The history of Bay Area rap music has mostly featured tales of underappreciated legends. E-40 and Too Short are still heroes on both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge, but commercial appeal has, in recent years, given way to critical clout. Andre Nickatina is an even starker example, an MC beloved in certain communities but in no way the household name his skills on the mic warrant. When you dig even deeper into the underground, you get left-field aliens like the Anticon crew that have inspired as many ant logo tattoos as they’ve accrued record sales.
SOB X RBE, the group of late-teens and early-20s rappers freshly risen from Vallejo’s deep history, are looking to buck this trend, already gathering a national audience off the success of their early breakout hit, “Anti.” Now, with unofficial squad leader Yhung T.O. inking an Interscope record deal — and as of Wednesday, thrusting the group into turmoil via a now-deleted Instagram post that states Gangin’ II will be his last album with the group — in addition to the four-piece earning a spot on the Billboard charts thanks to their Black Panther soundtrack spot, SOB x RBE is perhaps already as popular as the forefathers that pioneered the classic Bay Area sound the group has based their style on.
When we speak with the band, T.O. is nowhere to be found, apparently sleeping off a late night with a mid-afternoon nap. What seemed throughout our conversation as an innocent-enough absence now looms far more ominous in the wake of T.O.’s allegations of jealousy and backstabbing from his fellow bandmates (although he did mention in the post that more music with DaBoii is on the way). This absence, though, allows the other members to assert personalities that can at times be swallowed by the presence of Vallejo’s hottest rapper under the age of 40 (although Nef the Pharaoh has an argument as well).
Slimmy B, the other SOB x RBE member with a percolating solo career (he was just featured on Drakeo the Ruler’s “Touchin’”) takes charge during the course of our conversation, regaling both Billboard and his fellow band members with tales of growing up in Vallejo, the group’s rapid rise, and how his child has changed the way he approaches the world. DaBoii and Lul G round out the group, each occasionally attempting to one up Slimmy — a clear example of the group members’ inherent competitiveness, the signifier that suggests how easily each of these rappers bring the best out of each other. It’s clear that SOB X RBE can’t work without any of the members, despite how popular they get as individuals.
Bay Area rap has been clouded since Mac Dre’s tragic death in 2004, but for the first time since E-40 introduced the world to ghost riding, Vallejo, California, is a rap haven only growing stronger. SOB x RBE are doing the heavy lifting.
What’s it like getting ready for Gangin’ II to come out? How are y’all preparing?
Slimmy B: Answer that, D-Boy!
DaBoii: [Laughing] I ain’t even know that motherfucker was coming out!
Slimmy B: We just gonna live our best lives until then. We just gonna stay in the studio and keep going.
Are you working on new stuff already?
Slimmy B: Yep, yep.
Lul G: Always. Group shit, solo shit.
What’s the difference between recording group versus solo stuff?
Slimmy B: We just always be out in our own studio sessions, really. If we’re on some gang shit we’ll just always be there or be sending verses between each other, that’s how that shit works. But solo shit we’re by ourselves.
Did y’all feel any pressure to make Gangin’ II a hit considering how successful the first one ended up being?
DaBoii: Naw, we didn’t feel no pressure because we was just making music.
Slimmy B: We’re just making authentic music that came to us. It’s just the same thing with the second album.
Did you think you achieved the same heights with this one?
Slimmy B: If not we achieved more, probably.
So y’all have high expectations for it?
Slimmy B: There are big expectations for sure. Expectations really be high in the first place for us. It ain’t about us exceeding our expectations, though, because it’s just about us versus them. We do what we do whether people like it or not, that won’t change shit; but our people are most likely gonna like it because they like our music. We give ‘em what they want.
Lul G: We always be giving ‘em what they want.
Now that y’all travel around the country, what’s your relationship with your hometown, Vallejo? Has it changed at all?
DaBoii: It’s what you make of it.
