November 17, 2020

Reader Review: RBX - No Mercy, No Remorse / The X-Factor (June 29, 1999)


(Today I'm running a Reader Review from BrianL, who continues his exploration of West Coast projects that I likely wouldn't have gotten around to writing about with the second RBX solo project, the horribly-titled No Mercy, No Remorse / The X-Factor, named as such for reasons that will become clear in a bit. Leave your thoughts for him below, and if you have an album you'd like to see written up on HHID and are cool with doing the legwork yourself, hit up my e-mail and we'll chat.)

The second time I reviewed an album for HHID (and saw it posted online by Max despite not having reviewed anything that was likely to have been on his wishlist for guest reviewers) it was for The RBX-Files, one of the West Coast’s more unusual releases, befitting the fact that it showcased one of that Coast’s more unorthodox acts, namely RBX. I long pondered whether or not I would leave it at that or dive into the rest of his discography. I have not decided if I want to go the full hog yet, but at the very least I’m exploring the man’s second solo album, No Mercy, No Remorse / The X-Factor. Exposing my vanity, being called “the favorite of Max’s semi-regular guest reviewers” by one of his commenters recently pushed me into getting my act together, so here we are.

If you look for feedback on Eric Collins’s hip hop act RBX online, something I suspect most of you have never done, you’ll find the man is divisive, with opinions running the full gamut from wack to legendary, our esteemed host Max being very much in the middle where the truth is probably to be found. What you will also find is that some believe RBX to be a might-have-been: had he played his cards right during his tenure on Death Row Records, he might have achieved much more fame and status than he ultimately managed, given that said label was an industry powerhouse and RBX was one of the bigger names on its roster, one that generally left an impact on his listeners. While I understand anyone wanting to leave Suge Knight’s poisonous presence, I dare say Eric jumped ship a bit too soon – a Death Row solo project from the man would have made more financial sense than releasing his debut through an obscure imprint of Warner Bros. Records with little-to-no guidance, but then again, actually releasing an album is preferable to quite possibly never getting the opportunity to release one at all, which would have been a very likely outcome had he stayed at the infamous Death Row Records. That is a discussion more fitting The RBX-Files anyway.

Any momentum that could have propelled RBX to a larger presence might already have been lost after his departure from Death Row, but 1996 saw another gateway to success open: Dr. Dre, having recently left Death Row himself, founded his own Interscope-backed imprint, Aftermath, and was looking for acts to fill out its roster. I dare say he was in a hurry and couldn’t afford to be picky, since most of the artists he roped in weren’t anything special. RBX happened to be one of them, Dre apparently having forgiven the man for dissing him quite brutally on The RBX-Files nary a year before. The bomb that was the label sampler Dr. Dre Presents…The Aftermath is another story, one I’ll gladly leave to Max (believe me, it’s in the cards, stay tuned!), but suffice to say RBX made two appearances on it (most notably on the track “East Coast/West Coast Killas”), but once the label failed to immediately propel him into the stratosphere, he either found himself dropped or dropped himself from Aftermath, which happened at some point right before Dre signed Eminem to the label and got down on his bare knees to thank God for his good fortune. This time around, though, RBX and Andre appear to have parted ways on a friendly-enough basis, as the former was invited to the recording sessions for 2001, even if he never appeared on the final album (which was more than what the equally-deserving Lady of Rage got, who, according to an interview she once did for website DubCNN, never got past Dre’s receptionist thanks to her still having ties to Suge Knight at the time).

This brings us to 1999, when RBX, having been all but off the radar for some time, re-entered hip hop’s main stage, even if he was more of a background dancer than the star attraction. Yet, as most artists will probably tell you, being around and securing work is much more important than being the main act, especially once your momentum has dissipated. Thus, at the same time that he linked up with Dre for the second time and, by the by, also reunited with his Dogg Pound Gangsta Click brethren Daz and Kurupt, RBX also released his second full-length album, notably with no contributions from any of his former, present, or future collaborators. Instead, he went the one-producer-one-album route again, unusual for this particular era in hip hop, and chose to invite no-name guests to the studio almost exclusively. For his confusingly named second effort No Mercy, No Remorse / The X-Factor (consisting of two EP’s compiled into one album) (the album artwork seems to imply that the first seven tracks are from No Mercy, No Remorse, while eight through fourteen are The X-Factor in its entirety), our host chose not to go with Gregski Royal, the producer he utilized for The RBX-Files, instead going even further out of left field with Swedish producer/rapper Polarbear, a/k/a Bear Trax.

Given this introduction might be/definitely is overlong already, let’s jump into reviewing the actual album and what that unexpected partnership created.

Nothing special here of course, but we get an idea of Polarbear’s production style: dark, with layered drums layered and minor sound effects, all in half a minute no less.

