Photographer David Walter Banks
October 23, 2010

In hip-hop, reality is subjective. The realest rappers are the hardest, even if it means that they’re constructing a space closer to fiction, while more candid rappers are derided as being anything but real. Decatur, Georgia’s BOB is concerned with redefining the genre’s sense of reality. “Being real is about being honest about what your intentions are,” he says. “If you’re honest with yourself, people will recognize that.”

The 18-year-old rapper first caught the attention of influential DJ and tastemaker TJ Chapman—of TJ’s DJ’s record pool—while performing his introspective stoner anthem “Cloud 9” at TI’s Club Crucial. “It popped off for me right at a point when I was finna quit,” explains BOB. “I was about to get a job at the mall, man.” With Chapman’s support, the track became a local hit, despite the psychedelic subject matter and swirling strings that give it a considerably darker bent than the typical Atlanta rap radio fare.

“My music ain’t really too regular,” says BOB. It’s an understatement. This past year, a steady stream of his tracks has seen the conflicted teen spit over arpeggiated trance rap on Wes Fif’s “Haterz,” remake the Outfields’ ’80s pop radio standard “Your Love” and explore the father issues of needy girlfriends on “Daddy.” He bemoans grown man burdens like addiction and unemployment alongside more age-appropriate themes of sex, GPA stresses and chiefing a gang of weed. His raps come in the same jagged, cascading flows pioneered by ATLiens like Outkast and Ludacris, but he also slips in and out of a singing voice that recalls an Auto-Tune-less Akon.

With his debut LP set to street in early 2008 as the first release on producer Jim Jonsin’s Rebel Rock imprint, BOB is looking to stand out in a town where it seems like every teen is armed with a mic, a dream and maybe a new dance move. From a purely technical standpoint, he has the upper hand, but even more skilled rappers have botched their crossover attempts. BOB’s true talent lies in his ability to take the same youthful energy that drives the snap/rock star contingent and apply it to more mature themes. “I’m just trying to talk about the reality of things,” he says. “I think a lot of the kids don’t see the other side of all the rap music that’s out now.”