In The Ones of the ‘10s, I’m reviewing every single that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 2010s and working my way up into the present.
B.o.B- “Nothin’ On You” (feat. Bruno Mars)
HIT #1: May 1, 2010
STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks
Usually a guest feature isn’t supposed to amount to a lot. Most of the time you’re just supplying the song its hook, verse, or bridge while not taking too much attention away from the main artist. Yet there are many cases where the featured artist winds up as the artist that sticks around getting much bigger while the main artist fades away and becomes a joke. That’s basically the story of “Nothin’ On You,” a song by two new artists who worked their way up in the industry. The hook singer winds up becoming one of the biggest pop stars of the decade while the main artist would fall off and become better known today for believing the Earth is flat.
Born in North Carolina and raised in Georgia, B.o.B instantly began forming an interest in music playing the trumpet all the way from elementary to high school. As early as sixth grade, he set his sights on a music career to the initial dismay of his parents who preferred he’d complete his education. By high school, he already had his own management and created his own production duo called the Klinic selling his own beats.
After his production partner left for college, B.o.B started going off on his own creating mixtapes while also performing at underground clubs and open mic nights building his audience and skill. During that time, his manager was able to get him into Club Crucial, owned by rising Atlanta rapper T.I., where he got a good reception from the audience performing one of his songs including producer TJ Chapman who offered to co-manage B.o.B. Only a month after, he signed a deal with Atlantic Records. Shortly after, he released his first single, “Haterz Everywhere,” which immediately garnered B.o.B a lot of buzz in the hip-hop and music press which included being placed on the XXL Freshman List for 2009.
Born Peter Hernandez in Hawaii, Bruno Mars was practically made to perform. His father nicknamed him Bruno at two after noticing his resemblance to the wrestler Bruno Sammartino. Coming from a musical and business family, Mars was inspired by his uncle’s Elvis impersonations to start performing as early as three years old singing songs from artists like Michael Jackson, The Isley Brothers, The Temptations, and of course Elvis. He quickly became a part of his family’s band, The Love Notes, which performed around Hawaii with Bruno’s Elvis impersonations becoming the biggest draw. Mars was getting so much attention that he was being featured in local ads, the halftime show at 1990’s Aloha Bowl, national talk shows, and 1992’s Honeymoon In Vegas.
All of it didn’t last. His parents divorced when he was twelve which immediately ended The Love Notes performances. Adding insult to injury, all of his father’s other businesses failed which lead to a lot of money being lost. Mars along with his brother and father began moving around living in less than ideal conditions. But Mars kept performing and began taking up guitar after listening to Jimi Hendrix. Mars moved out to Los Angeles after graduating high school to pursue his music career but for a while couldn’t get anything going. He got a record deal with Motown that ended less than a year later. He had talks with will.i.am’s management that went nowhere. It was around that time when Mars added his last name which was inspired from comments he would get about his performing as well as to avoid the music industry from stereotyping him into a Latin artist.
Eventually, Mars did get recognized after Phillip Lawrence, songwriter and friend from Motown, introduced him to Aaron Bay-Schuck, the head of A&R at Atlantic Records. After auditioning for him, Schuck was immediately impressed and wanted to sign Mars to Atlantic immediately but the label held back. Atlantic felt it was too early to sign Mars and wanted to see him develop as an artist. The label would eventually sign him three years later in 2009.
In the meantime, Mars wrote songs for various artists not getting much success initially until Schuck asked Mars and Lawrence along with another songwriter Ari Levine to help write “Right Round” for rapper Flo Rida (Flo Rida will eventually appear in this column). That song became a #1 hit in 2009 and led the three of them to form their own songwriting and production team called The Smeezingtons.
