October 2, 2018

Reader Review: RBX - The RBX Files (September 26, 1995)

(Today’s Reader Review comes from BrianL, who continues diving into Death Row and Death Row-adjacent hip hop history with his take on RBX’s debut solo album, The RBX Files, which famously featured the man verbally attacking his former labelmates and friends because… Death Row declined to release his album? I never really understood why he turned on Snoop, Dre, and company so quickly. Anyway, whatever, leave your thoughts below.)

Eric Collins, who goes by the stage name RBX (a/k/a The Narrator), is a polarizing emcee for those heads who care enough to form a strong opinion. As far as I have been able to tell, fans of West Coast gangsta rap in particular seem to think well of him, whereas everyone else likely isn’t all that familiar with him in the first place. (I’d venture a guess that that most of this blog’s readers know him solely through his Death Row Records features and that one appearance he made on Eminem’s The Marshall Matters LP.) He’s certainly an acquired taste: his voice is straight out of a horror film, and his flow and vocal inflections are oftentimes bizarre. If you happen to be one of his detractors, I am not writing this review to convince you to give him another shot: rather, I’m highlighting his debut album, The RBX Files, because I have a lot to say about it, and besides, quite a large portion of it worthy of your attention. But before we get to this weird album, I will provide some background.

It is probably a well-known fact that RBX is one of Snoop Doggy Dogg’s many relatives active in music: he’s one of his older cousins. He took his first steps into the rap game during the late 1980s, though as far as I have been able to make out, he did not practice his art in Snoop’s circles at the beginning. Back when his better-known cousin ran with the even more childish rap name Snoopy (or the far-better Silky Slim) and hung out with the likes of Warren G, Nate Dogg, Lil’ ½ Dead, the Twinz, and Foesum spitting boasts and gangsta tales in the mold of their heroes in NWA, RBX approached rap from a far more serious and socially conscious angle, taking inspiration from the likes of Afrika Bambataa and Professor X, which would inform his later work to various degrees. The name RBX attests to that, as it stands for Reality Born Unknown, drawing obvious inspiration from Malcolm X. RBX also heavily drank the Kool-Aid of the Nation of Islam. Now, personal views and convictions are to be respected and so on, but I personally think the Nation’s dogmas are a load of regressive, hate-mongering kookiness with its bizarre pseudo- (and anti-)scientific views and strong anti-white racism, which, unfortunately, RBX showcased extensively in his early solo work. But I am getting ahead of myself.

While doing music together was apparently not on the agenda, Snoop did allow RBX to drive him to Dr. Dre’s studio when the latter had come across the former and made the laidback spitter his protegé. Dre and The D.O.C. were planning to leave Ruthless Records and, with the help of Suge Knight, were hungrily looking for new acts to add to their label, Death Row Records. Dre apparently overheard RBX speaking and wondered whether the guy rapped: because he obviously did, he was recruited to both write and rap on Dre’s debut solo album The Chronic. Now to what degree he was actually signed to Death Row when he worked on this album and its follow-up, Snoop’s Doggystyle, is unclear; according to RBX he was never truly signed and his signatures were coerced, something I wouldn’t put past Suge. For all intents and purposes, RBX was a Death Row artist and, if the good Doctor’s biography is to be believed, the original intent was for RBX to get a Dre-produced solo album right after Snoop and The Lady of Rage.

This was not to be: soon after Doggystyle, Suge shifted gears to release soundtracks and signed new acts left and right (including, famously, 2Pac), which soured his relationship with Dr. Dre and created a toxic work environment for everyone involved. RBX realized that album was never going to happen, so sometime in 1994 he packed his bags and bailed, taking Dre’s production apprentice Gregski with him. However, his understanding of what was happening between Dre and Suge was somewhat limited, as his first album, The RBX Files, finds him laying the blame directly at Dre’s feet while ignoring Suge Knight entirely (which is somewhat understandable, given Suge’s violent nature).

RBX may have never released even a single solo song at Death Row, but Premeditated Entertainment/Warner Bros Records was convinced of his potential, releasing The RBX Files in 1995. For his part, RBX gave them an album that didn’t fit the mold of his Dogg Pound Gangsta affiliates, but instead was one of the most unorthodox albums the West Coast rap scene has to offer. Let’s see what I think of it after not having heard it in years and having only listened to it from start to finish once five years ago.

The first beat Gregski treats us with is drum-driven and probably took him all of ten minutes to produce. RBX sets the tone by threatening death to all of his enemies. For anyone who thought this was going to be an album full of messages of love and kumbaya, you should now be bereft of your illusion. RBX’s voice manages to sound both goofy and psychotic on here, which should at least bring a smile to your face. This is probably the closest in delivery he gets to his later, better-known style, by the way.

