Alternative hip-hopper B.o.B (aka Bobby Ray Simmons) exploded onto the music scene earlier this year with B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray. The album debuted at No. 1, propelled in part by the rapper’s first chart-topping single, ” Nothin’ on You.”
Now he’s back with a second smash hit, “Airplanes,” which features Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams singing the catchy chorus. Overall, the track is a wistful, haunting, piano-driven tribute to B.o.B’s past—specifically, a time before fame complicated his life.
Wishing that the airplanes he regularly rides in were actually shooting stars he could wish upon, B.o.B raps, “Somebody take me back to the days/Before this was a job, before I got paid/Before it ever mattered what I had in my bank/Yeah, back when I was tryin’ to get a tip at Subway/And back when I was rappin’ for the h‑‑‑ of it/But nowadays we rappin’ to stay relevant.”
The “Airplanes” video, which mostly features shots of B.o.B and Williams singing in a vacant warehouse, mirrors the emptiness B.o.B apparently feels in his new life. MTV writer Tamar Anitai goes so far as to call the video a “harbinger of doom.”
Because the young rapper’s lyrics complain about the problems related to his fame, fans may wonder where his career is headed. After all, he’s already fairly jaded at just 21 years of age, labeling his profession (and perhaps his life) “s‑‑‑” (the song’s only other profanity, which is censored in the radio version).
Listening to complaints like these, I also wonder why B.o.B doesn’t do something about the harmful changes that have come with his success. When staying “relevant” in the rap world means participating in a lifestyle he says he longs to flee, why doesn’t he just say no? No to the “partyin'” he raps about. No to the “smashin'” and “crashin'” he says comes with his new “glitz and glam” lifestyle. No to the “pandemonium and madness.”
In the middle of all that self-focused angst, however, B.o.B asks, “And when your plans unravel in the sand/What would you wish for if you had one chance?” That’s an excellent question. And despite the song’s melancholy mood, it also manages to leave listeners with some positive themes to ponder. Getting what you long for, the rapper recognizes, is rarely what you thought it would be. And fame isn’t a solution to life’s problems so much as it seems to be a catalyst for new ones.
A postscript: Fans who aren’t paying careful attention to what they’re downloading could end up with a more explicit version of this Atlanta rapper’s latest hit. B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray concludes with a reprise of the song called “Airplanes, Part II.” The chorus and fame-critiquing themes remain the same, but Eminem adds an s- and f-word laden verse to the proceedings. Regarding her participation on that track as well, Paramore’s Williams told MTV, “I only found out about Eminem getting on the track like a month ago. As if the song couldn’t get any better. He just slays me, he’s such a genius. … Both versions of the track are incredible, that’s all I’ll say. I’m so proud to be a part of this!”