B.o.B (Bobby Ray Simmons Jr.) presented his fans with his best Christmas gift, his third CD Underground Luxury, and for him, it represents his transition from extreme poverty (underground) to success as a recording artist (luxury).
“When I grew up, we didn’t have much,” he says in explaining the CD title. “We were never given anything, but we took what we could find and made it luxurious.”
After selling over 15 million singles and receiving six Grammy nominations, B.o.B is living in luxury. Now for the first time, he’s revealed he grew up struggling to survive in abject poverty. Ten years ago, he and his family were evicted from their apartment in Decatur, Georgia and lived in an unfinished three story house without electricity or water. Despite holes in the floors and walls made of plastic, they turned their underground life into what they considered to be at the time, luxury.
“We did what we could to live and made it luxurious in our mind,” he says. “My message for this album is to show people that even if you came the very bottom, you can always rise. You can make something from nothing.”
B.o.B brought his inspirational message to New York City before Christmas with a listening party he hosted at the Acme restaurant in the East Village of Manhattan. The CD features Chris Brown, 2 Chainz, Future, and his mentor T.I. who signed him to Grand Hustle Records.
“T.I. is my big brother,” B.o.B explains. “He teaches me and everything I learn is by example. The most important quality I learned from him is how to embrace the community.”
B.o.B is embracing the community with his Shootin’ for Stars charity. For Christmas, he partnered with the Boy and Girls Club of Washington, D.C. to distribute toys to needy children.
B.O.B. remembers he rarely had toys for Christmas. “As a kid my dad gave us the same stocking with the same things in it every year.” Now the rapper is able to play Santa Claus for his family, even though his dad is reluctant to accept his gifts.
“I want to make other people happy for Christmas,” says B.o.B. “I bought a truck for my father and I had to practically lock him in because he refused to accept it.”
B.o.B is especially grateful for his success and his ability to provide what he did not have growing up, a safe home and new clothes, even though he usually receives free clothes due to his celebrity status. As a child his family could not afford new clothes, so he made them.
“I would cut up bandanas,” he remembers. “I would get buckets of paint leftover in a nearby lot and spray paint to create clothes. That was underground luxury.”
B.o.B will never forget what he considers the lowest point of his life, moving into the unfinished house when he was nine years old. “It was a shock. I said to myself, ‘This can’t be real. Can life be worse than this?’ We did not have power or water. No refrigerator. It was crazy.”
Yet despite his desperate situation, B.o.B was motivated to succeed. “I never gave up because I was driven by my dream of making it,” he explains. “So I recorded demos and I found the addresses of the record companies and sent them out. I felt I had so much to live for. Part of the struggle was limiting my thinking to reasonable accomplishments.” However there was a time he believed his dreams would not be fulfilled “I almost gave up just before “Nothin’ On You” was released. I was beginning to think I would never have an album out.”
His dream became reality as the song was nominated for a Grammy for Record of the Year. His debut CD The Adventures of Bobby Ray hit number one, making him only the thirteenth male artist ever to debut at the top of the Billboard album chart. “For me, the highest point was performing for thousands of people singing my lyrics,” says B.o.B. “Before nobody wanted to hear them, and then everybody was singing them. I will never forget a concert in South Korea for 60,000 people. They could not speak English but they were singing my songs. It was amazing.”
Now not only are his songs being sung around the world, his fans include superstars Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Drake, and Lil Wayne who have collaborated with him in the recording studio.
After releasing his third CD, B.o.B’s goals for 2014 are to launch his own music label and a jewelry line, and explore his new passion, acting. He recently taped appearances on the VH1 series “Single Ladies” and the BET series “The Game.”
“Acting is very natural for me,” he explains. “To be on camera is more natural than being in a music video where the director sometimes puts in me in an uncomfortable pose. I found my zone.”
Bobby Ray Simmons Jr. believes everyone can rise up from the underground like he did. “My message to people trying to make it is to always be true to yourself and naturally stay the same.”
As he reflects on his rages to riches story, he feels his life has been illuminated. He compares his metamorphosis to photography. “The difference is that the resolution of life is clearer,” he says. “Like a photo, before it was low resolution and fuzzy. Now it is high resolution. Now I have high clarity.”