An interlude right after an intro? What kind of thing is that? We get to hear a recorded speech by who must have been one of RBX’s favorite Nation preachers. Once again, death threats are heard. RBX only appears periodically, inserting a few exclamations of “ROW!” after the word “death”, for subtlety is not for those who have a chip on their shoulders.

3. A.W.O.L.
Continuing to vent his post-breakup stress, our host jumps into the first real track of the album, as well as its first single, dropping this dis aimed at Dr. Dre. If this seems like an odd choice for a single, it is, but then RBX’s first appearance in a music video was in a commercially successful dis track by the Doctor, “Dre Day”, so our host clearly had experience in how well this gambit could work. The man does not pull any punches here: “DR. DRE!” is literally the first exclamation here, after which we get some hearsay about Dre being a liar, a fraud, a phony and, most of all, a greedy bastard who took advantage of Snoop, The D.O.C. and RBX himself by having them write his lyrics for him and not paying them properly. Even more death threats are flung in his general direction, although here they’re more implied than outright stated. Now, truth be told, the opening verse is quite effective, for we get a clear view of why RBX feels wronged and who he believes should shoulder the blame. The remaining verses are more random, mostly about RBX being one dangerous motherfucker. One gets the impression he would not have been welcome in Japan for quite some time after, since we are treated to endless repetitions of his signature line, “I drop bombs like Hiroshima!”, followed by sounds of explosions. (The fact that said line comes from his verse on Dre’s “High Powered” isn’t lost on me.) Oh wait, I’m supposed to tell you what I think about the song, right? I dare say Gregski forgot that the success of “Dre Day” was, at least in part, due to its monster beat. His slight, unimaginative affair of an instrumental is nowhere near that level, even if RBX is entertaining enough and there is a fitting Notorious B.I.G. sample thrown in: the overall track just sounds average. Of course, the power of this dis is considerably weakened when we consider that Dre was apparently not even responsible for financially fucking over his artists: in fact, less than a year after releasing this song, our host was firmly back at Dre’s side when the latter desperately needed acts to start his new label, Aftermath Records.

A nice, dark track in which RBX bums around Long Beach as an crazy ax murderer, using his bizarre vocals to great effect, even if there is only a single verse with simplistic lyrics. The line, “I welcome you with open arms, OPEN FIREARMS!” can’t help but amuse. I could have done without the repetitious chorus, but this was an entertaining listen overall.

This weird beat does a better case of showcasing Gregski’s talents than anything we’ve heard so fa, which makes me a bit sad that the he didn’t have access to better studio equipment, because he clearly has skills. Although the influence of The Chronic hovers above, “The Edge” is nowhere near regular G-Funk. Once again, RBX dips into tales of murder and violence while contorting his vocal chords into various positions. The line, “I attack from the back like dyslexia!” is funny in how nonsensical it is, but nothing beats, “In ice cubes I climax” for visual humor. Overall, both producer and emcee sound like they had a lot of fun recording this, cranking up the gangsta rap to cartoonish levels.

I just noticed that every track so far has been darker and weirder than the one that came before. If this was intentional, it speaks well to Gregski’s artistic vision. In any case, this song’s beat is menacing and apocalyptic, the best we have heard so far. This sounds absolutely nothing like what Death Row was doing, either before or since, and could well indicate that there really were artistic differences between RBX and Dr. Dre. That aside, “Rough Is The Texture” was the second and final single released from the project. The video finds RBX walking through Long Beach, devastated by something epic, although as far as I can tell we are never told what it was. The lyrics are not so provincial though: all of the other famous hip hop neighborhoods of Los Angeles (and, by extension, their inhabitants) are threatened with, you guessed it, death. Lines like “killin’ every n---a in Compton except Eiht” make you wonder how RBX wasn’t dissed, if not physically attacked, by every single one of his peers in L.A. (except for MC Eiht, of course). I guess no one really cared or took him seriously? Still, this track was entertaining enough.

The preceding track flows directly into this one, which begins with an extremely annoying preacher’s sermon that then morphs into a dancehall-inspired chorus by the guest star (who shouldn’t be confused with the guy from The Outlawz with the similar name). RBX sounds deadly serious on here even with the subject matter being pretty much the same as what came before. There is more energy to “Burn”, but this ends being a boring track, mostly because the chorus and outro by are all but incomprehensible and last forever and ever, and are subsequently followed by the instrumental and RBX’s own outro continuing on forever and ever in turn. This fucker lasts just over seven minutes? GTFO!

Another annoying chorus by a guest singer (this time uncredited)? Why? Strangely enough, it ends up sounding much better once freed from its beat at the very end of the track. Said beat is more entertaining this time around with some surprising piano keys interrupting some otherwise boring drums. Our host once again wants to talk about mass murder, and does so spiritedly. Attentive listeners will note that his first verse was reused on Dr. Dre’s “East Coast/West Coast Killas” after their reconciliation in 1996. Did Dre notice RBX did this? I doubt it. I suspect Dre only gave his former pupil’s album the briefest of listens, if at all, but who knows?

