’d be a chef. Being as how stubborn and anti-authority I am, I’d just have to create. If I am doing something creative, I can deal with the “doing what I don’t wanna do” side of life.
What kind of chef would you be?
A Cajun/Italian/Southern chef. I’d probably be just as diverse with my cooking as I am with my music. They’d say, “You can’t just mix up all different things together.” And I’d say, “Yeah I can. I’m doing it now.”