C-Bo (real name Shawn Thomas) is a gangsta rap artist from the Garden Blocc neighborhood of Sacramento, California, and CEO of West Coast Mafia Records. He has sold over 3.5 million albums independently since 1993.
By age 15, C-Bo's crimes, ranging from drug slinging to gang affiliation, landed him in the California Youth Authority (CYA). He had toyed with rapping since age 13, when his influences included Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Run DMC, and Blowfly, but it was during his time behind bars (1988 to 1991) that he seriously started writing lyrics and rapping. Shortly after being released from CYA, C-Bo reached out to family member Freddie "T" Smith, who himself had just served some time in the pen for drugs and arms charges but was trying to make a go of it in the music business, determined not to go back to prison. At the time (late '91), Smith had been getting music biz tips from his cousins in up-and-coming Vallejo family group The Click (E-40, B-Legit, D-Shot, Suga T) when C-Bo convinced him that he too had serious rap talent.
In fact, so impressed was Smith with C-Bo's skills that he soon after set up the rap label AWOL Records and C-Bo became his first act. He reportedly chose the new label name AWOL since both he and C-Bo were both newly "AWOL from parole." Recorded in 1992, C-Bo's first album Gas Chamber dropped a year later. Like fellow Sac-Town (Sacramento) rappers and collaborators X-Raided and Brotha Lynch Hung, C-Bo's style was unapologetically extreme hardcore gangsta over funky mob beats courtesy of Mike Mosley and Sam Bostic. Fittingly, the album cover art was an image of C-Bo sitting in an electric chair ready to be executed. C-Bo continued this gory hardcore mob flavor with subsequent releases such as The Autopsy, Tales From the Crypt, and One Life 2 Live, all of which helped build his ever-growng, almost cult like underground following.
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 along with Yukmouth as Thug Lordz), 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.