This week, Atlantic Records artists sit atop the U.S. and the U.K. In the U.S., B.o.B.’s B.o.B. Presents The Adventures of Bobby Ray landed in the top slot, while the U.K.’s top spot belongs to Plan B’s sophomore album, The Defamation of Strickland Banks.
According to Atlantic, and its parent company, Warner Music Group, this achievement is “testament to Atlantic Records’ deep commitment to long-term artist development.” Depending on how you look at it, they’re both totally right and totally wrong.
“Artist development” is one of those terms that can mean a lot of different things. It can mean anything from paying for dancing lessons to sending an artist to Ghana to learn about a brand new style of music.
The misleading (or maybe just more ambiguous) aspect of the term lies in the “artist” part, as often the development has more to do with making an artist more presentable or palatable as an entertainment figure.
In the case of Plan B, a British rapper whose debut, Who Needs Action When You Got Words, was filled with dark, occasionally violent and often angst-y rap backed by acoustic guitars, the “development” was both artistic and market-oriented. The Defamation of Strickland Banks is basically a blue-eyed soul album with some rapping in it, and a surprising turn for an artist whose previous attempts at singing often involved screaming through “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in concert.
But it turns out B (real name Ben Drew) can actually sing, and Strickland Banks, which features lots of him singing (and rather well, at that) might never have happened without Atlantic’s major label money and contacts.
If Plan B’s development represents all the positive things that major label backing can represent, then B.o.B.’s skews the other way. The Atlanta-based Bobby Ray Simmons went from booming, electrified tracks like “Mind Got Blown” to something much more anodyne. Or, as influential hip hop blogger Andrew Nosnitsky put it, “pure Disney Radio shit, Now That’s What I Call Music music.”
In Nos’s view, The Adventures of Bobby Ray “isn’t simply a sell out record. It might be the most selling outest sell out rap album to ever sell out,” and in light of the rumors that B.O.B. was strong-armed into this new sound, Atlantic’s crowing about its commitment to artist development starts to sound a lot darker. It all depends on what you listen to.