Time flies when you’re young and having fun, and Bay Area rap foursome SOB X RBE is moving about as fast as it gets. In just a matter of weeks the Vallejo, Calif., group was featured on the “Black Panther” soundtrack curated by rap luminary Kendrick Lamar, got glowing critical response to debut LP Gangin and was announced as support on the Post Malone and 21 Savage North American amphitheatre tour.
After a few recent East Coast dates opening for the red-hot Lil Uzi Vert and high-profile South by Southwest showcases, the foursome – Yhung T.O., Slimmy B, Lul G and DaBoii, all aged between just 19 and 21 years old – had fully arrived back in its home market to kick off its 2018 headlining, with a sold-out show at the Fox Theatre in Oakland March 17, which manager Chioke “Stretch” McCoy of Active Management says “is a milestone, especially for a Bay Area act.”
He says the reason a lot of Bay Area talent doesn’t extend to the rest of the States or beyond isn’t because of any lack of interest or widespread appeal.
“The problem with the Bay Area market more than any, is it becomes a little ‘chitlin’ circuit,’ you know what I mean?” McCoy told Pollstar, “where you can make decent money just throughout the Bay Area to San Diego and back, and you don’t really venture off.
“It’s really just getting out there and putting the work in,” he added, saying the team, which includes booking agent Randall Uritsky at Paradigm, is working to build SOB X RBE into an act that will be touring in 20 years.
“A lot of times, and especially with hip-hop acts, people are just looking for the money as opposed to the right play that’s going to get you where you need to be. We took the approach of playing the right rooms with the right promoters to build it the right way,” McCoy said.
Uritsky stressed the importance of having a manager on the same page when developing that touring career.
“A lot of credit goes to Stretch at Active Management for laying the groundwork of how we started touring the act,” Uritsky, who also books Dave, G Perico, and JPEGMAFIA, told Pollstar. “It all started at Fader Fort (at South by Southwest) in 2017, when I saw the group and Stretch introduced me.” Uritsky said they wanted to gauge the strength of the home market and had holds for the whole weekend of May 26-28 at the Social Hall in San Francisco (750 capacity), but with the first two shows selling out during presale, upgraded the third to a finale at the Regency Ballroom (1,424).
“So after that first weekend we did 3,000 tickets in the home market,” Uritsky said. “We knew that the life was really there at home but didn’t want to stop there.” They laid the groundwork with an ensuing headline run of 300- to 1,000-cap rooms “being smart about the capacity” and “playing the cities that we needed to properly build in.”
Things came full circle for Uritsky with this year’s Fader Fort, just days ago with SOB X RBE headlining this time, and then the sold-out-in-advance Fox Theatre show, which Uritsky said sold 2,895 tickets and grossed $101,325.
McCoy has roots in Bay Area and California hip-hop, and also manages Sage The Gemini, G Perico, OMB Peezy and others.
“I think the biggest thing about their sound it is it’s typical Bay Area style, in the pocket that they rap in and the tempo. In the Bay Area and California in general, people like to move, like to dance, and like to have some kind of tempo. And I think that’s what they bring,” McCoy added.
That sound is distinct and a stark contrast from some of the slower, laid-back “Trap” or Southern style that is in huge demand today and sometimes derided as “mumble rap” by detractors. The Bay Area sound harkens back to a lauded period of hip-hop and provides a breath of fresh air that is resonating with fans and critics alike, with Pitchfork giving SOB X RBE’s first proper LP a “Best New Music” stamp of approval and a score of 8.3 out of 10.
“Their influence comes from a lot of old freestyle dance music, so there are higher tempos than a lot of the stuff that’s going on now, which is more laid back with slower tempos, maybe with a drug influence with Xanax or syrup or whatever. This is faster-paced, with different cadences and more off-kilter than people are used to hearing,” McCoy said.
Surely accelerating that widespread appeal is just being associated in any fashion with Kendrick Lamar, who is universally lauded by the underground and mainstream alike in a way that hasn’t been seen in recent memory.
McCoy said the impact of being part of the “Black Panther” soundtrack was immediate. “To not only get on a huge soundtrack, but to have a song with Kendrick, it kind of validates what you’re doing,” he said. “Kendrick actually just reached out and said he had a song he wanted them to do for it. That was all him. He took the beat and told the guys, ‘Do what you do. Do exactly what you do and I’ll follow your lead.’
“It was incredible for someone of that stature to give such a platform to such a new young group and to let them do it the way they did,” McCoy added.
SOB X RBE (with the “X” silent and standing for “Strictly Only Brothers, Real Boi Entertainment”) will get in front of lots of fans across the continent on the Post Malone tour, which takes in venues including Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Red Rocks in Denver, Xfinity Center in Boston, and The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory in Irving, Texas, all with capacities beyond 8,000. One date they’re not on is the Shoreline show near San Francisco, as Uritsky says SOB X RBE will do its own special play in their home market to be announced.
On tour with the “Rockstar” hit-maker and collaborator 21 Savage, “They get to learn from a professional,” McCoy said. “I think it’s a great challenge and great step for them, to get to learn from people that are on a different level than you, not just the performing part or the touring part but the being an artist part – how they do their scheduling and everything.”
Uritsky said while the guys were ready to headline during that period, the Post Malone tour made sense. “For us, we are playing it for the super long-term so we felt this was not a derailment but an acceleration of our next steps. It’s going to put the guys in front of bigger crowds and help our next headline run. It was the most positive delay possible,” Uritsky added.
SOB X RBE already had legit headlining success on the West Coast, including 3,000 tickets sold over two shows to the Azteca Theater in Fresno, Calif. ($76,500 grossed), 1,000 tickets at the UC Theatre in Berkeley ($40,550), and another 1,000 at Senator Theatre in Chico ($25,000) in October. Upcoming dates in Santa Cruz (two nights), Sacramento (two), Santa Ana and Reno, Nev., are sold out or will be soon, Uritsky said.
McCoy, joking that the guys are young enough that being on the road “should be a cakewalk,” says the work doesn’t stop at the U.S. either, with plans to hit Europe in the winter after U.S. headline dates in the fall, with holds on multiple-sized rooms already.
“(The ability to break overseas) has always been there if you’re willing to go to the places and take the same approach in Europe as you did in the States,” McCoy said. “Start with the right room, play the room and gain every fan and come back. To me, it’s simple. I think it gets tougher when you get a little more momentum because you get offers for not the right rooms or the right play, but for a lot of money. We’ve turned down a lot of good money so we could play the right rooms and keep that philosophy. I think it’s worked out well for us because we’re talking to you,” he said, laughing.
Uritsky agreed, adding, “We’re in it for the long haul, so we’re willing to take all the right steps even if it feels like one step may be an underplay. We welcome those underplays and we welcome the sellouts.”
The long-term approach was influenced by someone widely revered by Pollstar readers and subscribers.
“My mentor in all of this was Chip Hooper, who taught me everything I know about getting into the music business,” McCoy said of the Monterey Peninsula Artists agent who became head of Paradigm in 2005. “He always instilled in me the right way to tour. He was a great friend, he showed me the ropes about everything, and he was an incredible person.”
Hooper passed in 2016 after battling cancer. His legacy, however, endures.