“Nothin’ On You” came out of a series of writing sessions The Smeezingtons were doing for B.o.B and fellow Atlantic hip-hop artists Lupe Fiasco and Travie McCoy. The trio began humming the chorus and started work on a demo. Initially starting out with guitars, Levine began programming an old school hip-hop drum beat with Mars immediately adding a piano track. Mars wasn’t supposed to sing the chorus but Atlantic liked Mars’ charisma on the demo that they decided to have him sing on the final version. This was despite one racist executive who objected to having Mars sing the chorus due to his race wanting a “blue-eyed blonde” male for better mainstream appeal.
The Smeezingtons initially wanted “Nothin’ On You” to go to Lupe Fiasco but B.o.B’s producer Jim Jonsin, after Atlantic asked him to work on the song with Lupe, wanted it to go to his artist saying, “I like the song a lot. It’s a smash and could be somebody’s single. But it’s not Lupe’s record. I need this record for B.o.B. Please give this record to B.o.B. I guess they went through whoever they went through, convinced whoever they needed to, and it got to B.o.B,” (Lupe Fiasco’s highest charting single, 2011’s “The Show Goes On,” peaked at #9. It’s a 9.). “Nothin’ On You” would eventually be released as B.o.B’s debut single for his debut album B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray.
Lyrically, “Nothin’ On You” is B.o.B and Bruno Mars giving praise to their girls. They proclaim how special their girl is and even though other girls may try to get their attention they assure their girl that they’ll remain faithful. In a 2010 interview with Spin Magazine, Mars touched on the ‘50s doo wop inspiration in the lyrics, “In my songs I’m not saying something that’s never been said before. They have lyrics that aren’t going to blow people away. It’s the emotion and the melody that drive it home. So many doo-wop songs do that, like the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You.” I was listening to that when we started writing ‘Nothin’ on You. I wanted to get that sound. When that chorus opens up “I only have eyes for you,” it’s just, “aaaaaaaaaahhh!” What woman doesn’t want to hear that? That’s where my style comes from when I’m writing. It’s all about the execution.”
Really, Bruno Mars hits it right on the head with how “Nothin’ On You” works. The lyrics and concept is nothing new and can easily come across as sappy and basic but all the elements here are executed well enough to make it work. Bruno’s chorus is able to sell the sincere emotion the song is going for. It’s no wonder many people remember the song for Bruno’s chorus. B.o.B’s rapping also helps to sell the emotion and energy where he commends his girl on of all things paying her taxes. The bright sparkling piano and synths helps to drive home the happy warm feeling and sells you the sincerity of the performances. When you hear them tell their girl that she’s special and no other girl can compare, you genuinely believe they’re being truthful about it.
“Nothin’ On You” doesn’t sound much like what American pop music was in 2010 which works to its benefit. In a year dominated by loud electropop, here’s a pop rap love song with production influenced by ‘50s doo wop and old-school hip-hop. It’s a welcome reprieve from the rest of the pop music scene. In a way, “Nothin’ On You” almost sounds like a preview of a lot of the retro sounding songs that would hit it big throughout the ‘10s, many of which will appear in this column.
B.o.B never hit #1 again after “Nothin’ On You” though he’d land two more Top 10 hits from B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, “Airplanes” with Paramore singer Hayley Williams (“Airplanes” peaked at #2. It’s an 8.) and “Magic” with Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo (“Magic” peaked at #10. It’s also an 8.). After that, B.o.B would land one more Top 10 hit, 2011’s “Strange Clouds” with Lil Wayne (“Strange Clouds” peaked at #7. It’s a 5. Lil Wayne will eventually appear in this column.). Since then, he’s continued putting out albums to declining popularity. He would pop up again in 2016 when he started claiming that the Earth is flat and released “Flatline,” a diss track towards Neil DeGrasse Tyson so there’s that.
As for Bruno Mars, he’d score another hit singing the chorus on Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” (“Billionaire” peaked later in 2010 at #4. It’s an 8.). He’d also release his debut album Doo-Wops & Hooligans, working his way to becoming one of the biggest pop stars of the ‘10s. We’ll see him back in this column soon.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Weird Al” Yankovic parodying “Nothin’ On You” for his 2011 track “Another Tattoo”: