Recommended Listening: C.P.O "To Hell And Black" (1990)


C.P.O a.k.a The Capital Punishment Organization made their entrance into the business via MC Ren of N.W.A. They dropped their debut album, “To Hell And Black” on Capitol Records in 1990. The crew consisted of Lil Nation (MC) and DJ Train (R.I.P).

Lil Nation’s style is a nice combination of street hardness, complex patterns, and plenty of shock value, all delivered with a calm, but firm manner. The production duties are handled by MC Ren and The Incredible Young D. Far as I know Ren didn’t do much other production beyond a couple co-production credits on Eazy E’s “Eazy E Duz It” (“Eazy-er Said Than Dunn” and “We Want Eazy” Remix) and also producing Eazy E’s “The Muthaph**in Real”. As far as Young D, I don’t know of any other production outside of this C.P.O project. With that in mind, the production isn’t mind-blowing, but it ranges from rather impressive to well done and is arranged in a manner to keep it interesting. The sample selection is standard West Coast flavor such as Isaac Hayes, Funkadelic, & Cameo with the added funk of James Brown, Bobby Byrd and other Soul/R&B staples. The result is solid enough to make me wonder what happened to their production company. The text on the back of the LP suggests they were preparing to make some moves that never came to be, as it references the production duos entrance in to the game and their intention to do some big things.

“Ballad Of A Menace” is the first single, which also features MC Ren on the mic. The song uses Issac Hayes’ “Joy” as it’s foundation while DJ Train cuts up the Ice Cube quote on the breaks, “I’m A Menace”and the famous stab from Funk Inc’s “Kool Is Back” thru out the verses.

This song focuses on the shock value portion of Lil Nation’s style. It’s painted clearly and powerfully evident in lines such as: “Merciless Maniac, monarch of manipulation/Primary focus of your local police station”, “Maniacal madman, son of Mephisto/Bound to go to hell since I was an embryo” and he even threatens his opposition, “If you were reincarnated I would snatch your second life”.

Lil Nation has a knack for merging creative patterns with effective pausing and irregular connecting rhyme schemes that really enhances his style, “I’m the menace of misery/ Answer the knock at your door and open it, A.K. delivery/Best known for being unsympathetic when I pick ‘em/Cause sympathy is for the pathetic…and to the victim…”, that’s a taste of how he does his thing.

Thru out the song he also makes statements about killing his own mother, “selling crack to nine year olds”, “pimping”, and even suggests “F**k the community”. It’s my best guess that we aren’t to take any of this very seriously and he was just trying to be as outlandish as his mind could conceive. Why? Probably because people “love” extremes…or hate them, but in either case it’s gets your attention.

The 12” to “Ballad OF A Menace” also includes, “Ren’s Rhythm” from the album and a “Ballad Of A Menace” Remix exclusive to the single.

The “Ballad” Remix still uses the same basic rhythm track, but is filled with drop-ins from several famous break-beats and is a bit more smoothed out, particularly on the first chorus where Barry White’s “Just A Little More…” is mixed in with some jazzy horns to give it that player feel. At the point where the original track ended, MC Ren drops a completely different beat, that’s more “sneaky” than menacing, as Lil Nation unveils a brand new verse. It’s not Lil Nation at his best by any means. If I had to guess I would assume it’s just an idea that came up in the studio as they were recording and he just wrote something real quick, because it doesn’t have any of his trademark patterns or attention grabbing lines, but it’s still nice to get a Lil’ something extra.

“Ren’s Rhythm” is my least favorite C.P.O track, leaving me surprised it was picked for the B-Side. The instrumental isn’t very interesting and Lil Nation responds accordingly for the most part. Even with all his shock value statements it’s still just an average song leaning towards being boring, which I suppose is OK, since it isn’t a feeling that is repeated on the album.

“Flow To The Rhythm” is basically “Ren’s Rhythm” done better. It helps that it’s a bit more up-tempo and Lil Nation sounds more hyped and flows more intricate and interesting.

I find “Something Like Dis” difficult to listen to at times. There’s just so much going on with the music. Lil Nation’s flow is already “busy” enough, causing the “noisy” samples to sound distracting. The song’s strength is in the lyrics, making it the track on the album most worthy of a remix.

