B.o.B (born Bobby Ray Simmons)
Born 1988, Decatur
Times were hard, so we had to move out of our first apartment complex in Stone Mountain. My dad was a carpenter, a real physical guy, and he built from scratch my grandmothers’ houses on both sides of the family. He built ours too. But we had to move out of our apartment a little early, into the house before it was done. It had, like, no outside walls. It was wrapped in black plastic. We had to put the food in the cooler to keep it from going bad. I’ve always lived in the same fifteen-mile radius my whole life, moving from spot to spot.
Simmons, around thirteen;
photograph courtesy of B.o.B
Both my parents had master’s degrees. My mom had one in electrical engineering. My dad . . . he’s gonna hate that I can’t remember. But that left an impression on me, that school didn’t always help. I didn’t really depend on school for what was gonna be my way of life. That background strengthened me, though. You have to get pushed to the extremes when you’re trying to be creative and be an artist.
Everything I’ve ever done, artistically, I’ve gotten into it because of my older brother. He’s a savant. We were leaving a bookstore as kids and he looked back and was like, “Yo, there’s a really dope drawing book back there.” So we got it, and it was Marvel’s How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. They showed you how to draw the stick figures and then pipe ’em up. So I started drawing.
We got into rap when we were a little older, listening to Eminem and DMX. Me and my cousin and my brother were this trio. We freestyled. Later me and my cousin were in a rap group, the Klinic. We played open mics. I got signed straight out of high school. I thought I was a rap star, but I wasn’t as famous as I thought I was.
André 3000 is on the new album. I got a chance to be on Big Boi’s album, and then Big Boi jumped on a remix of “Nothin’ on You.” For me to be able to work with both halves of Outkast is crazy. The ATL sound is so strong!
—As told to Charles Bethea
Bobby Ray Simmons, known as B.o.B, attended Columbia High School and signed his first record deal when he was seventeen. His debut album, B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, went gold in 2010, with Top 40 singles “Nothin’ on You” and “Airplanes.” His sophomore album will be released this spring. He keeps a home in Decatur.