As we hear the sounds of rain and a distant wind, our host guides us into the first real track of our session, in which we hear drums combined with organ sounds, mixing the aesthetics of hip hop with that of a B-grade horror movie, not sounding bad at all. For those who might still have been wondering: this is not G-funk or your typical West Coast sound. Our host sounds eager, telling us that we are not to focus on the past but look towards the future… after which he all too briefly dwells on how he saw the dynamics at Death Row (“X was the backbone of Death Row”? I call bullshit on that. And surely Rage warranted more discussion than “she was the lady”?) amid various threats and boasts. “Looking forward” and “breaking new lyrical ground” this song isn’t actually doing, but the overall experience of this here track is pretty good.

What’s a rapper without a crew? RBX feels this is the moment to invite some friends to the studio, whose respective statuses in the hip hop pantheon range from “complete unknown” to “extremely obscure”, but that is not necessarily a bad thing: each guest rapper contributes a good enough brag-and-boast verse or participates in the corny, but enjoyable, chorus. Eric drops a short verse that sounds extremely dated thanks to the line, “I came to wreck shit like the Y2K!”, reminding us of the millennium bug and its supposed doom, while he, we and everyone we know were all still happily oblivious to the shitshow that would be happening 20 years after the much-feared turn of the century. I dare say the real star of this track is Polarbear, though: his beat smoothly and effortlessly transitions from goofy to gloomy to orchestral and back without losing touch with its essential identity as the track progresses, and the different vocalists take their turn and get their own elements added to the musical backing as they perform. Really listen to the beat here, something I'd strongly advise for this album as a whole.

Are you ready for peak RBX? Are you? Because that is what you get here and if the man is not a taste you’ve previously acquired, well, you won’t like this at all. Nevertheless, read on. I think RBX is quite an underrated lyricist: while I’ll happily concede he has his share of questionable lyrics, he’s also got a large number under his belt that are really good, and he makes the most of his distinctive voice. Seriously, he has writing chops, regardless of what asinine lines he might have come up with elsewhere. However, this song just might include his worst lyrics ever, though on closer inspection it might just be the terrible chorus (rhyming “Heatmizer” with “Girl or guy-zer” and “No matter the size-a” – seriously?) that overshadows the lyrics. Looking past that, “Heatmizer” is sonically great: this Polarbear guy knows his way around the boards and has, with just three tracks and an intro, blown Gregski Royal’s work on RBX’s debut album out of the water.

Speaking of our producer, his own hip hop group, the crew Infinite Mass, joins our host on the microphone on “Oh No!” RBX sounds really good: flow, lyrics and voice are finely in balance here giving us a performance that plays to his strengths without any of them dominating the others. The members of Infinite Mass are Swedish and, rapping in English, can be excused for their slight-to-heavy accents, especially given their otherwise fine (if not special) performances, if you can stand the chorus being a bit over the top. Polarbear, on the other hand, should have left the rapping to the actual emcees, for he manages rapping speedily better than rapping entertainingly, even if he is clearly having fun here. It’s a pity our host drops out of this track after the first verse, and while the beat is good enough, it seems lacking in the sophistication that the previous ones showed.

That minor drop in quality is more than compensated for here, however. The instrumental alone makes “The Narrator” worthwhile, as it dwells somewhere between a dream sequence-like atmosphere and the moment when the monster is about to catch up to his human prey. Just listening to the beat would not do RBX’s performance justice though, as he sounds good here – with his mostly on point (if a bit bombastic) lyrics and obvious hunger, focus and calculation, this is among the best performances of his career.

Did you know RBX was a huge fan of model train sets? Neither did I, for as far as I know he is not, leaving the “Steamtrain” reference in the song title somewhat ambiguous. Our host briefly describes someone wanting to make him get into an ominous steam train before he runs away to murder, shoot and crack craniums, after which said steam train seems to become a metaphor for our host himself becoming a gun-slinging vigilante or something like that. I found myself unable to follow the program entirely here, but that is of limited consequence, honestly. Lyric-wise, this violent fantasy is in the vein of his debut album, which abounded in that theme, but music-wise this is in Polarbear’s hands, meaning that the fantasy gets rapped (technically fine, I might add) over far better production than The RBX-Files had. This means this track merits a listen despite the questionable content of an explicitly Black man taking out his anger and frustration over potentially being loaded into an vehicle by forceful gun-toting faceless and implicitly racist men… this track has taken on far more meaning in 2020 than it could ever have had in 1999, hasn’t it? Unknowingly, Eric has channeled the nightmare of all of Trump’s most racist supporters: uppity Black folks violently taking to the streets.

