C-Bo is one of the most prolific—and most controversial—rappers of all time. He is the founder of West Coast Mafia Records; has worked with some of the biggest names of his era, including Tupac Shakur and E-40; and has released an album nearly every year of his recording career. He was arrested in the late ’90s for his anti-police lyrics, earning him the reputation as one of the realest emcees in the game. The veteran gangsta rapper will be bringing his legendary talents to Velvet Jones on Friday, May 15, in support of his upcoming album, The Mobfather 2. I spoke with him about police brutality, working with younger artists, and adapting to change.
Hey C-BO, how are you? I’m good, what’s going on?
Just here in my office. Where are you? I’m in Kansas City.
Are you shooting a video there?
We’re in a session right now. Some artists are out here that I’m working with.
You’ve got a new album coming out this year, The Mobfather 2. That drops in June?
I think I might back push it back to July, shoot more videos.
What can fans expect from this one?
We really trying to keep up with the times, but keep the same flow, you know what I mean? We’re in a different era now. We still rockin’, though.
Do the young kids you work with look up to you?
Well if they know, they do. Some don’t know, some know from their older cousins or fathers. They all respect it though.
You’ve release an album almost every year since you started. How do you do it?
It’s just something that I like to do. When you like something, like being good in the NBA, you just wanna keep playing. This is making living life better, this will help my family. It’s in my blood, I’ve been doing it for so long.
Are there any producers you’ve stayed with over the years?
I always use a lot of different producers, you know? I never really stuck with the same producer. I’ve worked with DJ Daryl, Sam Bostic… A lot of people didn’t really know how to make music back then, now everybody’s making music. You gotta give other people a chance, if they good, just give them a chance.
Anyone in particular you’re into at the moment?
There’s a lot of good entertainers right now. I listen to a lot of different things to keep up with what’s going on. We used to make music for the car, now we make music for the club. It’s all good. It’s life, everything changes, from the music in the 60s, to in the 80s, all up to now.
Nowadays people look at gangsta rap differently. There’s the NWA movie coming out, Straight Outta Compton. What do you think of that?
It’s big. It’s giant. You know what I mean? It’s giant.
Kendrick Lamar has a mock interview with Tupac on his new album. Have you heard the new album?
I haven’t heard the whole thing. But Kendrick Lamar, he’s a great entertainer, he’s real nice.
What do you think about all the police brutality happening in cities like Baltimore?
People just get freakin’ tired of the repeated things that are done to us, they just blowed up on it. They can’t take it no more. Somebody has to do something, and if nobody’s gonna do something, the streets are going to do it. A lot of people are in poverty, and how do you expect us to fight back? The system’s run by you guys anyways. It’s what they want.
It’s scary how powerful police are these days?
It is scary. Some people just don’t understand it until they’re part of that environment. If you’re not really part of that environment, people don’t understand the anger that people like me have towards the law. We just, we can’t take it. It makes you erupt, it devours you. It’s just a crazy world out there. It’s always gonna change. It’s never gonna be how you want it to be.
You were jailed for your lyrics in the ’90s. Looking back on it, how do you feel?
I just feel there’s a lot of things that I’ve done that I’m not proud of. Coming up as a youth in the ghetto, it’s the life you gotta deal with, and you’re not always gonna be victorious. Sometimes they’re gonna have their foot on your neck and your face in the mud, and you gotta dust off and get back what you do. Of course I was upset, they put a pause on my career for a minute when it was at a certain limit. But, it’s a way to turn negative into positive sometimes. It’s a good promotion. Thanks for the promotion.
Are you working on anything besides music at the moment?
I’m writing books, I’m writing movies. The music was just a stepping stone for me to be doing greater things with my life. Things that other people can learn from, you know what I mean? That’s my mission.
If you were to die tomorrow, what would you want your legacy to be?