Slimmy B: It changed a little bit. It’s sort of the same, though. We still get love. The same people that give us love still show love and the same people that show hate still show hate, you know? We’re just a little more in the public eye now.
Do you still live in Vallejo?
DaBoii: We around the bay but we don’t live in Vallejo no more.
Have y’all interacted with the older rap legends in the Bay Area?
Slimmy B: E-40, that’s unc right there. We talk to E-40 a lot. We been talking to 40 a lot throughout our careers. T.O. been featured on a track with Too Short. All the other OGs show love for real. We ain’t done any music with any of the other OGs from the bay yet but I’m pretty sure it’s gonna come.
Who’s the one emcee y’all would wanna collaborate with?
Slimmy B: Too Short and E-40.
How did growing up in the Bay Area inspire the style you guys are doing?
Slimmy B: Shit, growing up I was listening to Mac Dre. They were so big back in the day. Everyone wants to be on the wave, that hyphy wave. With us, we have that similar type of wave.
DaBoii: That new wave.
Lul G: Everyone wants to be in our wave. We got a new wave.
What is that wave?
Slimmy B: It’s real street shit. We make real street music, real industry music.
As the group has grown have you worried about losing some touch with the streets?
DaBoii: Hell naw, that’s just natural.
As you get further away from where you grew up is it harder to be a part of the community that raised you stylistically?
DaBoii: We make music for everybody.
With Gangin’ II, are y’all re-visiting the first album and using it as a road map of sorts?
Slimmy B: We’re just present. With Gangin’ it was just whatever came out came out. It’s just good music and that’s what we do.
Do y’all compete with each other and one up each other when in the studio?
Slimmy B: It ain’t really a competition. Well, it kind of is, but we just push each other harder. Everyone wanna come hard so if I spit a verse I know D-Boy’s gonna wanna come harder. If they go hard, G will go hard, and then T.O. will go hard, so we’re just out here competing as a group.
Lul G: We’re just trying to make each other do better.
What are your favorite things to do in the Bay Area outside of making music?
Lul G: Secure my bag, bruh. We just do whatever the day puts in front of us.
DaBoii: Secure the bag any way we can!
What’s your favorite part about touring outside of securing bags?
Lul G: Different environments.
Slimmy B: [Laughs] Securing the bag for real! Naw, I just like seeing new places. We’ve been on three or four tours already so just going back to these cities and seeing the new reactions you get every time is crazy.
DaBoii: Especially if we’re out of state, somewhere we don’t really know, and they fuck with us, then that shit is wild.
Is it still exciting when people know words to your songs at shows?
Slimmy B: Man, not even in the same city…In different states! New York, Philly, shit like that, it’s insane.
When did you first realize that SOBxRBE was blowing up?
Slimmy B: I didn’t even realize it, it just happened! It was just like, boom! We dropped “Anti” and we were damn near established now that we had that track. People started reaching out, labels and celebrities. We just started getting big.
Do you still consider yourself a Bay Area rap group now that you are getting popular nationally?
Slimmy B: We definitely national, but the Bay will be ours forever. Even with that, though, we’re not tryna stay in the Bay because these are people that can’t ever leave. With us, we could really go anywhere and sell out a show. We’re nationally and internationally known. We’re not trying to stay local. We’re bigger than big.
The group’s success has come so quickly. Have y’all had any chance to reflect on the path you’re on?
Slimmy B: Most definitely. Sometimes I still think, like, damn, I can’t believe where I’m at. Just two years ago I was at work, waiting to get off of my 9 to 5 so I could go home to my baby mama and my son. Now it’s like, I don’t gotta work no more. I do what I love as a job.
Has having a kid changed the way you approach music?
Slimmy B: It doesn’t change the way I approach music but it changes the way I approach life in general. Music’s one thing, I’m gonna do what I do with my music regardless. Ain’t nothing gonna change. But the way I move and take care of my son, I don’t want him having to do anything bad. I don’t want him to see me fall.