My affection for N.W.A as a young’un was such that I wanted anything in hip-hop even remotely connected to the group. It wasn’t enough to have every solo album by Ice Cube, Eazy-E or MC Ren — I went the extra length to track down anything produced by Dr. Dre, and anything that featured a cameo from the group. Even DJ Yella would do — that’s how I ended up with a World Class Wreckin’ Cru album that featured Yella and Dre in their pre-N.W.A days. That search for all things N.W.A. affiliated led me to the Capital Punishment Organization, known as C.P.O. for short, and their one and only studio album “To Hell and Black.”
I only needed to see the “Ballad of a Menace” video once to be on board. MC Ren goes out of his way to make it clear that C.P.O. is his pet project, even saying they’re signed to “Ren Records,” although my own memory of “To Hell and Black” and every version I can find credits it to Capitol Records. That’s not to say Lorenzo Patterson lied. He executive produced the whole album and co-produced all but one of the album’s ten tracks, so in his mind Ren Records was undoubtedly the plan, but getting a label off the ground takes a lot of financing. Eric Wright needed Jerry Heller to get Ruthless Records off the ground, and if Mr. Patterson didn’t have his own Mr. Heller, having a major label like Capitol push his project was a VERY suitable alternative. He may have even hoped C.P.O.’s success would ultimately give him the funds to make his music label a reality.
The video for “This Beat Is Funky” finds Lil’ Nation doing detective work to make that money he and the crew need, on a manhunt for the ne’er-do-well “Mr. Big.” It’s presented comically rather than seriously though. Example — one of Mr. Big’s henchmen tries to slip a stick of dynamite into a hot dog bun, but Lil’ Nation is so busy macking on a honey that he leaves his snack behind and the cart goes BOOM! with a big comic book explosion. Rather than ruining the presentation the silliness is a reminder that even the hardest of G’s can have a good laugh with an over-the-top parody of movie tropes. The song itself is well named as it draws from samples of Jimmy Spicer, Run-D.M.C. and James Brown to create its signature groove.
Although C.P.O. consists of the aforementioned Nation alongside Young D and DJ Train, Nation is the clear frontman of the group and credited as founder alongside Train. The reason that C.P.O. never released a second album may not be the success or lack thereof of “To Hell and Black” but the fact that Train died of smoke inhalation from a house fire in 1994. After that Nation went solo and started to be credited as CPO a/k/a Boss Hogg. He was featured on the “Murder Was the Case” soundtrack among other albums, but for now we’re focused on his group effort on songs like “The Wall.”
Even though much is made of how hard C.P.O. is on their lead single, “The Wall” doesn’t have anything “menacing” about it. If anything it’s anti-gangster, talking about the woes of black on black crime, and the perils of trying to get rich quick through selling narcotics. “This is the premise of a rebel rhyme” and indeed it’s a rebellious act — sneaking lyrics that would be seen as political or Afrocentric into what’s being marketed as hardcore. The literally “Funk Funk” funky sample by Cameo makes it far from a bitter pill to swallow. Production is a strength throughout, with so many dope samples on songs like “The Movement” that it might be IMPOSSIBLE to get it cleared by today’s standards due to the exorbitant cost.
Coming in at a solid 37 minutes with no wasted time for intros, outros, filler or skits, “To Hell and Black” can be regarded in hindsight as one of rap’s most overlooked albums from 1990. Even with the mutual admiration society heard on the album between the group and N.W.A and MC Ren’s strong support both behind AND in front of the scenes (he’s featured on both singles) the effort was ultimately futile. There weren’t enough rap fans like me who were desperate to get every last record even remotely tied to N.W.A to carry this album to gold or platinum plaques. Ren may have unintentionally made matters worse, because if you bought the singles because he was on them WHY would you need the rest of the tape or CD? Well he does appear on “Gangsta Melody” too but even I didn’t buy it new — I picked it up used for a few bucks. You should give this one a chance though even if you didn’t back in the day.