Just not to be forgotten, to be remembered for the things I’ve done, the things I’ve seen, the places I’ve been, being in prison. I’m from the same pot that everybody’s trying to crawl out of. I just want them to remember that. I made it out of that pot, but I still stuck around, I didn’t leave.
How do you keep gangsta rap alive?
Man, if you don’t keep running and moving and being relevant with your craft of gangsta rap, it’s going to die. And the kids nowadays, they haven’t lived the life that we lived, so they can’t really talk about a real gangsta life, you know what I’m saying? Things have changed. In order to stay grounded, you have to stay moving and stay moving with what you do. There’s not a lot of gangsta rappers that are really on point right now. It would take everybody to go back and start making music and running with the marketing and promotions that these new cats are using. It is what it is, you can’t expect it to last forever. Some people will play it, some people will listen to it, but it’s like blues. Blues used to be big, or people used to listen to jazz all the time, now in 2000’s everybody’s listening to trap music. It’s always gonna change.
I just hope that the ones that really put they heart and mind into it, that they make it to the point where the streets can say that, yeah he’s a legend, he’s a legend. Once they call you a legend, you shoulda been able to do enough in your career to where your feet is up. Like Ice Cube, you did it, you did it the best, you don’t have to go back there. Or it’s like a retired ball player, Magic Johnson, he really was magic, he doesn’t have to go back and prove it.
What do you do outside of working on music, books, movies?
I like skiing, I’ve gotten into all types of stuff I wouldn’t even expect. Fishing. Just things that relax the mind to be free from all the BS. After being a part of the struggle for so long, you appreciate when you look at the mountains, or you doin’ stuff with the kids, camping. Things that don’t have to do with you, I appreciate.
How do you feel about going on tour again?
It’s beautiful, because it gives me a chance to refocus myself around people who haven’t seen me for a long time, you know, I’m loving it, for real, I’m loving it.
What’s the main focus for 2015?
My main focus is to get this album out, I’m trying to record entirely another two three solo albums. After that, really my focus is then to let these new kids have time to shine. I don’t want to rap forever, I’m trying to find new artists that’s young, do what they do, know what I’m saying?
If you could leave the new artists with a lesson from your career, what would it be?
You gotta believe in yourself in order to succeed and to be what you expect to be. It’s like a job, you have to get up and go to work. You can’t expect to sit in your neighborhood and do your music and expect other cities to follow you. You have to get up and go. Believe in yourself, be your best critic, know what I mean? Straight up.
You are known for being one of the hardest rappers in the game. Do you have a soft side?
I do. I’m the type of man, you fuck with me, you see the hard side. If I just walk into a room, or you talk to me, you don’t. You wouldn’t expect that part of me. People meet me and think, man I thought you was gonna kill us all! I’m like a light switch, you flip me on or off – I’ve got both sides, and it works both ways. I’m glad people fear me so they know not to fuck with me. It could be good or bad.
Do you ever go back to Sacramento and see people from your neighborhood?
I got to, I love em. My neighborhood, they love me too. There’s still a lot of struggle, a lot of gang activity. Like I said, people are stuck, and it’s all they know.
You were a member of the Crips growing up. The Crips in Baltimore recently spoke up about protecting their community during the police riots.
I see the gangs pretty much as like an army or a navy. They war all the time. But they’re not gonna let you keep going over and killing people. Of course, we will come together and form an alliance and do what we have to do to protect our people, our families. We been killed for so long, we have no choice but to either fight or just lay down and die, and that ain’t what gangs do, we fight. The ones who fight, most of our homes is dead anyways. Once you get into the gangs you know you’re born to die, it’s just the gang mentality. Kill or be killed. That’s what people need to understand.
At what point will you be done recording?
Hopefully the next few years. I’m gonna be in it for the rest of my life. I want a strong label, I want strong connections, I want to work for the people who’s coming up now.
Any last words?
Just look out for the new album, and I want everybody to follow me on Instagram, CBO the Mobfather. Just stay tuned, I got a few more things I want to do. I’m not done.