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'It's Bittersweet': The Story Behind RBL Posse’s ‘A Lesson to Be Learned’ Cover Photo

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An album cover, held up against grey steps, showing its photo shoot location
RBL Posse's 'A Lesson to Be Learned,' pictured at the Harbor Road steps, then and now. On the cover (L–R): Mr. Cee (at bottom), Boobie (standing), Curtis (at center). Black C (squatting), and Lil' Mo.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Editor’s note: This story is part of That’s My Word, KQED’s year-long exploration of Bay Area hip-hop history, with new content dropping all throughout 2023.

RBL Posse’s debut album A Lesson to Be Learned is a Bay Area classic that sold over 220,000 copies and put Hunters Point on the map. Here, RBL Posse’s Black C, a.k.a. Christian Mathews, recalls the neighborhood circumstances surrounding the album’s iconic cover photo.

Location: Harbor and Northridge Roads, Hunters Point, San Francisco
As told to: Gabe Meline


he day we shot the cover for Lesson to be Learned, we were just trying to represent our neighborhood.

Back then, an album cover was more about the eye candy — you pick it up and you see a bunch of guys on it, spray paint on the wall, stuff like that, and it makes you curious. I was really influenced by N.W.A. and the Geto Boys, so even though it was only me and Mr. Cee rapping in RBL, I gathered up a couple of my friends from the neighborhood to be in the picture. This is back when you had, like, posse photos. It attracted attention. People was like, “Oh, that’s a crew — where they from?”


I told them dudes to go put on they RBL jackets, ’cause we all had RBL jackets made at Serramonte shopping mall. And we just had one of those little wind-up Kodak cameras, the kind you buy from Walgreens. My little brother Acie Matthews took the picture. He wasn’t a professional. He was just the only one out there with us.

We tried a few different things that day. We had a song called “More Like an Orgy,” where I talk about rollin’ four deep in a mail Jeep, so we actually did a photo with the mail Jeep. We did a photo on top of the building by the Harbor Road sign. I wish I still had those photos.

And then we took a couple photos there in the basketball court, because not only did it have a lot of our names on the walls with spraypaint, but it was an area where we all gathered. We were doing barbecues there, shooting dice, hanging out, playing hunches. It was just a staple in our neighborhood.

The picture we actually used, sitting up on the stairs at the basketball court, that one just stood out to me. It had that grimy look and represented us, you know, it just represented our neighborhood. Anybody that’s seen that picture, especially from Hunters Point, knew exactly where that was that. They knew that was our road.

RBL Posse perform at the basketball court on Harbor Road, where the cover photo for ‘A Lesson to Be Learned’ was taken. (Courtesy Black C)

We did so many things at the basketball court. I got shot and lost my eye close by there. We learned how to fight there. Learned how to play basketball. Our first concert we ever did in the neighborhood was done there. Back when we was hustling, that’s where everybody was at, from the OGs down to the youngsters.

At the time, I was living at 27 Harbor Road, the next building over. Before I even got outside and started hustling, I used to run to the candy house across the street, down them stairs across from the basketball court. I was doing store runs down to Surfside Liquors — that’s Bob’s store — or going to the candy house for the OGs that was around there hustlin’.

Looking at that photo now, it’s happy and it’s sad. I think about the day we took it, how we was all together, and havin’ fun. We was just happy about RBL. We had no idea it was going to take off like it did. The song “Don’t Give Me No Bammer Weed” — I knew that was hot because of what it did locally for us. I knew we had a hit on our hands. Everybody was excited, everybody had RBL jackets, and the whole neighborhood then, it was unity.

But then also when I look at that photo, that same album caused a divide. It brought jealousy to the dudes within the camp. The guy that’s standin’ up behind Mr. Cee — Boobie, me and him fell apart, and it split the turf in half, and that kind of caused the demise of Mr. Cee, him getting killed. I look at that picture and get happy, and then at times I’m sad about the whole thing. I have dudes behind me in the picture who really didn’t have my back. It’s bittersweet.

A man in black leans out the drivers-side window of a vintage teal-blue car with buildings in the background
RBL Posse’s Black C in his 1966 Skylark on Harbor Road in Hunters Point, circa 1990s. (Courtesy Black C)

Standing on the right-hand side, that’s Lil’ Mo, I still deal with him. Rest in peace to his sister, my kid’s mom — Lil’ Mo’s her brother. And that’s me in front of him with a beanie hat on.

And then in the middle you have Curtis. He’s dead now. He was one of the guys that I didn’t get along with later on. He switched up on them after we left and became a snitch, worked for the state or something. But he ended up getting killed some years back in Oakland.

And then you have Mr. Cee to the left of him, at the bottom. Rest in peace, Mr. Cee, that was my partner.

The one at the top above Mr. Cee, that’s Boobie. He just got out from doing 19 years. The whole thing with Boobie and them, when the turf split up, they became Big Block and they kind of went against us, and the whole stuff happened. The feds came in, took them to jail, and Curtis told on Boobie and a few other people.

Me and Boobie talked a couple months ago. We’re going to let bygones be bygones, and at least be cordial moving forward. So we good.

And the graffiti in the back. We had all our names spraypainted at the basketball court, and little phrases and sayings we used. We had R.I.P. Chucky, our boy who had passed away. Behind me on the cover you can see an R.I.P. for Tone — that’s our boy Tone that got killed by the Vallejo PD.

Two young men sit on graffiti-covered steps, looking into the camera
Black C on the basketball court steps with Herm Lewis (L–R), whose spoken-word intro on ‘A Lesson to Be Learned’ begins: “To survive the difficulties of these ghetto circumstances, we must motivate and respect each other, because the system is causing considerable damage to the Black man.” (Courtesy Black C)

I’m 50 now. And that’s why I put it all in my book. I talk about everything, from the block to the booth. From being outside, losing my eye, and being part of the Sunnydale-Fillmore turf wars, to me being part of the truce, and bringing Sunnydale and Fillmore together. And then the fallout of my neighborhood, how it all happened. The fallout with our our label, In-a-Minute Records, who we signed to at the time.

And even now, today, the fans still come out to see us. Even though they know we lost two members. We lost Mr. Cee, and we lost Hitman later on.

I pressed forward and kept doing music, and thank God I didn’t have any problems. I’m still here to tell the story, you know?


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