The rapper and famous friends reflect on the game’s ups and downs.
Fraser McAlpine 2012
Now that the hip hop youth wing has taken one of its periodic swings into Newsnight-worrying amorality, it’s curiously reassuring to fire up a platter that concerns itself with the traditional values of the form: doing well financially, being the best, going out for a drink or two, and carping about the disorienting aspects of fame.
That’s not to say Bobby Ray Simmons Jr is run-of-the-mill: he’s blessed with a gift for clear language, rarely missing his point and delivering his thoughtful lines with flinty disdain. He’s also very good at painting himself as the victim of his own brilliance, getting Morgan Freeman to narrate the apocalyptic introduction to his second album’s opener Bombs Away, and then launching it with the line "I used to dream of success, now success is inadequate," as if this is something we are expected to sympathise with.
The surprising thing is, more often than not it works, because he plays up the desperate seriousness of the rap game, which sounds very weighty and important, even when he’s rapping about going clubbing (Strange Clouds) or playing a lovely gig (Arena). It helps if you’ve got talented friends, of course. Taylor Swift delivers this album’s Airplanes moment in the disarming passion pledge Both of Us, and with Out of My Mind Nicki Minaj once again demonstrates how to take a mad song and make it better.
As with a lot of overlong albums, especially overlong albums that seek to address universal concerns, the last four tracks all feel like the grand finale, and any of them would do the job nicely. However, there’s one final twist: Where Are You is an argument between Bobby Ray and B.o.B, both sides accusing the other getting lost in the fame game, amid Glee harmonies and Elton-ballad piano. It’s pitched somewhere between super-hubris, an early strike at the haters and the early stages of a diva’s nervous breakdown.
Lord knows what he’ll be dissatisfied with by album three, but whatever it is, it’ll probably be worth hearing him out.