The Throwback: B.o.B. on the 'whirlwind' success of 'Nothin' On You' and 'Airplanes'
The Throwback is a recurring column where we deep dive into hit songs from years' past.
SONG(S): "Nothin' On You" and "Airplanes"
CHART HISTORY: No. 1 and No. 2 on the Hot 100, respectively
LEGACY: Introducing the world to Bruno Mars; Hayley Williams' first official stint as a solo artist
WHERE ARE THEY NOW: The Georgia rapper is in the process of writing his upcoming album, Somnia. He's also the host of his own podcast called the BoBCast, and broke the internet in 2016 when he said he believed the earth was flat. During the pandemic, B.o.B has been catching up on Netflix's Ozark and the Chicago Bulls documentary The Last Dance.
"Nothin' On You"
Before we could say goodbye to 2009, newcomers B.o.B and Bruno Mars dropped "Nothin' On You," a song that would launch them into the stratosphere. B.o.B remembers working on it with Mars as just songwriters early in the process, touting the eventual single as a "no. 1 draft pick" of tracks to move forward with. "Everyone was grabbing at it," B.o.B. remembers. At one point, Lupe Fiasco was set to rap alongside Mars on the track, but an ongoing feud with Atlantic Records pushed him out in favor of new blood. "It was actually supposed to be his song," says B.o.B., who admits he knew the greatness of Mars right away. During a smoke break he remembers seeing the future "24K Magic" performer singing and playing guitar. "I'm like, 'You should be a f—ing artist. Why are you a songwriter? The world needs to see this s—.'"
B.o.B's songwriting captured a nostalgia for the years of the early internet. The lyrics — "just like that girl you got a fro/Like a Nintendo 64" — was straight from his experience of playing video games with his older brother as a kid, and blowing into a game cartridge to get it working. Other portions, like "On the carousel so around I spun/With no directions just tryna get some" was about remembering a simpler time in his world. "I wanted to get to the essence of what's enjoyable about life," he says about the writing process.
The crooning single soon crushed the Billboard charts and reached every high school dance during that era. The duo ended up performing the track at the 2010 Grammys, a flashbulb moment for B.o.B that he likens to being on the vacation of a lifetime. "You're hustling and bustling, packing bags, signing autographs, interviews, jumping on stage, getting drunk, waking up the next day," he tells EW. "You're in this f—ing whirlwind. And then it's time to go home and it's like, 'Wow, was I really just there?'" "Airplanes, Part I and II" extended the vacay. But after the magic wore off, he became more well known for his “flat earth” theory, turning that fame into farce. But B.o.B admits he was always provocative, going to back to getting expelled in middle school. "I think I like started a fire in the garbage can or something," he says. "I was always doing or saying something more than I should have."
"Airplanes Part I and II"
In 2010, B.o.B dreamt for a wish on "Airplanes" with Hayley Williams from Paramore. But "Airplanes, Part II" featuring Eminem was actually supposed to come out first. "I think because [Eminem] was coming back from rehab, they didn't want his first look to be a feature on someone else's song," says B.o.B. The song, much like "Nothin' On You," taps into the past. The track also references the website MySpace. B.o.B. admits he had no idea the site would eventually become obsolete.
B.o.B.'s success would also lead him to the 2009 XXL Freshman Class cover, which included then-newcomers Wale and Kid Cudi. B.o.B can remember running off to a gas station with the whole squad of up and coming rappers after their photoshoot was done, talking about how they felt like they were breaking the mold in hip-hop. "We came up in an era where T-Pain was using autotune noticeably," he says. "There was a line in the sand. Were you going to rap or are you going to sing? Now, it's like you better be able to hold a f—g note."