Rapper C-BO has long been known for his no-holds-barred, shock-filled, self-described "killer style" of gangsta rap. Ever since his debut album Gas Chamber sixteen years ago, the Sacramento rapper has been consistently satisfying his dedicated legions of hardcore rap fans with both controversy and countless releases. In addition to a string of solo albums, he has also collaborated on songs or albums with the likes of first cousin E40, 2Pac, Yukmouth, Killa Tay, Spice-1, Master P, Brotha Lynch Hung, as well as his crew Mob Figaz, to name but a few.
Unlike so many self-described "gangsta" rappers, Shawn "C-BO" Thomas is genuinely 'gangsta'. Growing up in the notorious gang-filled Garden Block of Sacramento, the artist became a member of the Crips while barely into his teens, and openly admits his past involvement in drug dealing and other gang related crimes before he became a full time recording artist. His rap name stands for Cowboy: "I got the name cowboy from being around guns all the time," he told me in a 1997 interview.
Not surprisingly, that lifestyle resulted in C-BO's spending several periods of his life incarcerated from his teens onwards. It was in jail in 1993 that he first met Killa Tay, who he would later collaborate with. And it was also during a separate stint in the Sacramento County Jail that he collaborated with fellow inmate X-Raided on writing some music. In fact, it was X-Raided who wrote the song "Deadly Game" for C-BO, a song that later landed C-BO back in jail and caused a national controversy -- drawing attention and outrage amongst freedom of speech advocates while simultaneously only further fueling C-BO's notorious reputation amongst hardcore rap fans.
One collaboration in particular by the artist would give him his biggest exposure ever. In 1996 he worked with 2Pac on the album All Eyez On Me (on the two songs "Ain't Hard To Find" and "War Stories") which would sell over 10 million copies in the US alone and to this day is considered by many critics and fans alike to be one of the greatest rap albums of all time. Further assisting in raising C-BO's profile was the distribution that his label AWOL inked with Noo Trybe/Virgin by the release of his 1998 album Til' My Casket Drops. This album contains with more of the artist's trademark mob/ghetto tales and features collaborations from such fellow Bay Area rap stars as his cousin E-40 (with whom he had previously collaborated for the 1995 single "Birds In The Kitchen"), Spice-1 (with whom he would work with again, including on the 2006 album Trilogy Thug Lords along with Yukmouth), Mac Mall, JT the Bigga Figga, Lunasicc, Big Syke, fellow AWOL act female emcee Marvaless, Tupac proteges Outlaw Immortals, Killa Tay (with whom he would later collaborate on the 2006 album Moment Of Truth), 151, Pizzo, and the Mob Figaz.
In keeping with his gangsta rap stage image, C-BO has had numerous run-ins with the law, especially during the nineties-- a decade that the artist spent much of behind bars. One incident occurred in November 1994 during a picnic and video shoot for the song "4 Deep" in Sacramento's Meadow View Park. As reported by Contra Costa Times, Sacramento police accused C-BO of pulling out a gun and shooting several shots in the air amid rival gang members. The shots incited a fight that left one fan dead and three others injured. Since then, C-BO was on the FBI's radar, something that caught up with him in April 1996 in Cincinnati where he was arrested by local police who found a loaded handgun and one pound of marijuana in his possession.
C-BO disputed this claim, saying that he only had a very small amount of weed on him. Regardless, the arrest cut short the recording of his album One Life 2 Live, which was to have included tracks with 2Pac, Too $hort, Scarface, and Snoop Dogg. C-BO was moved back to California where he was incarcerated in Soledad State Prison. In July 1997 he was released early on parole after signing an agreement in which the unprecedented promise was made that he not record lyrics that "promote the gang lifestyle [or are] anti law enforcement."
Not surprisingly, when his 1998 album Til My Casket Drops dropped in March, law enforcement took notice of the fact that it was was brimming with graphic gang tales and less than complimentary references to police and arrested the artist. As reported by the LA Times at the time the "State says [the]Sacramento performer violated parole conditions with [his] new album. Experts on 1st Amendment call the action 'outragous.'" The album track that law enforcement officials singled out was the X-Raided (who is serving a 31 year prison sentence for conspiracy to murder) penned "Deadly Game" with the lyrics "You better swing batter batter, swing/Cos once you get your third felony/Yeah 50 years you gotta bring/It's a deadly game of baseball/So when they try to pull you over, shoot em in the face ye'all." One loophole in the questionable legal case against the artist was that the lyrics were written and recorded before he signed the agreement to get out of jail.
In an interview I conducted with the artist at the time he stressed that, "Rapping about crime is very different from doing crime...I create a story based on something that happens on the street and put some kind of twist on it." Giving the example of another X-Raided collaboration off the same album, the song "357," whose lyrics include the line "I'm a legal weapon, registered and everything. Used by the police, dope dealers and your local gang," he said, "The concept of '357' is what a gun would say to you if it could talk." C-BO's incarceration over his lyrics got major national media attention and finally he was released from jail. In consequent years, the artist, who moved to Seattle for a time to get away from the heat in his hometown, toned down his confrontational lyrics but has still kept an edge to his mob style hip-hop and has remained quite prolific.
C-BO J's On My Feet (2008)
C-Bo still has a constant flow of solo releases, averaging about one a year and including 1999's The Final Chapter, 2000's Enemy Of The State, 2001's Life As A Rider, 2002's West Coast Mafia, 2003's The Mobfather The Return Of The Bald Head Nut & West Side Ryders (the first in the three part series), and 2006's Money To Burn (he also released a Money To Burn Mixtape) and 100 Racks In My Pack. Besides all of those solo albums, C-BO has also done several noteworthy collaboration recording projects such as 1999's C-BO's Mob Figaz including The Jacka plus appearances from Yukmouth & Spice-1 and more, 2001's Blocc Movement with Brotha Lynch Hung, 2004's In Thugz We Trust with Yukmouth, and 2006's Moment Of Truth with Killa Tay in addition to the other collaborations listed above. In 2007 C-BO signed a record deal with G-Unit star Young Buck's newly formed label, Ca$hville Records, with Ready 4 The World and The Rise To Fame slated as releases. There are also some recommended C-BO collections out there, including 1995's popular Best Of C-BO, 2001's C-BO's Best Appearances, and 2007's West Coast Classics.