December 1992 and N.W.A’s Dr Dre emerges from a spell of obscurity to bring the world one of the greatest gangster rap albums of all time…. The Chronic. He also introduces us to a whole new crew of exciting West Coast talent, Daz, Kurupt, Lady Of Rage and the young and rapidly rising star Snoop Doggy Dogg, who had previously featured with Dre on 187 Undercover Cop for the Deep Cover soundtrack. When Snoop came on to the scene he brought a whole new flavour and style in to the rap game. At that point the west coast was dominating hip hop and it would stay that way for the majority of the 90’s. The Chronic also featured one other rapper whose uniqueness set him apart from the others……..
“In this dimension / I’m the presenter / and the inventor/ and the tormentor / Deranged, like the hillside strangler / MC mangler / tough like Wrangler / I write a rhyme, hard as concrete / Step to the heat and get burned like mesquite. / So what you wanna do / The narrator RBX, cell block two”
The Narrator aka RBX added an extra element to The Chronic, with his menacing presence and sinister vocal tone he really sold the serial killer emcee image. For me it was X’s contribution that perfected Dre’s album. His delivery of unforgettable verses and phrases helped raise The Chronic to the highest heights of the gangster rap genre. A year later he would recapture the fans again when he featured on Snoop’s Doggystyle, dropping the same signature style that he had become known for. It’s safe to say that during 92 and 93 RBX was hot property and so a solo album within a few months would seem the obvious outcome.
“Remember me?…. I drop bombs like Hiroshima!”
Fast forward 2 years. Liverpool UK, November 1995, I remember the time well for 2 reasons. The coldest winter I can ever remember and I had just picked up a copy of RBX’s debut album The RBX Files after a very long wait! By this time the mighty Death Row records was already starting to fragment with internal conflicts that probably impacted on getting RBX’s debut finished and ultimately released. After some deliberating between labels, the album was finally released on September 26th 1995 on Premeditated records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros.
“This is not a laid back summertime in the LBC joint…”
On first listen of The RBX Files I was a little bit shocked. This was probably due to the stark differences in production compared to the previous albums X featured on. The heavily G-funked beats where nowhere to be found! In fact in many ways this album didn’t feel like a west coast album at all. But was this really such a bad thing after all?
I remember by about 95 a lot of hardcore hip hop fans were starting complain about G-Funk’s mainstream appeal in the same way people complain about Lil’Wayne’s music today. You can rest assured that RBX’s album, which is almost exclusively produced by Greg “Gregski” Royal, is anything but mainstream.
It will probably take even the most seasoned rap fans a few full listens before they can fully appreciate the depth of this album. This is a classic case of an album that grows on you and then becomes ingrained in your subconscious the more you hear it. These are the kind of albums I like the most because they always provide the greatest replay value. Be under no illusions people, this is not a laid back summertime in the LBC joint.
“From track 7 onward the album takes a very interesting turn….”
For the most part, the album’s tone and concept is serious and lyrics are straight hard-core! Even the sound echoing distortions over X’s voice makes some tracks feel literally demon possessed! Strangely enough the production on the Dr Dre diss track “A.W.O.L” is probably the softest on the album. “Rough is the texture“ is like a declaration of war on neighbouring west coast emcees outside of Long beach which ties in nicely with “Slip in to Long beach”,” The Edge” and “Burn“. It is at this point from track 7 onward that the album takes a very interesting turn. It appears that at some point from the time of The Chronic and Doggystyle, RBX had embraced Islam. It is unclear whether this happened during the recording of the album, but the content on the remaining tracks appears to be inspired in the same way Mc Ren was in his 1993 classic “Shock of the Hour”. Track 8 “Our time is now” has one of the most unusual and catchy rifts I have ever heard.
The remainder of the album abounds with conscious joints that merge with prophetical inserts and snippets of empowering sermons. “Akebulan“ (as the title hints) is an anthem of repatriation to Africa and is definitely one of my favourites. Perhaps the track that left the biggest impact on me was the amazingly haunting “No Time“, which makes excellent use of Dexter Wansel’s Life On Mars sample. It will quite literally leave you in a trance.
To this day I haven’t heard an album that sounds quite like The RBX Files and sadly I doubt I will again.