My favorite track on the album is “Homicide”. The song starts of with some movie dialog courtesy of Clint Eastwood’s “Fistful Of Dollars“ expressing, “If you’re the Sheriff you better get these men underground, Get Three coffins ready…”. Then the beat drops immediately with DJ Train cutting up “Welcome to homicide”. It’s a slow moving track with a menacing guitar, which is perfect to allow Lil Nation plenty of time and space to showcase his nimble delivery. The theme of the song should be evident based on the’s basically just a bunch of tough talk, but it sure sounds good, as he flexes so many great patterns and visual imagery (sometimes his flow is difficult to follow and words hard to distinguish so the lyric transcribing below is probably not perfect but should be pretty accurate):

The second-half of the 1st verse is when things start to get ill, “This is madness and I’m the head mad-man/Strapped in straight jacket so loosen up the strap and/Yo. I’mma get dumb, rip this funky continuum in half/Lil Nation the C.P.O psychopath/You can’t demolish the pedestal of the ruler/Suckers who be lacking knowledge I guess I have to school ya/Need I remind you of the fact I’m the eradicator/C P radical capital gladiator/Animal out of a cage cause bars I’m bending ‘em/Even when the tempo’s slow I’m swinging like a pendulum…”

From there he is in top form and comes in with an colossal second verse, that’s arguably the best on the LP:

“This is a warning so you know to step off when I’m on the scene/ forget and expect to catch your neck reject from my guillotine/Beware when I rush, your skull I will crush like a mallet/Cause I’m the menace just like I said in the ballad/No pretenders in the posse allowed/So the wack and new jack who snack on crack and similak stacked in the crowd…/(inaudible portion)…Mistake me for being un-armed but my tongue is like a pistol/Intercontinental ballistic missle/Fired with the fury from the rage of nation, obliterating suckers that battle me/It’s fatal, don’t rattle me/For those requesting relocation, No, permission denied/There’s no escaping your fate, not even suicide/Push down the lever on the box so I can explode/Drop like the bomb that’s atomic onto the next load/No, I’m not just an image, I’m the reality/ Living incarnation of the dark-side of brutality/A nightmare brought to life with the primary purpose of making you die/cause my business is strictly homicide”.

The onslaught continues on the 3rd Verse, “The sound in the background is the melodic rhythm of the minister/MC Ren manufactured the beats symbolic and sinister/So step off when I flow listen to intuitions kicking ambitions thru inquisitions of C.P.O, It’s a method I kept in my autobiography like a weapon to deaden the half-steppin’ that follow me, before I dismember, burn to cinder, blacken their glimmer of hope/And wake ‘em up when they(‘re) dreaming they(‘re) dope”...

“Homicide” is also the best showcasing of DJ Train's skills. He has great rhythm and approaches all of his cuts very musically. Here he is in full control of the chorus as he manipulates the sounds of a scream ever so hauntingly beautifully.

After a little over four minutes of relentless terror the track ends abruptly with gunshots and Clint Eastwood updating his previous statement with, “My mistake, four coffins…”.

The balancing of all this terror and negative imagery is offset by three cuts in particular, “The Wall”, “The Movement” and “CPOsis”. All three tracks deal with politics and messages to uplift the community…despite his opposing attitude and sentiment on “Ballad Of A Menace”.

“The Wall” speaks on the senselessness of black on black crime. Even with his mind focused on a serious topic Lil Nation doesn’t use that as an excuse to sacrifice his style (as many artists tend to do), “Expose who oppose because it’s brains they lack/Who distribute the powder white while they killing the color black/Religion not a smidgen in their mental vision/They choose to live in the red, Devil making decision/for ‘em cause they never knew the meaning piety/Members only of the dead society/The cluckers, the smokers, the rock rushers, the pipe chokers/Death, that’s what they boast while they walk around comatose/and we’ll be the ones to bury them one and all/Teach the religion of the wall/Bet the jury of fury, yes, the rebels of Hip Hop will build/They want us to yield but we’re not/We’re visionaries. They bury my commentary in cemeteries/They knew my sermon of freedom was preliminary/To educate the uneducated who stood in the crowd and waited for doers of oppression to fall/This is the movement the foreman of C.P.O has chosen to call the war against low living The Wall…”. The last verse has him speaking to drug dealers, “…I’ll ride you. Lost? I will find you/Blind? I will guide you. Forget? I’ll remind you/Your diabolical scheme to reign supreme as the enemy is about to fall to the strength of The Wall…” As I go back and read the lyrics for this track I realize it’s still difficult for me to catch the rhythm without the track playing, even after listening to these songs several dozen times this month alone…ha, another testament to his clever and unorthodox rhyme schemes…so I suggest listening to the song and trying to follow along for maximum effect.

