The Vallejo, California hip-hop quartet SOB X RBE are basically a 21st century version of d’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers. They rap ceaselessly about defeating men in gun duels and seducing their girlfriends. Their signature icon (other than a ski mask) is the crossed swords emoji. And the title of their new album, Family Not a Group, is a less poetic analog of the Musketeers slogan, “All for one, and one for all!”
Family Not a Group marks a collaboration between SOB X RBE and Hit-Boy, the savvy producer (“Niggas in Paris,” “Backstreet Freestyle”) whom Juice WRLD’s A&R recently brought in to spruce up Death Race For Love. Hit-Boy takes a different tack than the DJ Quik-influenced, sample-heavy beats of SOB X RBE’s 2018 breakout albums Gangin and Gangin II; rather, he hews closer to sounds like the detuned pan flute synth of “Paramedic,” the group’s feature on the Black Panther soundtrack, and uses the sparse, melodic bass thumps of California rap as a needle to weave together R&B and trap elements.
Meanwhile, SOB X RBE continue to hone in on their established formula: contrasting explosive verses from one of three snarling rappers (DaBoii, Lul G, and Slimmy B) with suave, radio-ready hooks from the group’s singer and centerpiece, Yhung T.O. It’s this Slim Jxmmi/Swae Lee-esque dynamic that makes the experience of listening to SOB X RBE akin to that of watching a ‘64 Impala suspended on hydraulics—at once jerky and fluid, and totally mesmerizing. “What’s the point of having ass if it ain’t shaking?” Slimmy B asks on “Stuck in the Streets.” “If this Glock get to barking, then I can’t tame it.” SOB X RBE may be predictable in form and theme, but through force of personality they keep you hanging onto every word.
From N.W.a to D4L, big rap groups have a track record of disbanding sooner rather than later. Yhung T.O. quit SOB X RBE for four days last fall, and Lul G’s minimal appearances on Family Not A Group, as well as his conspicuous absence from the group’s performance at Coachella last weekend, makes one wonder if SOB X RBE is long for this world. Still, Family Not a Group is an encouraging return to action, a lean, no-frills album that doesn’t spark questions about where SOB X RBE is going next, but simply asks you to enjoy the ride.