I don’t know who is performing here, since he didn’t receive a credit and doesn’t sound like anyone we have heard so far, but he performs the short verse on this pretty useless interlude (are there any other kind?) competently enough. I would have preferred the beat to have been used for a real song, though.

Look at that, a guest artist of some stature in this rap game! Naughty By Nature’s Treach opens “Make My Day”, sounding as though he relished performing over the organs and drums featured on this beat. As he cedes the microphone to RBX immediately afterward, never to appear again, Treach unfortunately also ends up quickly forgotten by our host, his producer and even you, the listener. That’s simply because of how good RBX sounds on here, though: while he’s as hammy as ever, his bars are so full of energy that you’ll end up forgiving the corny line here and there (incorporating “Choo choo!” into your rhyme is never recommended (at least if you aren’t in the Quad City DJ’s)). “Make My Day” might end up doing just that after you were forced to listen to the typical radio dross masquerading as hip hop these days.

Did I say that “Heatmizer” was peak RBX? Well, I may have spoken too soon: X sounds positively cartoonish on this title track with over-the-top gangsta rap, some ill-advised singing, some unintentionally comedic spoken-word performance, spitting his own verse from Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Serial Killa” with far less of an impact than he did on the original song, and having Polarbear go all-out with his production tricks while also employing a borderline-soulful (and uncredited) singer for chorus duty. It’s all a bit much, is what I am saying. I am glad that ”No Mercy, No Remorse” is a bit of an odd duck on the project so far, even if Polarbear’s production saves it from being outright bad.

As the title implies, we are in the land of violent fantasies again. For the listener, the first of said violent fantasies might actually involve removing guest rapper Stack-A-Dollar from the track before his overlong verse ends, as he is simply not that skillful and entertaining. Luckily, RBX himself quickly overrides whatever memory Stack-A-Dollar you might have had (although he does name-drop him, because he’s generous like that). While our host’s own performance is entertaining in just how over-the-top it is, both lyrically and because he is clearly having a blast in the studio, it wears out its welcome rather quickly. The beat, fittingly bombastic and enjoyably dark, saves this from being a complete waste of your time, even if it isn’t anywhere near the best the album has to offer.

We’re back on track here (whether on a steam train or otherwise) as our host balances hamminess with a sufficiently skillful performance to make an enjoyable enough song, even if he still manages to drop a cringe-worthy line or two (“You’re dealing with the real deal, not the deal-do” (I’m sorry, what?)). The main theme of “Move” seems to be that RBX wants the listener to realize that he knows how to get you moving, which is decidedly out of character, although the deviation from violent criminal fantasy at least makes for a solid change of scenery. Guest Helluva appears and just as quickly disappears, failing to leave any kind of impression with her raps. Oh, and Polarbear’s beat? Good, effective and creative, why do you ask?

“Out of character” does not begin to describe this, though, unlike the previous track, whose message of “I can make you dance” could easily be ignored by the casual listener. For all I know RBX might be the biggest ladies’ man, player, mack, or what-have-you around in real life (though I sincerely doubt it), but one simply does not rap about being irresistible to members of the opposite sex when you sound like he does and expect it to sound believable. (This is a remake of sorts of The Time’s “Gigolos Get Lonely Too”, apparently.) This. Is. Simply. Not. The. Type. Of. Song. He. Should. Do. Perhaps realizing this, our host sounds very uncomfortable and awkward here. Given that Polarbear slips up majorly too, giving us a simple and jumpy beat that never gets its shit together, one is left wondering how this track ended up happening in the first place, much less included on the final product. Everything about this sucks serious balls, and I am left scratching my head as to how a producer as obviously capable as Polarbear ended up fabricating, much less rubberstamping, this clusterfuck. As for Sexy Milk Chocolate (whoever she is), she is here to perform her version of the famed, oft-showcased and always embarrassing fake orgasm for the evening’s ritual.

Making the inclusion of the previous track all the more baffling is the fact that this song, though rather poppy compared to what came before, is pretty enjoyable. Proving that he can also produce lighter tracks well, Polarbear hands in a jumpy, elastic effort and makes our host speed-rap efficiently over it while guest Extreme sounds adequate but forgettable. Given that none of the guests past the ninth track of this album seem to have added anything worthwhile to the discourse and were complete no-names to begin with, one is seriously left to wonder why they were invited to contribute at all, but at least none of them were detrimental (not even Miss Milk Chocolate, who could not have made the song she appeared on any worse). Although more upbeat than most of this album, “Flatline” still threatens “that punks will get a flatline,” and the song ends with someone’s heart giving out and us hearing an actual flatline. Some mixed messaging, there.

(The following is an unlisted bonus track that didn’t appear on either EP. I’m not sure if that song title is valid, as it only seems to be confirmed on the Japanese import, but we’ll run with it anyway because I’m in a good mood.)

