When the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther soundtrack dropped last Friday, names like ScHoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott, James Blake, Ab-Soul, Jorja Smith, Swae Lee, and Khalid gave the project plenty of star power.
But perhaps the most disarming track on an album that’s inherently disarming was “Paramedic!” courtesy of SOB X RBE, the four-piece rap group out of Vallejo, California.
On “Paramedic!”, Slimmy B, Lul G, DaBoii, and Yhung T.O. take turns delivering breathless bars over a wild hyphy beat.
The Vallejo boys sound at home alongside the greatest rapper of the generation as Kendrick joins in with ad-libs and sings the chorus.
— brandon b. (@ayobrandino) February 9, 2018
So how did four kids from Vallejo make it onto perhaps the most significant collection of music of the year (at the very least) and hold their own alongside King Kendrick?
It started when two group members, Yhung T.O. and Slimmy B, who had not yet come together as SOB X RBE, dropped “Cautious”.
The jumpy track paired T.O. and Slimmy B together and they formed an ideal partnership. T.O.’s softer autotuned singing combined with Slimmy B’s harsher, more direct flow made “Cautious” a local hit, racking up hundreds of thousands of streams and YouTube views.
Slimmy B was already affiliated with DaBoii and Lul G as SOB, but after the success of “Cautious”, they all came together as SOB X RBE (T.O.’s previous releases had come under Real Boi Entertainment).
T.O. explained to The Fader how they came together after “Cautious”:
“That was a year ago when we dropped the ‘Cautious’ video, and that took off, so we just combined it. I was doing Real Boi Entertainment, and they were SOB. After that, instead of dropping a song as Yhung T.O. or DaBoii or Lul G, it all became SOB x RBE. We did it all under one name so everybody could come up together.”
After forming a sort of supergroup of young Vallejo rappers, SOB X RBE dropped “Anti” in September 2016. The song, with its simple, twinkling pianos and shuffling drums sees Yhung T.O. and Slimmy B’s partnership working seamlessly once again.
Their styles contrast perfectly. Yhung T.O. brings something different to the group’s dynamic, adding a melody and introspection to his partners more to-the-point rhymes and deliveries.
Cramming four dudes onto one rap song isn’t realistic for an entire project. So on SOB X RBE’s self-titled debut mixtape, the group combines different members of their crew onto any given song. Some songs are even complete solo numbers, like DaBoii’s “Calvin Cambridge”, which sounds like if Eazy-E and Tay-K had a kid.
In this way, not only do the various members’ styles contrast on any given track, their SOB X RBE mixtape has a diverse set of sounds as a whole.
Compare the aggression of “Calvin Cambridge” to the smooth, cuffing-oriented “They Don’t Know”, with Yhung T.O. and Slimmy B. While Slimmy B, DaBoii, and Lul G rap rather straightforward and combatively, Yhung T.O. is a sort of grounding instrument to their work, giving it sonic and lyrical nuance.
As for their democratic approach to songs, Slimmy B explained to The Fader how when any member of the group gets on a song, they’re all on the song:
“You can’t really call us a group, because it’s more like a family. We brothers, and we make music together. Strictly Only Brothers. If one of us make a song to the neck, that’s just one of our brothers, doing what he do. We don’t need each other to bubble, but together, we’re perfect.”
Lul G then interjects, “We’re better together.” It’s hard to argue with that, “Paramedic!” and “Lane Changing” are some of SOB’s strongest tracks with all four of the members taking turns on the mic.
Any artist from Vallejo is going to be naturally compared to the legendary Mac Dre, whose Thizz-filled raps defined the sounds of the Bay Area long into the hyphy movement.
But SOB’s sound only resembles Mac Dre’s in the group members’ Bay Area accents and the bouncy, minimalistic production they employ.
Mac Dre is from the same Country Club Crest neighborhood as SOB X RBE, but don’t be fooled by the name, it’s one of the most impoverished and underserved areas in Northern California.
Yhung T.O. told The Fader about their upbringing in Vallejo and satisfying our country’s “fascination” with circumstances like theirs.
“Growing up in Vallejo made our music what it is, because growing up in Vallejo gave me the experiences we’ve had. 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.”
While the general listening public may be fascinated by life in Vallejo, the group has discovered over the last year and a half that not everyone around them is happy about their success. Yhung T.O. told The Fader about some of the discontents of sudden fame:
“Some people be excited. Your close family — your mom, your grandma, be happy for you. But then you have some real close friends, cousins and shit, they might feel different. We don’t do this for us, that’s why it’s strictly only brothers. But people don’t look at it like that. They feel like, oh you doin’ something and I’m not. You ain’t doin’ nothing for me. You leaving me behind. People say when you get money or fame, people change, but I feel like the people around you change, because they look at you different.”
Regardless of their meteoric rise, and corresponding haters that come with it, SOB X RBE seem poised for a breakout. Getting the Kendrick co-sign will surely expedite what was already a sure thing.
Hip-hop (and everything else) is always better when there’s a diversity of viewpoints and geography represented, even more so when it’s from the Bay.