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B.o.B. and Neil deGrasse Tyson's fight over Flat Earthism, explained

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Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

In 2010, humankind allowed a man by the name of B.o.B. to capture our ears and hearts. In collaboration with the tiny, golden-voiced human known as Bruno Mars, B.o.B. created "Nothin' on You," a soothing rap ode to the stylish, tax-paying, 'fro-sporting girl of his dreams:

We bopped our heads to the three-quarter tempo. We gave B.o.B. the benefit of the doubt and let him rhyme "plastic" with "fantastic" and "it." Everything seemed fine.

But now it appears the gentle rapper of 2010 was harboring a secret that literally affects his worldview: According to B.o.B. himself, he believes the Earth is flat.

Why does B.o.B. believe the Earth is flat?

The reason we're aware of B.o.B.'s belief in a flat Earth is that he posted a series of tweets asking users to show him the curvature in the planet's surface, because he couldn't see it:

And when people began pointing out to B.o.B. that the Earth's non-flatness was proven more than five centuries ago, he began citing more elaborate memes, with dashes of Microsoft Paint, to prove his point:

He also posted what appeared to be screenshots from a guidebook for flat Earth truthers in trying to prove his point:

While some people are busy looking for beauty or inspiration or deeply moving sadness in our world, B.o.B. has a much simpler request. Here is a man standing in front of a planet asking to see its curvature — even though he believes it's an impossible request because that curvature does not exist.

B.o.B. isn't the only person to feel this way

Thien Thanh Thi Nguyen, who goes by the name Tila Tequila, was a huge MySpace celebrity in the 2000s and parlayed that into a show on MTV in 2007. She's also a flat Earth believer. Earlier this month, she was rambling on Twitter about flat Earth, using the same kind of language B.o.B. used:

Her Twitter rant was very popular — so popular that people were talking about Tila Tequila for the first time in years. She also suggested that her strong faith in the Earth's flatness would get her killed by the government:

There are also people on the fence, like Sherri Shepherd. Shepherd, while she was a host on The View in 2007, was known for her Christian faith and her disregard for the theory of evolution. When asked about what she would teach her son, specifically about whether the Earth was flat, Shepherd was not sure:

"I never thought about it, Whoopi. Is the world flat? I never thought about it," she told moderator Whoopi Goldberg.

It's unclear if Tequila and B.o.B. are part of the same group of Flat Earthers, but their arguments are very similar. As Gawker points out, there is an organization called the Flat Earth Society, and its members believe in a complicated conspiracy theory that posits the Earth is a flat disc. They insist that Russian and American space programs discovered this during the Space Race that began in the '50s and have, with the help of the entire world, kept this a secret.

(The Flat Earth Society)

Tequila and B.o.B. and other Flat Earthers believe that the world shuns them because they have found the truth. And because they believe the government is so willing to lie about stuff like the Earth being flat, they assume it must also be lying about other stuff (more on this in a bit).

A challenger named Neil deGrasse Tyson appears

While many people were too busy laughing at the strange activity on B.o.B.'s Twitter feed (namely, presenting "facts" about Earth and denying universal truths), there was actually one person who tried to reason with B.o.B. using science. Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist and part-time "actually" man, stepped up to the plate and tried to explain to B.o.B. that the Earth's curvature exists, but that one of B.o.B.'s examples of a flat Earth — the Manhattan skyline — is an outlier:

Tyson also tried to explain why you can't actually see Polaris, a.k.a. the North Star, from below Earth's equator:

Tyson even tried to ease the situation by telling B.o.B. that although he's subscribing to a theory that was proven wrong centuries ago, Tyson appreciated B.o.B.'s music.

In doing so, Tyson was getting at the important idea of being able to separate artists' behavior and beliefs from the art they create. It's a situation that comes into play when there's something acutely off-putting about an artist's behavior or beliefs, like Roman Polanski's rape of a underage girl or Mel Gibson's alarming anti-Semitism. Obviously B.o.B.'s insistence that the Earth is flat is nowhere near on that level, but Tyson's assertion that it's okay to like B.o.B.'s music in spite of his incorrect belief is as much a reprieve for fans of "Nothin' on You" as it is a balm for B.o.B's savage, flat-Earth-related burns.

With science and Neil deGrasse Tyson pushing him into a corner, B.o.B. did what anyone who believes the Earth is flat and has the power of gentle rap would do: He recorded a soft diss track to discredit Tyson.

The song, titled "Flatline," has since been deleted from SoundCloud, but its lyrics still live on, and they offer real insight into B.o.B.'s psyche. The rapper clearly sees himself as someone who is shunned by the world because he threatens to break the Matrix with his flat Earth belief. He also thinks that "neck" rhymes with "Malcolm X":

Yo, you ain’t seen my best

Checkmate, ain’t a game of chess

Globalists see me as a threat

Free thinking, got the world at my neck

Hah, am I paranoid? Picture Malcolm X

But if you put aside the strange phonics pattern, there's a strange "aha" moment in B.o.B.'s diss track that pretty much explains everything. "Flatline" goes from dissing Tyson's square sartorial decisions ("Neil Tyson need to loosen up his vest") to anti-Semitism ("That’s why the POTUS gotta wear a Kipper/Kippah/Kippa") so fast and violently that it will make your iPhone restart and install all the updates you've been putting off:

Woo, use your, use your common sense

Why is NASA department of defense?


Fuck you and your team, you could sit on the bench with ‘em

But before you try to curve it, do your research on David Irving

Stalin was way worse than Hitler

That’s why the POTUS gotta wear a Kipper/Kippah/Kippa

I’m a man first ‘fore an artist

B.o.B.'s strange defense of Hitler and reference to David Irving, a Holocaust denier, might seem disconnected from the flat Earth argument. But it makes sense when you examine the mentality of Flat Earthers. They believe that if the government is capable of lying about something as fundamental as the shape of our planet, then who's to say it can't lie about things like Hitler?

Tequila, B.o.B.'s prominent fellow flat Earth believer, also had the same strange apologist feelings about Hitler. In 2013, she dressed up as a Nazi and wrote a Facebook status update about how Hitler was misunderstood.

"I never said I hated anyone, but just because I feel sympathy, compassion, and forgiveness for others such as Hitler means I am now a monster?" Tequila wrote. "All for trying to open your eyes to the truth that Hitler was NOT as bad as he was painted out to be?"

Is it possible that B.o.B. is claiming the Earth is flat simply to generate publicity?

In one last flailing attempt to get B.o.B. to see the light, Neil deGrasse Tyson (with the help of his nephew Steve Tyson) released a diss track called "Flat to Fact" to try to talk some sense into B.o.B.:

Still, B.o.B. was unconvinced:

There is, of course, a bigger, grander conspiracy theory here. This could all just be a massive publicity stunt for B.o.B., who has yet to rekindle the kind of success he had with his hits "Nothin' on You" and "Airplanes." It's possible that someone on his team saw the massive amounts of attention Tila Tequila got with her unhinged rant and decided to try to replicate it.

After all, we're now talking about B.o.B. in a way we haven't in many years. And it just so happens that an EP was uploaded to his SoundCloud account four days ago. Getting some much-needed publicity might be a little more believable than B.o.B.'s love for a flat Earth.

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