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Yhung T.O. - Trust Issues Music Album Reviews

SOB X RBE is already a compelling rap machine, a potential powerhouse in waiting. But this solo outing suggests that there’s plenty of life outside the group, too.

There’s a touch of the Wu-Tang Clan’s careerism to SOB X RBE’s unfolding ascendance. Early in the Wu’s saga, RZA artfully strategized a five-year plan to establish clan members as solo stars. SOB X RBE’s blueprint might not be quite so clear, but even in the infancy of their careers, the Vallejo rappers have dropped a number of solo projects and started to establish themselves as viable individual artists. If there’s any justice in The Bay—dubious, as local stars from regional godhead Mac Dre to young showman Nef the Pharaoh have never received the fame they deserved—the four young vocalists could be a kind of reverse rap supergroup. Call them the anti-Slaughterhouse.

It’s Yhung T.O., though, who has always always seemed like “the one.” With distinct Bay Area swagger, he’s as fluid a vocalist as T-Pain or Ty Dolla $ign, his polished, catchy voice adding a pop sheen to his group’s bounce. Had he pursued his recent assertions that he was leaving the collective, it would have been a disaster for his fellow comrades. Released as part of a solo deal he inked with Interscope earlier this year, Trust Issues makes it clear T.O. can thrive on his own. A successful distillation of his strengths, it’s a melodic West Coast party record thanks to production that complements his tuneful style. With hooks for days, T.O. foregoes guests on these largely three-minutes-or-less showcases, delivering the melodious performances of a potential breakout star.

Still, he has a tendency to stud his writing with references to internal pain and external conflict—even the title of this ostensibly fun diversion seems barbed. On “Fuck the Opps,” HollaTheTruth’s fat, funky beat scores tales from the neighborhood, shrouded in dread. T.O.’s oblique shout-outs to homies, smack-downs for unnamed enemies, and vicious yells of “Middle finger to the Feds/Nigga it’s still fuck the cops” sit right next to jubilant declarations about the new Maserati he’ll be riding this weekend. “No Time,” a catchy highpoint, aims scorn at fake friends.

T.O. named a recent mixtape Lamont “Young L” Davis for his late uncle, and he reflected on family deaths often on the comparatively somber release. Trust Issues is less shrouded by the gloaming, but his voice retains a warmth that makes everything sound personal. During “Grandma’s Lincoln,” an ode to the car he used to drive, T.O. thinks about his old life and the former flame who probably rode shotgun. It’s a real pity, though, that “Anxiety” was cut from the final product; included on an unreleased early version of the album, T.O. details the drugs he used to self-medicate, the regrets of ignoring medical advice, and the strains it put on his family, including an incident when he held a gun to his head in front of his mother. Such trenchant depictions of mental illness are rare but necessary in rap; let’s hope “Anxiety” finds its own life.

There are moments of levity, too, as when “Diamonds” channels Young Thug at his most pop-focused. A few skillfully deployed verses from Yhung T.O.’s group-mates would have added even more slants to Trust Issues—though perhaps at the expense of establishing his solo strength. This is T.O’s showcase, after all, his harmonious performance and fiery writing rounding out our understanding of SOB X RBE’s hook machine. By extension, the group now feels more than ever like a hip-hop superpower in waiting.

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