Once again, the preceding track flows straight into this one: this must have been a trick Gregski picked up from Dre when he helped him produce The Chronic. We are presented with cool-sounding background trumpets and, I kid you not, RBX rapping about a pond with a duck in it (complete with background “quack”!) which gets killed by our host, its feathers blowing in the wind, hence the song title. Gregski switches up his beat halfway through, while RBX excitedly tells more stories about killing his enemies, which he refers to as ducks. Gregski adds actual sounds of the wind in the end for emphasis. I guess there is some dark poetic beauty to be found here, as the beat is creative and this is not actually bad at all, but boy, is it weird!

RBX proceeds to tell his warriors to come forward from the tundra, leading to…

If you have ever listened to “Microphone Pon Kok” by The Lady of Rage (which, why haven’t you, Necessary Roughness is solid), you have heard her mysterious guest on there, Mad 1, whose cameo was pretty great. Well, that same Mad 1 appears on “Tundra” with another good verse, so isn’t that a lovely surprise? RBX sits this one out and leaves the wax to who are presumably some of his friends who were (almost) never to be heard from again. By now, you have probably noticed that the Narrator had to rough it without any big name guests appearing on his debut album: after all, they were still stuck at Death Row. Instead, he had to make do with no-names such as these. That being said, this suitably atmospheric, bleak-sounding track features some pretty good rapping along with more dancehall-inspired gibberish by E’D’Ameng, though it happens to sound much better this time around. Not bad as posse cuts go, but lasts too long.

A killer goes on a shooting spree. After all of RBX’s talk about murdering his enemies, who could have seen this coming?

There’s a convoluted story behind this relatively happy-sounding and groovy track! Want to read it? You’d better, because here it is: When this album was released to little fanfare, “Moms Are Cryin’” passed through more or less unnoticed despite its Bob Marley sample. However, when Wide Awake bought the Death Row Records archives and began releasing songs from the vault, among them was a Snoop solo effort called “Poor Young Dave”, and surprises were had by all three people who had actually listened to both. You see, Snoop’s lyrics during his first verse are the same as RBX’s, and what’s more, the beats are somewhat similar, too. Snoop’s track was recorded for the Murder Was The Case soundtrack, which was inspired by a short film that was birthed by a song of the same name from his debut solo album, Doggystyle. The original plan had been for the source material to be expanded upon with a story about Dave (an acronym for Death After Visualizing Eternity) and his enemy Mick. This concept was quickly scrapped, but a few tracks running with the idea were recorded prior to the shift in direction (including the absolutely great “Foo Nay Mic” by Death Row also-ran CPO – you should check that one out). So what happened here? My guess is that RBX wrote the original lyrics to “Poor Young Dave” and Snoop rapped them over a great beat that, possibly, was recorded by Dr. Dre with Gregski’s assistance (although that part isn’t confirmed, as far as I can tell). When the track ended up in the Death Row vault, RBX felt empowered to recycle his own words for his own song, and Gregski used what little he had remembered of the original instrumental to recreate it, while adding some touches of his own. So basically, “Moms Are Cryin’” is an RBX remake of a then-unreleased song that he had written, but not performed himself. But is it any good though? Our host raps about the tragic events that unfold after one of his shootouts, spitting in a rather laidback fashion (echoes of Snoop?) that gives this track a rather different feel than anything we’ve heard so far. The overall result is okay enough, but nothing special, and certainly not worth as many words as I’ve just written.

We’re back to the darker beats, people. Gregski gives what he can to what is just an interlude, although we do receive a sudden and aggressive rap from our host about shooting racist cops.

Once again, RBX tones down the energy, if not his lyrics. This is the first time on the album that we hear a lot of Nation teachings, as our host instructs the listening sheeple to pay attention to what he preaches. What follows are praises of the color black and his God; some attacks on the theory of evolution (sigh); reflections on Malcolm X and whether or not slavery can be forgiven; and calls to pick up arms against white people. Our host is sincere in his emotions, which gives this track potency, as does the calm and collected delivery of the lyrics and the very good (if somewhat unpolished) beat, but the message is… extremely flawed (not that this is rare in rap, mind you). This song is pretty good and certainly worth a listen, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t problematic.

The Nation’s teachings continue with a sound bite taken from a recording of one of its ministers. Snoop Doggy Dogg gets called out for using the name of a “filthy animal” as his moniker. Afterward, RBX calls out white people as devils and prophesizes Armageddon against them. Oh dear, this does not bode well for the next track.

