Compared to the first Gangin, the Bay Area foursome is now more patient and ruminative. They tap deeper into a give-and-take dynamic that makes them one of rap’s most exciting groups.
Nine days before the release of Gangin II, SOB X RBE’s caramel-voiced singer Yhung T.O. made a shocking announcement on his Instagram: “Gangin 2 Will Be My Last Album With SOB Me And [DaBoii] Got sum shit still in tha cut fa y’all tho.” In the caption, he elaborated, “No We Not Fonkin We just on different Terms, Crazy How You make money and Create a New Life wit Niggas you call brother and in the End they still disloyal [...] Sumtimes No matter how hard you try to keep shit together sometimes shit just be destined.” Then, three days later, T.O. and the apparent object of his ire, Slimmy B, posted the same photo with similar captions, asserting that they were “4L [for life].”
The departure of T.O. would have been calamitous. At a time when the line between rap and R&B is all but gone, T.O. is an obvious star. His lyrics have the blistering anxiety and animosity of a 19-year-old snakebitten by violence, but his delivery is measured and melodic beyond his years. (He and Quando Rondo, the natural-born successor to Rich Homie Quan, duet splendidly on “Times Get Hard.”) In a group with three propulsive, adrenal rappers, T.O.’s dulcet tones act as an essential counterbalance—he’s the calming pitter-patter of raindrops to the rolling thunder of Slimmy B, Lul G, and DaBoii.
This dynamic—T.O. cool as the river Styx; his cohorts as rabid as Cerberus—is unchanged from their self-titled mixtape and the first iteration of Gangin. At their best, as they are on “North Vallejo,” “Uber Wit a Dub,” and “Let Em Have It” (with Fenix Flexin and Rob Vicious of Los Angeles arch-knuckleheads Shoreline Mafia), SOB X RBE have the white-orange burn of a meteor in the sky. They’re thrilling in the way precocious gangster rappers tend to be thrilling: everything is intoxicating and acrobatic and, though it can’t be the case, the menace contained herein feels free of consequence.
But youth has its limitations: It’s difficult to contextualize adolescence when not only is it in progress, but it has the added vectors of sudden fame and wealth. And, though T.O. and Slimmy B’s solo projects showed moments of heart-wrenching loss and sadness, their autobiographical instincts have been subsumed in a group setting. This is beginning to change. Compared to the first Gangin—a bug-eyed and breathless gun-fu sprint through a maelstrom of bullets—the second is patient and ruminative. Their incipient political awareness (“Fuck About Us”) and the already-scintillating DaBoii’s increased candor (”Peek A Boo”) can make for a less dynamic listen, but their maturation augurs well for the future of the group.
I suspect that, had T.O.’s fit of pique led to him permanently quitting SOB X RBE, I might feel differently about Gangin II. The album—imperfect, if still very good—would be an ill-fitting and premature final chapter for one of rap’s most exciting groups. Gangin II is the second panel in a triptych or the second act of a novel. It demands a third which is, if not conclusive and definitive, something that builds on their blossoming artistic ambitions.
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