In April, SOB x RBE, the Bay Area crew that gained mainstream attention for “Paramedic!” from Black Panther: The Album, returned with new music to set off summer ‘19. In collaboration with superproducer and rapper Hit-Boy, they released their surprise album Family Not a Group last month, a nine-track project that doesn’t stray far from the group’s formula of explosive, menacing bangers. Hit — who follows their lead — provides the hard-hitting bounce of the West, bringing together trap elements and R&B for SOB x RBE to absolutely go off. As Slimmy B raps on “Chosen 1,” “If Hit-Boy up on the beat, you know it’s a banger.” Listen to Family Not a Group and try to tell him he’s wrong.
While in New York City, Hit-Boy stopped by Billboard to break down his work on Family Not a Group. SOB x RBE’s Yhung T.O. phoned in to discuss everything from favorite tracks off the album to the speculation surrounding the status of SOB x RBE. Hit and T.O. also opened up about how they’re coping with the loss of Nipsey Hussle, and why Hit believes their song “Racks in the Middle” with Roddy Ricch, a buzzing rapper from Compton, is a “negro spiritual.”
Billboard: What does “family” mean to you?
Yhung T.O.: Shoot, everything. Loyalty.
Hit-Boy: For me, definitely that loyalty. That’s first. But just like having a rapport with people you care about. With SOB, they rap, but they’re really brothers. I respected that, and when we linked up, you could tell it’s real like with me and my homies and shit. I always have respect for they movement.
When did you discover SOB x RBE?
Hit-Boy: This was about three summers ago. This chick put me on they music. The first song she played me was “Anti.” I was playing hella shit, and she was like, ‘Lemme play you my favorite song right now. This shit is hard.’ They crazy with it. And we didn’t work until two years after that, but I was always a fan of them.
What about you T.O.?
Yhung T.O.: Man, Hit-Boy been around for a minute. I ain’t gonna lie, I can’t even tell you the first time. Over years, just hearing stuff. Probably when Stretch [SOB x RBE’s manager] and them hitting me and telling me he was trying to get in the lab, it was like I already knew what time it was. I already knew how he was finna come. He got that pressure.
When you were making these beats for SOB x RBE, what type of sound did you want?
Hit-Boy: Kind of a mix between the Bay sound and southern California. We more known for the DJ Quiks and the Battlecats and that smooth West Coast hip-hop. The Bay is on some hyphy, go dumb, turn-up shit. I feel like for the first time it’s being captured on this level, with this youthful energy they brought to it.
More than anything, just kind of trying to impress them. Just having some shit, knowing how raw their energy is. Having something like when I play it, they wanna go in, straight in on it.
Hit, with your experience working with your HS87 crew, what was it like working with another group?
Hit-Boy: Shit, I’ve been doing this for so long I just try to see what the best way to insert myself into what they do. I’ma come original regardless. It’s just having something that’s original enough but still feel like the artist can immediately relate to.
What was it about Hit’s beats that made you guys go harder on these tracks?
Yhung T.O.: Everytime we come into the studio, he’d play some beats and he’d just have some fire beats. So it’s like, ‘Man, we gotta come with some heat.’ And there’s friendly competition with us anyway between all of us when we on the mic. So we ain’t finna come weak with each other. Now, we gotta go crazy for the producer too. It just had the bars up on high when anybody get on the mic.
Probably for Hit-Boy, when we walk in it’s like, ‘Man, I gotta play some fire because I don’t wanna play some bullshit.’ And no songs get made. Everybody just has to have their level with it at an all-time high. Go as crazy as possible.
Hit-Boy: And me, just bouncing off each other. Bouncing off the energy.
Yhung T.O.: Yup.
When did you record this album?
Hit-Boy: This album was done in three sessions. First session, we did the “Both Sides” record. Shit, I really had no beats that I wanted to play them, for real. ‘Cause I wanted something that’s on some Bay shit, but still hard. I made that beat maybe 10 minutes before they walked in. I played it, and they went crazy on it.
When were these sessions?
Hit-Boy: That first session had to be a year-plus ago. We had that one song; we had to get back in with it. We did three or four the next session. And then did three or four the third session, and the album was pretty much done.
