Summer's hip-hop king B.o.B. amazed by his 'Slumdog Millionaire' moment

Summer's hip-hop king B.o.B. amazed by his 'Slumdog Millionaire' moment

GRAND RAPIDS -- It was the day to interview B.o.B.

In the middle of the afternoon Aug. 3, my first question for this summer's hip-hop/pop king was simply "How does it feel?"

"Um, it feels ...," began Bobby Ray Simmons Jr., pausing for three seconds, "it feels so good."

A lengthy bout of elated laughter followed over the phone as the Atlanta-raised and -based artist was getting ready to sound check for a performance at Six Flags St. Louis.

Earlier that day, MTV released the nominees for its 2010 Video Music Awards. B.o.B. found out "on my Twitter" that he had secured five nominations, including one for the coveted Video of the Year category for his tune "Airplanes," featuring Paramore lead singer Hayley Williams.

For perspective, Eminem was the most-nominated male with eight VMA Moonman nods.

"Airplanes" also received nominations for Best Male Video, Best Collaboration and Best Hip Hop Video. His May breakout debut single, "Nothin' On You," featuring Bruno Mars, was nominated for Best Pop Video. It was during B.o.B.'s interview with The Press that it dawned on him just how many he had received.

"Oh, wow, that's amazing. I just, uh, wow," the 21-year-old stammered.

The Winston-Salem, N.C., native is equally as astounded by his explosive mainstream success this summer. His album, "The Adventures of Bobby Ray" (April, Atlantic Records) debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, selling 84,000 copies. And his singles have topped the Billboard 200 and digital charts ever since.

"I really did not know it was going to unfold the way that it did. It definitely exceeded my expectations tremendously," he said. "Me, personally, my intention is always the music."
IF YOU GO
Rock the Rapids

What: A three-day music festival featuring country, rock and hip-hop/R&B.

When: Tonight, Monday and Tuesday

Performing:

-- Jason Aldean, with David Nail, 7 tonight (gates open at 6), $25-$49.50

-- Bret Michaels, with Saving Abel, Taddy Porter, Finding Clyde, 6 p.m. Monday (gates open at 5:30), $20-$49.50

-- B.o.B., with Baby Bash, Chiddy Bang, Aaron Fresh, Shontelle, Cody Simpson, featuring emcee Kelly Rowland, 5 p.m. Tuesday (gates open at 4), $10.45-$39.50. Pre-show performances by local groups APOC and A.B! & Coconut Brown.

Where: Fifth Third Ballpark, 4500 West River Drive NE, Comstock Park

Tickets: Available at the ballpark box office, by calling 784-4131 or online at rocktherapids.com (specials and coupons available); parking $7-$10

More info: rocktherapids.com, fifththirdballpark.com

B.o.B. so far has tapped a snappy radio formula -- pairing his style of rapped verses with famous featured guests from other musical genres laying down catchy, melodic choruses. Like his early work that began at age 13, but with a twist, B.o.B.'s recent formula has found a way to "play the game" of the music industry while still spotlighting his anti-mainstream rap style, he said.

"It definitely has a lot to do with playing their game by my rules," B.o.B. said. "You have to be a part of the overall system."

But more than any type of current formula, he attributes his blow-up success to other factors. B.o.B. was signed to an Altantic Records subsidiary in 2006 while in high school and had produced a couple of EPs, grinding it out until it paid off this year.

"I think that the timing of the songs in which they were released and the storyline of my career prior to the songs being released -- I think that's what made it what it was. I think that's what made it kind of a story as opposed to just a song," he said. "And then the good thing is that if you don't know the story, the songs can still, I guess, capture you."

For his music to find success, the young lyricist believes the underdogs might be having their day.

"I think all of this is kind of like the statement for music. I think it stands for a lot of the music, a lot of the underdogs, a lot of the Emo kids, a lot of the kids who felt misunderstood and different ... I think it's reflective of culture more so than anything. I think just ... a lot of people can relate to the sound and the feeling of it, of the music."

Though young, B.o.B. has been successful long enough to be part of the rumor mill. No, he is not retiring. No, his stage name was not derived from fellow Atlanta rappers Outkast and their song "Bombs over Baghdad." (Though he does believe Atlanta's hip-hop-rich culture and his contributions to the scene have influenced each other in a "circular" relationship.) For the record, a friend coined the phrase, changing what had been his nickname: "B."

"He just spelled it out one day, like 'Yo, 'B,' 'O,' 'B.' What's up.' And I was like, 'Yo, you just gave me my name. That's it,'" B.o.B. said, laughing.

The VMAs will air live from Los Angeles' Nokia Theater on Sept. 12. On Tuesday, B.o.B. decided to admit the obvious.

"Well, you know I will perform, so I'll just say I will perform," pausing, "well." Cue B.o.B.'s lighthearted laughter. "I wouldn't want to say (what song), but I'm pretty sure, you know, pretty sure people will guess."

While he's probably referring to his most-nominated hit with critically acclaimed knockout Williams, maybe the audience will be treated to "Magic," his current single featuring Weezer's Rivers Cuomo, that also is charting on Billboard.

But before then, B.o.B. brings his show to Fifth Third Ballpark on Tuesday for the third evening of Blue Cap Entertainment's "Rock the Rapids" music festival. The concert will be emceed by Destiny's Child songstress Kelly Rowland.

B.o.B. promises to bring an "exceptional" show to Grand Rapids, provided the audience brings its game, too, he said.

"It's like 'Almost Famous,'" B.o.B. said, describing his early career. "And then a 'Slumdog Millionaire' moment."

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