“Long Beach”, the final song of this session, was included as a hidden track, and the logic behind that is quite obvious: it sticks out like a sore thumb for being a much more generic West Coast track than what came before. I get the impression this was included as a friendly gesture towards listeners who were expecting something more typical of a member of the DPGC. This certainly aligns with my experiences on West Coast rap forums whenever this album came up in discussion – most of my fellow listeners gravitated toward this song. My guess is that most fans of the West Coast (or at least the ones I’ve encountered) are very conservative when it comes to the type of songs ‘their’ artists should make: they want to hear standard-issue gangsta rap over beats that resemble the ones from their favorite’s heyday. As such, ‘Long Beach’, generic title and all, offers little to no surprises for the listener, as RBX competently and methodically raps clichés over a very restrained beat by Polarbear, one that manages to still sound slightly sinister. Both MC and producer seemed to have wanted to take a swing at a conventional rap song, and the end result is completely competent, but really nothing special, alas.

FINAL THOUGHTS: When I did some research for No Mercy, No Remorse / The X-Factor (that I knew well beforehand, to be honest), I came across Polarbear’s Twitter page and a tweet of him in which he drew attention to this album and his extensive work on it, claiming that “many in the music industry were impressed by his work” and “mimicked it in their own productions”, but that the album failed to gain much traction due to the label’s limited resources. That could well be true, I can’t nor want to waste much time and effort investigating those claims. He isn't wrong: this is one poorly-known release and that Polarbear’s work is top-notch and creative (apart from one severe lapse of judgement and skill, of course). I can understand how some of you may not feel RBX is their cup of tea, though I personally rate him quite highly, but despite being the headliner he is secondary to the production on display here. All that being said, Eric is having a blast and doing his best throughout the majority of the project, and that counts for much in my book.

BUY OR BURN? The sheer quality of what RBX (and Polarbear) pulls off on No Mercy, No Remorse / The X-Factor is enough to earn an attentive listen from any hip hop head. Give this album a spin or two – you could well end up enjoying it.

BEST TRACKS: “Out Wit Da Old”; “The Narrator”; “Make My Day”


(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave some of those thoughts below.)



  1. Great Review will have to give it a listen, always liked RBX in his short cameos feel like he could’ve released a dope if not commercially successful Death row album

    1. I've always felt that anything he could have released through Death Row would at least have been interesting to listen to, but yeah, definitely not commercially successful, unless maybe Dr. Dre handled all of it, and even then that isn't a guarantee.

    2. To me that is one of those interesting alternative timeline scenarios. Good though Death Row's early run was, I think switching to soundtracks rather than albums so early in their run before getting back to albums did their artists little good, despite the increased exposure. At least Dre should have been given the time and room to focus on individual artist's solos as with his own and Snoop's. With Suge on board, things going south may always have been a matter of time though. I suspect an RBX solo at the time and under those conditions might have gained enough traction to propel the man into a larger presence but I doubt it'd have been for the long run. I suspect he would have been in the same spot now as he really is these days: one of the West's many veterans that do well enough within the scene but are pretty irrelevant outside it. In fact,that other X, Xzibit, might make a decent comparison: short heyday, plenty of exposure, long back to being a background act. Speaking of whom, Max,do you think you will review Xzibit's final album so far, to finish the job?

      Glad you enjoyed the review!

    3. Don’t think he’d even move Xzibit numbers, unless there was a packed guest list and heavy Dre influence with a very west coast commercial single, but would’ve been very interesting as lyrically he was the best The Row had bar Kurupt in his heyday. Could’ve been an album Underground heads hold in high regard tho

    4. @BrianL - I do plan on completing at least Xzibit's solo discography, but I don;t have a timetable as for when. (Napalm is also a very long album.)

  2. I dunno why, but he looks like Kool Keith on that (godawful) cover.

  3. Polarbear’s production reminds me of Swizz Beatz on DMX’s sophomore effort Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. The potential there is obvious but the ideas somewhat exceed the equipment available – that said FoMF, BoMB only had two outright musical failures & its closing track is one of Swizz’ five best production efforts. For the above reasons Gregski Royal’s sample-based work was at less of a disadvantage for the RBX debut, so that Polarbear’s work came out as well as it did is a testament to his skill.

  4. I slept on this when it dropped. I just listened to it, and this album sucks. RBX had a few shining moments with Tha Row, but that was it.

  5. I enjoy your retro Reviews, Max. Have you ever considered doing a review on ''Ill Al Skratch - Creep Wit' Me''? That's one underground 90's review I'm missing from your blogs.

    1. I have, over on the Patreon, since Ill Al Skratch didn;t really fit into the updated parameters of this site. It can be found here:

      Thanks for reading! I'll see if I can squeeze in some more retro stuff into this project soon.