When SOB x RBE's Kendrick Lamar-assisted "Paramedic!" was featured on the Black Panther soundtrack, it seemed certain that things were about to change for the promising Vallejo rap group — the most talked-about local act of the past year.
And change they did. Yhung T.O., the group's master of melody, revealed on March 23 that he'd inked a deal with Interscope. He also dropped his first single with the label, the downcast, autobiographical slapper "Misunderstood," and promised a solo project of the same name coming later this year.
That's great news for Yhung T.O. — and the Bay Area as a whole. After all, more local artists with major-label deals means more eyes on the regional scene, and T.O. joins Kamaiyah, Saweetie, Kehlani, and G-Eazy as the latest local act to sign with a major.
But what does Yhung T.O.'s solo deal spell for the future of SOB x RBE, which earned its avid following on the strength of their explosive group energy?
Much like the other Odd Future members often featured on Tyler, the Creator's solo work, we'll likely hear from Daboii, Slimmy B, and Lul G on Misunderstood. But if one examines the history of promising solo artists leaving the groups they started with — like E-40 signing with RCA while still a member of the Click — it becomes apparent that the first of the group to sign a deal often goes the way of Beyoncé, and the others of Kelly and Michelle.
The question then becomes, is Yhung T.O. really a Beyoncé? Will he shine brighter on his own than with SOB x RBE? Interscope is betting its money that the answer is yes. But although T.O.'s 2017 solo mixtape, On My Momma, gave us the catchy "Don't Blame 'Em," his solo work hasn't generated nearly as much organic hype as SOB x RBE's most memorable tracks. On "Paramedic!," "Lane Changin," and "Anti," T.O.'s silky voice provides a momentary, groovy respite from DaBoii, Slimmy B, and Lul G's scathing bars, and that carefully-balanced chemistry is what makes the group so entertaining.
The other question is whether Interscope will do Yhung T.O. justice in marketing him to a mainstream audience. The Bay Area has an idiosyncratic and hyper-local rap culture, and regional favorites haven't always translated to mainstream audiences. Keak Da Sneak's group 3XKrazy, for instance, didn't take off nationally despite a deal with Virgin.
There's also the question of whether a label like Interscope — which is home to dozens of Platinum-selling artists — will invest enough resources into an upstart like T.O. One recent case study gives enough reason to be skeptical. In a 2017 GQ interview, Kamaiyah complained that Interscope fumbled the rollout of her debut album because of sample clearance issues, adding that she felt like her album wasn't a priority for the label. Vocal about her frustration, she self-released her latest mixtape Before I Wake. Her debut studio album is still pending.
It could be a boon for Yhung T.O., however, that his sound seems to be in the lineage of some of Interscope's most successful rap signees — namely Dr. Dre's Death Row Records, which Interscope acquired in the '90s. Nate Dogg, the original crooner with gangster lyrics, was on Interscope when he and Warren G released the smash "Regulate" — an early predecessor to SOB x RBE's mix of streetwise raps and soulful melodies.
Only time will tell how Yhung T.O. and Interscope will handle the young artist's new-found success, but one thing's for certain: SOB x RBE won't be the same.