Though B.o.B had been signed to Atlantic Records since the mid-aughts, 2010 was actually the first year people outside underground hip-hop got to experience what he was all about. A year ago, despite being a fixture on MTV's Mixtape Daily, Bobby Ray was stuck in major-label limbo and contemplating giving it all up.
Now, taking into account his buzz, commercial success and impact, the MTV News Hip-Hop Brain Trust has selected B.o.B as the #9 Hottest MC in the Game, his first appearance on the list.
B.o.B had a handful of minor looks over the years, yet never one that catapulted him to stardom. There was his 2007 trance-rap single "Haterz Everywhere" and, a year later, the song "I'll Be in the Sky." There were countless mixtapes and a co-sign from T.I., who signed B.o.B to his label, Grand Hustle, in 2008. The next year, he was selected as one of XXL's Freshmen 10, alongside fellow up-and-comers Kid Cudi and Wale. These small victories earned him a small-but-loyal fanbase.
But it wasn't until this past February, when he dropped the LRG-sponsored mixtape May 25th, that things started to really take off. The tape featured the Bruno Mars-assisted single "Nothin' on You," which was instantly embraced by radio. The song hit #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 and sold more than 2 million copies.
He duplicated that success with "Airplanes," featuring Paramore's Hayley Williams, which spent a staggering 26 weeks on the Hot 100, peaking at #2. It even spawned a remix with a reinvigorated Eminem, which helped launch Marshall Mathers back into the public eye.
"For Mixtape Daily, he was one of the main featured guys, more than anyone else," MTV News senior writer Jayson Rodriguez said during the Hottest MCs roundtable. "To sort of solidify it with these records ... I just think he did a good job of what every underground MC wants to do: sort of take that and cross over and do it in a way where it's credible. Where he can make these pop records, but the hip-hop community is still like, 'He came from here. We know what he did. He's solid.' "
B.o.B's two hit singles actually made Grand Hustle (along with Atlantic Records and Rebel Rock Records) release the Atlanta MC's debut LP, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, an entire month before it was set to hit stores. It sold 84,000 copies its first week and debuted at #1 on the Billboard albums chart, selling more than 400,000 units since.
He also released the T.I. and Playboy Tre-assisted single "Bet I," which let fans know he wasn't all pop looks. B.o.B stole the show on Slim Thug's "So High" and guested on the remix of Cali Swag District's dance hit "Teach Me How to Dougie." Additionally, one of the songs from May 25th, "F--- the Money" with Asher Roth, became something of an underground hit, even while B.o.B was crossing over into the top 40.
"He's looking to get back into more of a lyrical direction," MTV News supervising producer Sean Lee said. "And so that lyrical hip-hop pedigree is there, and it's going to be part of the equation for a while."
B.o.B rounded out his year by winning a Teen Choice Award for "Airplanes," performing at the VMAs and BET Hip-Hop Awards and scoring an "MTV Unplugged" special. He headlined his own Shootin for Stars Tour over the summer, appeared at Lollapalooza, opened for Jay-Z and Eminem's Home and Home concert series, and is set to tour the U.K. with Paramore in November. And, finally, he's a spokesperson for Adidas.
Maybe that decision to not retire was a wise one after all ...
The 2010 Hottest MCs in the Game rollout is now complete! As in 2008 and 2009, the criteria is based on a combination of rhyme skill, flow, buzz, commercial success, business ventures, Web presence and cultural influence. Upload your comments, reactions, arguments and/or your own list to Your.MTV.com or send tweets with the hashtag #hottestmcs — the best responses could be on TV or our hip-hop blog, RapFix!