At first glance, B.o.B.’s Strange Clouds appears to be sibling to Nicki Minaj’s recently released Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded: Both crossover-friendly sophomore albums court pop audiences by mixing straightforward rap tracks with club cuts from producers like Dr. Luke and RedOne. Minaj even makes an appearance here, dropping by to flip the “Airplanes” hook from desperate plea to menacing threat. Still, the stronger comparison might be to Wale’s sophomore set Ambition, but where the latter rapper is making an occasionally uneasy move from backpacker-approved mixtape darling to Maybach Music Group street rapper, B.o.B. is continuing his equally turbulent transition to pop superstar.
Of course, if Strange Clouds has a unifying theme, it might be the inadequacy of such labels. “I ain’t too big on duality, but/ If you think you know me/ then you ain’t seen the half of me,” he raps on Morgan Freeman-narrated opener “Bombs Away.” Dichotomies continue to burst three songs later when country-via-teenpop singer-songwriter Taylor Swift makes her Dr. Luke debut, delivering the hook to “Both of Us” over the producer’s dubstep-meets-acoustic-guitar beat.
But after B.o.B. finds international love on the piano-driven, de facto “Nothing on You” sequel “So Good,” the titular clouds begin to darken, and the record ends with suite of contemplative songs in the vein of “Just a Sign,” a moodier cut to which finds Atlanta pal Playboy Tre contributes a guest verse while an Imogen Heap of B.o.B. vocal tracks reflects on mortality, technology, and life between the bass drops.