GG‘s Number Ones column reviews every Billboard Hot 100 #1 single of the last 10 years.
‘Nothin’ On You’ took Bruno Mars and B.o.B to the top. Fame and fortune found both at the same time. Yet the two could not have taken more different paths. Mars became an international superstar. B.o.B never equalled this first success. The Atlanta rapper’s career tapered off before an attempt to reinvent himself as a flat earth conspiracy theorist delivered the final blow.
A Million Dollar Melody
In 2009, the 24-year-old Bruno Mars was an up-and-comer. Performing music since age four, he dreamed of taking centre stage. Success had not been instant. Since graduating high school in 2003, Mars had worked tirelessly behind the music industry’s scenes as part of the songwriting and production team The Smeezingtons.
Producing and writing backing tracks for other artists had never been Mars’ passion. Nonetheless, he needed to pay the bills. And, as a seasoned guitarist, bassist, pianist, and percussionist, Mars could readily assist partners Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine in creating songs for others on the fly.
Having recently had a hand in the writing of ‘Long Distance‘ for pop star Brandy, Canadian hip-hop act K’naan’s soccer anthem ‘Wavin’ Flag’ and 2009 hit single ‘Right Round‘ for Flo Rida, Mars, and his team were riding an all-time high. It was during this period a new idea came to Bruno Mars and fellow Smeezington Philip Lawrence. It arrived in the form of a vocal melody. Mars and his partners were sure it could launch him as a solo artist. It was just the rest of the world they had to convince.
The Birth of B.o.B
Bobbie Ray Simmons grew up on the east side of Atlanta. He began rapping at 13 and soon after began recording under the name of B.o.B. “Bob is short for Bobby,” he once explained. “I made it B.o.B to give it style.”
And style, he did have. B.o.B delivered his lyrics in a laid-back manner of southern rap. He had the same kind of feel-good flow popularised by the likes of Lupe Fiasco in the mid-noughties. After rechristening himself B.o.B, he then recorded ‘Cloud 9’, a spoken word love letter to marijuana. He followed on with several well-received recordings.
In 2006, at age 17, he landed a deal with Atlantic Records after wowing music industry executive TJ Chapman, at a local club. His 2008 single ‘Haterz Everywhere‘ was a small hip hop and R&B sensation. With these modest but proven successes under his belt, B.o.B. too was ready for the big time.
During the summer of 2009, Bruno Mars and B.o.B met for a songwriting session organised by Atlantic Records. Also present was Mars’ songwriting team, Lupe Fiasco, and songwriter Travie McCoy. The session was productive. Mars arrived confident he had a vocal line capable of becoming a hit. Upon hearing Mars humming the melody, the others were quick to agree.
Despite Lupe Fiasco’s interest in’Nothin’ On You’, producer Jim Jonsin insisted Atlantic Records give ‘Nothin’ On You’ to B.o.B. Fiasco later shared that this took a considerable toll on his mental health, even driving him close to suicide. His own version of the song was leaked on June 18, 2010.
Creating ‘Nothin On You’
Bruno Mars also almost missed out on featuring on the final version of the song. While those present at the session had been floored by Mars’ vocals, some of Atlantic’s executives resisted. They told Mars it was nothing personal, just that a blonde-haired and blue-eyed vocalist would be a more commercially safer choice. “It made me feel like I wasn’t even in the room,” Mars later shared with Entertainment Weekly. Fortunately, the naked charisma of Mars’ performance won out.
After the initial songwriting session, the melody that would become the chorus of ‘Nothin’ On You’ was worked into a demo recording a week later. It was during this time that another key element was the song, a seductive old school hip hop sounding beat sampled from 1966 Papa Tex single ‘Papa Was Too‘ was introduced. The song was then polished off at a third and final session.
The song’s emotion and melody drew inspiration from The Flamingos‘ 1958 single ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’. “ I wanted to get that sound,” Mars later shared with Spin. “When that chorus opens up [sings] ‘I only have eyes for you,’ it’s just, ‘aaaaaaaaaahhh!’ What woman doesn’t want to hear that?”
Writing From Experience
B.o.B. rapped the choruses of ‘Nothin’ On You’ and Bruno Mars sang the verse. Musically, they could not have been coming from more different places. Lyrically however both were drawing from a similar pool of experience.
“I’m reflecting on my younger days when I was all about chasing girls,” B.o.B informed website Artists Direct. “I was a hopeless romantic and made a lot of stupid decisions. It’s about those days. I’m compiling my observations of myself and putting them on a record.”