What are some of your favorites?
Hit-Boy: I would say “Chosen 1.” I see people be saying how different that shit is and the bounce and how they came on it was just gas.
What about you, T.O.?
Yhung T.O.: I would say “Family Not a Group” and “WYO,” just because “Family Not a Group” is just that bounce. It’s just crazy. And then, “WYO,” it just sound like real OG, West Coast, “Ain’t No Fun” like [vibe]. It just give me that good summertime vibe. No matter when you turn that on, you just gonna feel good. I fuck with that too.
Was there any discussion of you jumping on these records and rapping?
Hit-Boy: That’s funny because the last time I saw them we was doing some promo up in the Bay. I saw bro and them. They was like, ‘You gotta hop on the next tape.’ I wasn’t even thinking about it like that. We was just going in. I definitely want to do some shit.
Last month, SOB x RBE performed at Coachella. One of the highway billboards read, “Long Live Neighborhood Nip. The Marathon Will Forever Continue.” It’s been about a month since his passing. How have you coped with his loss?
Yhung T.O.: I feel like the whole world was affected by that shit. But I also feel like you got the people who was really close to them and [who are] your family. And it’s family that’s hardly affected by that shit more than the world. It’s kind of like when you’re a big figure like that, it gets blown out of proportion to where everybody has got something to say. But me, personally, I just feel like everybody [should] keep his name going in a positive light and just chill out and let his family heal.
Hit-Boy: We started working on “Racks in the Middle” like sometime in January, and this is our first link up after a while. ‘Cause I did some shit on Bullets Ain’t Got No Name Vol. 2, with Boosie, like way back. We been working. He’s featured on my shit before. Us just linking back up, it was a surreal experience. Me having this idea of what I wanted to do before we linked and playing him the song.
‘Cause “Racks in the Middle” was supposed to be my record, featuring Roddy [Ricch] and I wanted to put Nip on the verse. He heard it and he was like, ‘I need this shit.’ So the urgency he had to want to drop the song. None of his team wanted to believe that he wanted to drop it because they know he don’t move like that. He’s more calculated. He’ll work on a whole body of work, then figure out the singles and videos. But he was like, ‘I gotta come back ‘cause I’m fresh off the Grammy shit and its gonna make more of a statement.’ We had this conversation multiple times. [He said] ‘It’s more of a statement if I just come back on they ass.’ I was happy that I was able to give him that record that he was excited about.
Why did he choose you to do that?
Hit-Boy: Honestly, it was just organic. We always fucked with each other. It could have been just any other session. Just like an everyday session. But the fact I had that record ready to go, it was like divine. It was like God is really playing, for real. Just to see the reaction. The last time I sat with Nip, “Racks in the Middle” was damn near a negro spiritual. If you listen to the choirs and shit. If you were just to mute everything and play them choirs, that’s like some negro spiritual type shit. That’s why people get so wrapped up in the song.
I was fucking crying to “Racks in the Middle” before Nip passed away. To look on Twitter, people @ me like ‘This ‘Racks in the Middle’ touches me every time I listen to it.’ That’s the exact feeling that I had when Nip was still alive and I had no idea this shit would be going down.
When did you first meet Nip?
Hit-Boy: I can’t remember when I first met him, but it was years ago.
Yhung T.O.: I think I was in Paramount Studios or something, up there recordin’. I had came down and I had seen this tall ass n—a just standing in the hallway by the door with his back [turned]. But all I could see was the back and the braids. I was just speaking to myself, ‘Man, bruh, this gotta be Nipsey Hussle.’ I went to the back. To be honest, I grew up on that shit. Everything he said, I took that shit like Jesus. So I went to the back, I tell Stretch, I’m like, ‘I think Nipsey Hussle up there in the front. We need to figure out a way to meet this n—a. I’m tryna tap in with it.’
