SOB x RBE emerge with a fully-formed album at the perfect time.
You've got to credit SOB x RBE's timing. After organically building buzz off of SoundCloud and Youtube streams that now number in the millions and receiving valuable mentoring from local stars like Sage The Gemini and E-40, the Vallejo group landed a huge placement on the Black Panther soundtrack next to Kendrick Lamar two weeks ago. You can't plan for that type of sudden exposure, but you can certainly capitalize on millions of people hearing your music for the first time. On GANGIN, that's exactly what the four-piece do.
"Paramedic," that Kendrick collaboration, is the pulse-quickening keystone at the heart of Black Panther: The Album. Although K Dot initially conceived the song on his own, it's unmistakably SOB x RBE, showcasing the interplay between Slimmy B and DaBoii's forceful flows and Yhung T.O.'s melodic gifts. The crew had already gained local acclaim and established a unique lane with the hits from their self-titled 2017 tape, but "Paramedic" pushed them past Vallejo and various online circles, and into the national spotlight.
With a solid scattering of popular loosies and solo tapes (each of the four members has released his own in the past six months), it's never seemed like SOB x RBE are in danger of popping off one major hit and then fleshing out future projects with filler— they're still too niche for much national radio play and too locked into their craft for stagnation. But even still, the degree to which they deliver on GANGIN would have been almost unimaginable a month or even a week ago.
There isn't a dull moment on the 44-minute-long debut, and despite a relatively shallow well of subject matter, it never feels like SOB x RBE are making the same song twice. Their hunger and energy jumps out from the moment DaBoii starts rapping on "Carpoolin'," and the freshness of the group's full package— the off-kilter flows, the repurposing of '80s electro, the youthful evolution of DJ Mustard's ratchet sound, the alluring blend of street rap and pop instincts— makes for a gripping listen. SOB x RBE pull from a lot of existing and (at least to devoted West Coast rap fans) familiar influences, so you can't exactly call them innovators, but the group's casual ability to add their spin on those sounds for a new generation is remarkable.
The strong electro influence comes via barely-disguised samples and interpolations of '80s artists like Noel, Cameo, and Bananarama, music that, despite not directly hailing from the Bay, has formed the bedrock of the area's hip hop for years. For instance, here's The Jacka using the same sample from "Carpoolin'," and Woodie clearly inspiring album closer "Once Upon a Time" with a pirated melody. Slightly less obvious strains of hyphy, snap, G-funk, ratchet, and mob music fill out the rest of GANGIN, some provided by known entities like DJ Mustard and HBK Gang members P-Lo and Sage The Gemini, but mostly sourced from small-time local producers. That most of the album is produced by unknowns, puts its out-of-nowhere polish in perspective: GANGIN may sound completely new to those that have ignored Bay Area rap since hyphy died down, but its DNA runs deep.
The beats are great, don't get me wrong, but 90% of SOB x RBE's astonishing freshness comes from the members themselves. Slimmy B (and to a lesser degree, DaBoii) has a distinctive method of flowing that may take you aback at first, but soon hypnotizes with its creative method of finding pockets in beats. It's partially polyrhythmic— for instance, he hits fragmented triplets alongside standard eighth and sixteenth notes on "On Me"— and it's partially purposefully off-kilter on some "Dilla time" shit. His and DaBoii's deliveries are rigid and stubborn, as if they care less about syllable counts than cramming in all of their thoughts, and that may be what DaBoii means when he raps, "This a message, this is not a song."
Those two straight-up MCs (as well as the slightly more melodic Lul G, who only appears on a third of the album) are contrasted by Yhung T.O., a smooth vocalist who at times felt out of place on SOB x RBE's earlier cuts. On GANGIN, he's a complementary melodic piece who also packs a piece. He steers tracks like "Anti Social" into catchier territory, and without him, an all-out bars-fest from Slimmy and DaBoii may get tiresome, but it's not he's an out-of-place Omarion trying to hang with burly Maybach Music rappers. "N****s stickin' cause I'm singin'," he says on "Back to Back," explaining the assumption that he's the group's softest member before retaliating: "I'm the n**** that's the demon/I'll pack a n**** out and I'll do it for no reason." SOB x RBE's members are all talented in their own rights, and solo careers could be an option down the road, but Slimmy summed it up best when speaking to The Fader last year: "We don’t need each other to bubble, but together, we’re perfect."
As evidenced by that T.O. lyric, violence is omnipresent in the group's music, which is clearly a product of growing up in one of California's most dangerous cities. "Tryna be a thug, think it's fun if you want to/N****s dyin' everyday, who the fuck this shit fun to?", Slimmy raps, calling out rappers who fabricate street credentials and fans who only see rap as party music. But as Yhung T.O. said in that same Fader interview, the group also very much understand the demand for this type of content:
"To be honest, America is fascinated by the poverty, the lifestyle, by the hood. That shit sells. Look at 21 Savage, Mozzy too. They just rappin’ about the struggle, violence, and that shit sells. Growing up in that type of environment gave me the authenticity to know how to talk about it."
For every mention of a Glock there's a paraphrasing of "Strictly Only Brothers," the first half of the group acronym-laden name (the other half is Real Boi Entertainment). A strong focus on community and family, like when Slimmy promises that "Bein' in and out my son's life is what I won't do," underscores the album's more grisly side, as well as its sillier one (T.O. sure is committed to finding a rich, stuck up woman).
Mozzy's another artist who's broken out from NorCal in the past few years (and, like SOB x RBE, onto the Black Panther soundtrack) and kept West Coast traditions (namely: realness) alive while not leaning too heavily on the past. Further south, 03 Greedo and Drakeo The Ruler are making waves in L.A. with their respective evolutions of Cali rap. None of these have the crossover or youthful appeal of SOB x RBE, a boy band for street rap fans, but together, all of these names constitute a new, forward-thinking wave of talent that the west hasn't in a while, at least since DJ Mustard was rap's most in-demand producer. YG and Nipsey Hussle have always been deeply tied to the past. Nef The Pharaoh's biggest hit is a Big Tymers homage. Kendrick and Schoolboy Q are off in their own TDE bubble. SOB x RBE currently lead a pack of up-and-comers who are blazing new trails while paying homage to the sounds they grew up on, and the West Coast needs that.