“Every song I write has to do with a real-life experience,” Mars would later share of his contribution, “whether it’s at the time or me back-tracking to how I felt at another moment. So, yeah, it was about someone. Let’s leave it at that.”
This similarity of approaches was not lost on B.o.B. “I feel like it was a happy marriage between the lyrics that Bruno sang and what I’m doing,” he stated to Artist Direct. “He pretty much summed it up and I just had to elaborate on it in my way. I switched up my vocal inflection. It’s different; a lot of B.o.B fans didn’t notice it was me on first listen.”
Mars was well aware the subject matter for the song had been covered in past. “I’m not saying something that’s never been said before,” he informed Spin. “They have lyrics aren’t going to blow people away. It’s the emotion and the melody that drive it home.”
B.o.B and Bruno on Top
Released on December 15, 2009, ‘Nothin’ On You’ kickstarted the careers of B.o.B and Bruno Mars. In addition to jumping to the top of the US Billboard 100 singles chart on May 1, 2010, ‘Nothin On You’ also hit Number One in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. B.O.B.’s debut album B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray later struck #1 on the Billboard 200 on May 15, 2010.
Hip Hop had yet to reach the commercial high it has during the streaming era. In fact, B.O.B. was the first male rapper to climb to a #1 US chart position since Flo Rida had taken the top spot with ‘Low‘ in 2008. Mars would quickly follow the release with another chart-topping collaboration with Travie McCoy titled ‘Billionaire’ in March 2010. His solo debut Doo-Wops & Hooligans would follow shortly after in October.
From Chart Topper to Flat Earth Flopper
Bruno and B.o.B found mixed fortunes. Mars released a string of blockbuster albums. B.o.B.’s limelight faded. With his singles tapering off, B.o.B parted ways with Atlantic Records in 2015. He again made headlines in 2017 after launching a crowd-funding campaign to finance efforts to prove whether or not the earth was flat. B.o.B, now operating under the name Flat Earth Bob, was adamant that despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, the world was flat.
His $200,000 mission, or so B.o.B claimed, involved launching satellites to prove if the world was spherical or, as the popular conspiracy claimed, a flat disc-like shape. “I’m starting this GoFundMe,” Flat Earth Bob informed his fans, “because I would like to send one, if not multiple satellites, as far into space as I can, or into orbit, as I can, to find the curve.” Flat Earth Bob accompanied this effort with a high-profile (and ultimately unsuccessful) Twitter debate with noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The cities in the background are approx. 16miles apart… where is the curve ? please explain this pic.twitter.com/YCJVBdOWX7
— B.o.B +1 404-236-6129 (@bobatl) January 25, 2016
@bobatl Earth's curve indeed blocks 150 (not 170) ft of Manhattan. But most buildings in midtown are waaay taller than that.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) January 25, 2016
What Became of B.o.B
Alas, Flat Earth Bob’s mission was not to come to fruition. Following criticism that the campaign was an opportunistic bid to pocket the funds raised, GoFundMe cancelled B.o.B’s initiative. The satellites never launched and the public’s interest in flat earth conspiracies quickly fell away.
Having returned to his B.o.B alias, the rapper now spends time posting complaints about failed business meetings on Twitter. His latest single, a collaboration with Skylar Grey titled ‘The Devil Made Me Do It‘ has been streamed 270,000 times on Spotify. In terms of streaming royalties, this amounts to approximately 180 US dollars, enough to purchase a pet canary.
A Comparison of B.O.B and Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars was a realist. Working his way up from the bottom he harboured few illusions. With a firm grip on reality, he worked the time-proven formulas of pop and continued to evolve with the changing times. B.o.B put his stake in hip hop’s fantasy of fast cars, wild women, and material gain. Mars stuck close to reality, Bob chose to negate it. As of 2019, Bruno was still recording hits. B.o.B was not. Bruno got to Mars, B.o.B’s satellite never launched.
‘Nothin On You’ Peak Chart Positions
US/Billboard 100: #1 (25 weeks on chart)
Australia/ARIA: #3 (16 weeks on chart)
UK/Official Charts: #1 (22 weeks on chart)
B.o.B and Bruno Mars' 'Nothin' on You'7
Rare praise for women who pay tax
Flat Earth Theory
B.o.B never topped it
Lupe may have been a better choice