B.o.B. and Lupe Fiasco collaborated on "Past My Shades," which appears on the former's just released, soon to be number one album, B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Yet the two did not play the song together during either set last night at the Ogden. Assuming this was Lupe's decision (which, as this is his tour, it probably was), one of two things is happening here. Either a) Lupe doesn't think B.o.B. rates an appearance during his set, or b) Lupe doesn't want to be shown up by the younger Bobby Ray.
This is stupid: Lupe should just do the song. B.o.B. is not to be discounted -- he may well be more famous than Lupe in the near future. And it's win-win for Lupe because if there is one thing we learned at this show, it is that B.o.B. could not begin to upstage Lupe Fiasco. Not now, and probably not ever.
First opener Dosage from Philadelphia knew his place: A quick, twenty minute set doing things like rapping over "A Milli" and talking a lot about the rappers slated to follow him. The kid is an impressive performer for a 19-year-old, but this is not his time.
Ten minutes (!!) of set change later, the rapper from Atlanta with the number one song in the country ("Nothin' On You") took the stage to roars. He got an hour to split 50/50 between songs from his just-released debut full-length The Adventures of Bobby Ray, and songs from his meandering journey to this point.
With a couple key exceptions (the singles, mostly), it was all equally unrecognizable to the crowd. This show sold out three weeks ago, back when "Nothin' On You" was that song with the awesome hook and the largely anonymous rapper. These people paid to see Lupe Fiasco. At one point during "Don't Let Me Fall," I heard a dude ask his friend if this was his most famous song. "Don't Let Me Fall" leads the album, but is, at best, a very distant third in terms of popularity. And it came out three days ago.
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B.o.B. put on the kind of show that would probably impress the hell out of you if you didn't see it coming. He's a bouncy guy with a million-watt smile and a versatile bag of musical tricks. The highlight of the set came during "Generation Lost." The song started with the beat coming from a DJ. When that dropped out, he rapped the centerpiece verse a cappella, and then a band came out, and the song finished with live instrumentation. So B.o.B.'s voice got a little buried in the mix at first. It was still cool.
But B.o.B. is not catching people off guard anymore. They're starting to build expectations, and for now, that is the downfall of his show. He's got a good stage presence but not a larger-than-life one. He doesn't have much a flair for the dramatic -- on one hand he did drag a birthday girl onstage and very intimately serenade her with "Lovelier Than You," which was sweet (as in sugar sweet, not necessarily awesome sweet), but on the other hand he just made some lame joke about the beautiful girls in Denver to lead "Nothin' On You."
Dude: This song is the most popular song in the country right now -- even the people who have no idea who you are know it. We all know that Bruno Mars hook, and it puts a smile on every one of our faces. Milk that sucker. Starts and stops, extended version, crowd-only singalong, something. Just take a victory lap on it.
His influences are no secret: Starting with his name, which he took from an OutKast song. For the record, that's a lot like trying to be a professional basketball player while wearing Michael Jordan's jersey. And from there, just look at the album: Hayley Williams of Paramore and Rivers Cuomo on hooks, Eminem and label-boss T.I. on verses, Vampire Weekend being heavily sampled on "The Kids."
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This guy is 21 and listened to the same middle-class, middle of-the-road stuff the rest of us did. It is his willingness to embrace that, coupled with his ability to incorporate the sounds into his music, that give him a chance to be a vanguard in the evolution of popular music and a crossover mega-star. Not on this album (which will nevertheless make him a star the calibre of, say, Lupe Fiasco), and probably not on the next one. But maybe some day.
For now, B.o.B. does not have a single song that can match Lupe Fiasco's "I Gotcha." Or "Kick, Push." Or "Daydreamin'." The list goes on for a little while there. Lost in the hype-mountain that is B.o.B. is that this tour is still very much about Lupe Fiasco. Did you know he also has an album coming out soon?
I didn't, despite the fact that he's already released a pair of singles for it. The new stuff doesn't sound that great -- way heavy on rawk guitar and metal-worthy drums (his live kit has TEN cymbals, which is about six more than you can credibly use). But the old stuff sounds just as good as ever. I'd forgotten a little bit: Lupe Fiasco is a ridiculously good rapper. This is a man Jay-Z once said reminded him, talent-wise, of himself. That was a while ago now.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I think B.o.B. is fascinating, and "Nothin' On You" is a great song (although at least equal credit is due to Bruno Mars). Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor is one of my top 25 favorite hip-hop records. Random Detail: I saw DJ Awhat of The Pirate Signal, which has an album of its own to release this weekend, at the show. By The Way: Lupe wore a Sonic Youth t-shirt. I saw photos of him on a previous stop on this tour wearing a Nirvana shirt. He also sampled Radiohead on his last mixtape. Earnest fan or looking for cool-kid points? You be the judge.