While “The Wall” focused more on the members of the community adding to it’s own oppression, “The Movement” goes right to the original source, which helped create the situation in the first place. He doesn’t really go to deep into it, but just scratches the surface of the basic issues. “CPOisis” pretty much picks up were “The Movement” leaves off. The most noticeable difference between the two is that “CPOisis” is more up-tempo, the fastest track on the album actually. It’s probably the best test of pushing his style to the limits and he handles it quite efficiently. On his mission of dropping knowledge he incorporates many quick tongue twisters and shows he knows when to slow the flow down to deliver the punch for more effectiveness.

“The Beat Is Funky” is the only other album single and it finds Lil Nation at his most relaxed. It samples the classic Jimmy Spicer “Dollar Bill” track and some Taana Gardner “No Frills” which he describes as, “We adopted some Hip Hop and added in some R&B”. The vocals mainly stay focused on the fact that this is his “club theme”. Following the footsteps of the “Ballad….” Remix, “The Beat Is Funky” remix once again takes a more smoothed out approach. Lil Nation sounds more “funky” than his usual aggressive approach and fittingly so. The remix also has a bonus verse, which is probably the best verse on the track. I definitely prefer the original but I’m not mad at this alternate take. Unfortunately, there are no instrumentals on the 12”. Instead the B-side is “The Movement” and “The Movement” Remix. The remix isn’t much different than the original, the Bobby Byrd “I Know You Got Soul” is given a more prominent position in the mix and it’s a bit more stripped down overall musically, that’s about it.

“Gangsa Melody” is probably the best glimpse of were Lil Nation was headed later in his career. However, first MC Ren sparks it off with his second performance on the album. I don’t think either of the MC Ren verses are quite as impressive as the stuff he was doing with N.W.A at the time, but they are both solid verses. Lil Nation paints the image of himself as the toughest most fearless guy on the streets imaginable….ha. On his first verse, he commits a crime and is in full escape mode when police assume pursuit. His manner of handling this is to, “Another unit hooked and chase/Slow down to let them catch up to look at my face/They don’t f**k with the kingpin of the hood/They want to arrest me but they never could….”This line of thinking is continued in the second verse, “First priority is making police departments a mockery/I even got the Governor jocking me/The star of the law begging me to leave them alone/To turn the max down to minimal on my criminal tone/but I walk the streets with intent to annihilate/I know the law, but I’m destined to violate!”

There’s no easy one answer as to why this album didn’t achieve great acclaim, but a few things come to mind. Although it was on a major label, or perhaps because of it, there wasn’t a major push for this record. It’s not a stretch to imagine his lyrical content was the source of some roadblocks. Even though it was bring presented by one of the members of N.W.A, the group that virtually made shock value a musical commodity, Lil’ Nation just didn’t have that same sort of appeal and in many ways he was pushing the acceptable limits even further. Yet, at the same time this album also contained far more positive messages than ever covered on N.W.A record. Which was perhaps another problem, going to extreme on both ends of the spectrum.

Another quality of Lil Nation that might not be immediately evident in the music is his great sense of humor. That is something revealed in his music videos. All in all, Lil Nation never got his credit as one of the top West Coast lyricists of the time. MC Ren didn’t seem to get the anticipated response to his productions either. However, they both walked away from it with respectable careers, even if limited, to follow and a notable and skillful album with several great moments that contain the directions “To Hell And Black”…

-Misc Info:

*DJ Train (R.I.P): His cuts can also be heard on both JJ Fad albums as well as projects by MC Ren, Kam, etc... He also had a co-production credit on a Kid Sensation album. He was also MC Ren’s official DJ thru out his solo career. Sadly he died in a fire in June ’94.

-Other Lil Nation Projects:

Although there was never another C.P.O album, Lil Nation has continued to pop up now and again on projects. He’s performed under a few different pseudonyms; CPO, Bigg Hogg, and Young Hogg. He’s done verses on projects with Snoop, 2Pac, E-A Ski, E-40, Dogg Pound, etc… All which I would say illustrate that the greats respect his abilities. All the verses following the “To Hell And Black” album take more of a “gangsta approach”, but he does still add some flavor to show he is a lyricist.

Written BY Kevin Beacham

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