With his new The Greatest Hits collection, C-Bo (Shawn Thomas) is sixteen albums deep into his career. It's likely that his name and songs are unfamiliar to those outside of his home state of California, save for those who follow the intricacies of gangster rap. But his craft has been intensely watched -- and in some cases, even emulated -- by some of the biggest names in the business, including the late Tupac Shakur.
Each of hip-hop's regions has that one rapper who, unlike the majority of his colleagues, divides his time between discussing gangster activity on record and battling the law due to real-life incidents on the street. Atlanta has Hitman Sammy Sam, while Sacramento has C-Bo, who has spent nearly half of his life in and out of correctional facilities since the age of ten. Currently incarcerated, he has managed to have a prolific independent career, though it could be argued that his momentum has been clipped several times as a result and might have reached even greater heights without the bids.
The Greatest Hits opens with a stern warning: "This shit was recorded by real gangbangers, killers, and drug dealers who really live this shit. Any attempt to copy this lifestyle may result in serious injury, jail time, or death. West Coast Mafia Records assumes no responsibility for any of your actions attempted after listening to this album." On any other album this would seem purely for shock value. In C-Bo's case it's just a matter of protecting his neck. His 1998 album, Till My Casket Drops, was the subject of a controversy that reached as far as the governor's office when officials claimed the incendiary release violated the terms of his probation.
The song in question, "Deadly Game," which takes direct aim at then-governor Pete Wilson and the police force in a bold exercise of free speech, is included here. It's the collection's most potent highlight, while musical standouts include "E-40 & C-Bo" (featuring his better-known cousin E-40), "Can U Deal Wit This?" (produced by Roger Troutman, Jr., son of the late Zapp front man), and "Liquor Sto" (from his first album, Gas Chamber). Quite often it seems, those who actually do dirty deeds don't necessarily rap about it that well. C-Bo is not the only real gangster in hip-hop, but he's actually talented.