Gregski brings what might be his gloomiest, most ominous beat yet (which is saying something). The lyrics, some of which RBX liked so much he would reuse them later in his career, are good and fit this beat like a glove. Too bad some of his bars call for violence against “the devil”, as do those of his no-name guest. Apparently the word “akebulan” means “Africa” which, in connection with the Nation and the constant calls for violence, tells you what you need to know. RBX informs us on numerous occasions that he wants to “get back to Akebulan”, which probably means he wants all non-black people killed or something. Have I mentioned how this track is just a tad problematic as well?

Guess what the main theme of this track is? Three points if you guessed black supremacy. Points for doing this a capella and for the actual writing on here, which is pretty good. But message-wise…

After so many dark instrumentals, you’ll be happy to hear the much more upbeat sound of “No Time”, which sounds positively hopeful. That certainly applies to our host’s verses too, as he raps a message of positivity, power, and a grand future for black people. So it’s too bad we are once again treated to such lyrics as, “I’m telling you, devil, you can’t run from the hands of Armageddon” and telling aforementioned “devils” to bow before him. I understand righteous anger at your people having been and continuing to be horribly mistreated at the hands of another group, but promoting racism and, basically, genocide, to undo or avenge such treatment really can’t be the solution and is more than a tad bit ironic, you know?

Use the nearly thirty seconds this lasts to wash your ears after having heard the horrible messages in the last few tracks.

On which we leave the glorification of genocidal revenge, returning to merely threatening your former friends, which is much more positive and uplifting! Jokes aside, if Gregski was capable of giving “A.W.O.L.” a beat this fitting (and better), why is this a remix in the first place? This is a great song, and there you have it.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Where to begin? The RBX Files is a bit of a mess, really, despite its limited scope. Sonically, it is unorthodox, creative, and quite entertaining if you can deal with your music having a rather rough texture, for it certainly wasn’t created with the best equipment available in 1995. Gregski isn’t a bad producer, but a full-length album (and twenty-one tracks is very full-length) was probably too ambitious a goal. RBX mostly goes all-in vocally, if not necessarily lyrically: you won’t find anything near his best-known verse on Dre’s “High Powered” here. But while his subject matter is limited and he shouldn’t have tried to hold down an entire album of this length, he actually does much better than I bet some of you readers were expecting. Some of his bars are even fun to hear, though that might not have been intentional. As far as rapper-producer duos go, I’d say RBX and Gregski were a pretty solid team. The worst, and I definitely mean worst, aspect of this album is the series of tracks toward the end that espouse black racism and the Nation’s sometimes-myopic beliefs, which do not make for a pleasant listen, even though “No Time” is actually a superbly- executed effort on a technical level. I do think such songs have sociocultural value, even if the messages wherein are horrific. I do not know if RBX still shares these same beliefs today: he certainly has never expressed them on wax again, and he’s even worked alongside white artists (most notably Eminem and Korn) since.

BUY OR BURN: Burn this one and listen to it when you want to entertain and shock your friends or if you study Afrocentrism, hip hop culture, or the Nation of Islam. Large chunks of this are enjoyable and worthy of a wider audience, but proceed with caution.

BEST TRACKS: “The Edge”; “Rough Is The Texture”; “A.W.O.L. (Gregski Remix)”; “No Time” (if I am feeling particularly bold and don’t focus on the lyrics at all)

- BrianL

(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)


  1. The quality (and entertainment value) of writing on this blog remains the best thing about it and it's what keeps me coming back for more even if I don't always care about the artists or albums which are reviewed. It's a shame that Max has only time for weekly posts (on Tuesday), maybe reader reviews deserve a day of their own, because those as this one from BrianL are really fucking good.

  2. Anonymous: It's a shame you didn't leave a better alias, because I really appreciate your comment. While I wasn't expecting many remarks given that the blog's readership tends more towards East Coast (at least, that's my impression) I was getting worried that my writing here simply sucked. I'm glad it didn't, according to you.

  3. Nice review - I didn't even know RBX had other work, another DR peripheral artist all but forgotten. Reading this had me wondering if there is an unreleased DR album in the vault, or at least other tracks. Usual scene with a lot of these artists is that they don't sound so good without that DR era production...

  4. Bobby BedspringsOctober 11, 2018

    Well written review man. Definitely don't worry about your writing sucking! Sounds like an interesting listen. I always really liked RBX's unique flow and booming voice. According to the book Have Gun Will Travel: The Spectacular Rise and Violent Fall of Death Row Records, RBX was basically the only person on the label who ever had the guts to stand up to Suge Knight, so I've always had a bit of respect for him too. I may have to check this album out.

  5. Great review. I can't say I ever listened to this album except the single "AWOL". I always like him on the "Serial Killer" on Doggystyle and on "East Coast/West Coast Killa" on Aftermath Presents compilation.