So a little time passed, and I go back upstairs. I’m in the booth recording, and my other manager come open the door. We be playing around and shit. I’m like, ‘N—a, close the door. Don’t you see me here recording?’ And then I see this n—a Nip head like poke out. And I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’ So I put my phone down, put the headphones down, all the shit. I come out. We chopping it up. He like, ‘I fuck with the shit.’ So I’m like, ‘Fosho.’ He like, ‘You got something for me?’ I go through my phone, I go downstairs. Play him some shit. He like, ‘Hell yeah, let me get this one. I’ma hop on this.’ And then after that, we was probably just talking for two-three hours before I even left. We was just talking. He was telling me how he really fucked with my shit. How Lauren [London] put him up on On My Momma shit. He was just fucking with my shit heavy. Name is in my phone and shit.
That shit was just for real. He was just telling me like … at that time I had a lot of shit going on in my life. From the streets with it, he was just telling me like, ‘You got it. Separate yourself from that shit. Just focus and you’re gonna be something.’ I took that shit hard fosho.
You recently did tracks for Juice WRLD’s Death Race for Love. Why did they ask you to contribute to it?
Hit-Boy: It’s funny because that was around the same time I was working with Nip. So Nip would come through and I would set him up with the engineer. And then I would go fuck with Juice WRLD for a minute cause Juice is super fast. And the crazy part is, with Nip, he took his time with music. He took his time with the verses. Even with “Racks,” it was like stretched over of maybe a week of actually recording and working on the song. I kinda got spoiled by Juice because Juice was knocking shit out in 20-30 minutes. It’s two different messages though. It was kind of balancing all that shit. Working with Juice through my homeboy [Aaron “Dash” Sherrod, A&R of Interscope Records], who works at Interscope, I’ve known him for years.
And you started putting your tag back on your beats now.
Hit-Boy: The crazy thing is my first real placement was on Jennifer Lopez’s [album]. And if you listen, you can hear my tag. I was just whispering the shit. And I never used it again after that. I only used it on my first placement. I probably got 200 placements after that. And I just started using a real tag. I got a few of ‘em now that I’m kind of having fun with it. It’s a new inspiration for me because once I finish some heat, throw the tag on it, that’s the icing on the cake. It gives me a new inspiration to want and finish beats and shit. I’m not putting my tag on it if it’s not a beat that’s ready to go.
You’ve also put time into your rapping career. What inspires you to rap? You’ve put a couple years into it already, getting recognition for your skills on “Jay-Z Interview.”
Hit-Boy: Shit, it’s been longer than that. The production shit was to support what I was doing rapping. I was rapping first. The production, I was just doing albums and shit for my group and doing albums for myself. Then, somehow, people really started fucking with my beats and I just started going crazy on that. As far as that, I am more motivated than ever. The new Half a Mil that I got with Dom Kennedy, that shit is A1. My new solo shit. I’m definitely elevating. I’m excited about my shit.
For SOB x RBE, are you guys putting out solo projects? I know you just dropped On My Momma 2.
Yhung T.O.: Yeah, we definitely putting out solo projects. We putting out group projects. Just working, really. We are just trying to do everything. I know me and Hit-Boy are for sure finna do something next coming up.
Hit-Boy: Easy. We already got a banger right now.
Why do you think people keep saying SOB x RBE have broken up?
Yhung T.O.: Just because it be a lot of shit going on. And when you’re really family, and you brothers and shit, everybody have they issues. But when you famous and shit, people like to make some shit more than what it is. Somebody say some shit or stories get flipped and it gets to the second, to the third, to the fourth person and shit like that. When it is a real thing and it is not made up and it’s in the public, you feel me, you gonna have your issues every now and then. That’s with any family though. That’s just regular. But that don’t mean n—as gonna come together every time. That don’t mean it ain’t love. I been talking to DaBoii and been talking to Slimmy so you know?
SOB stands for Strictly Only Brothers. Why is that message of brotherhood so important to you guys?
Yhung T.O.: ‘Cause when we was coming up and when we was doing what we was doing, it was really just us. Like, for real. It was just us and nobody else. We didn’t really fuck with nobody. We was just doing us. We had our vision and we knew what we wanted to do. And we was just keeping the circle small and just rocking like that.
Is there room for another Hit-Boy x SOB x RBE project?
Hit-Boy: Oh yeah, fosho that. We got ideas already in the tuck. I’m looking forward to it. I’m trying to work with all the members solo. Work with the group. Everything as much as possible.