When you are the practitioner of perhaps the longest running hip-hop career that stretches three decades, you’ve seen and experienced it all. During the seemingly indestructible run of Oakland, California rapper Too $hort he has been both the subject of adulation and polarizing rebuke with such releases as Born to Mack (1987), Life is…Too $hort (1989), Cocktails (1995), and Blow The Whistle (2006). The man who forever introduced explicit material and a somewhat comedic, over-the-top take on the Bay Area pimp culture to the rap lexicon also managed to pull off one of the rap genre’s most impressive streaks. Nineteen albums, eight gold and platinum releases, and 11 million copies later, Too $hort has put in the work to be lauded as a legend, an unlikely billing for an artist who was frequently told that he couldn’t even rap.
But Too $hort’s legacy is indeed a mixed bag. On February of 2012, the 45-year-old entered a firestorm when he was asked by XXL.com to give “fatherly advice” to middle-school and high school boys. The video soon took a controversial turn when Too $hort offered tips on how to “turn a girl out.” After the fall-out, a contrite Too $hort apologized profusely, stating, “You have to be accountable for what you do...I don’t expect you to waste your time and energy trying to hear me out. I just want to get involved in something that does not [simply] say ‘Hey, forgive me!’ I understand that I made a big mistake.”
Over a month later, Todd Shaw is philosophical about the events and his history-making career. “My fans get to walk up to me, face-to-face, and say, ‘$hort, that was fucked up what you said in that XXL article,’” a candid Too $hort tells VIBE. “Or they can say, ‘$hort, I love that show you did last week.’ They can actually say these things to my face without anyone stopping them. I feel like the best bodyguard that I’ve ever had was to look someone in the eye and say, ‘What’s up?’ That kills all the issues.”
However, don’t expect to hear a choirboy on his latest album No Trespassing. For Too $hort, true lifestyle changes are happening away from the mic. “I don’t want to go out the door as a dirty rapper,” he laughs. “I’ve had a long and [successful] career. I’ve done a lot for Bay Area hip-hop. But I definitely want people to say, ‘That boy had some dirty raps, but he also did a lot of good things for the community, too.’” This is the unfiltered, uncensored story of Too $hort. This is Full Clip.—Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)
“I came up in Oakland. I think my first interest in rap was when I was in the elementary school band. I knew instruments and I marched in the band a little bit. But when I first heard those early records like ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ all the stuff that was coming from Sugar Hill Records, and those early Kurtis Blow songs I started to get interested in rap. It was probably in 1980 when I said, ‘Man, I could do this shit.’ I found some instrumentals that would be on the B-sides of the disco 12-inches and I started messing around with it. Basically, people in my neighborhood liked it. But I only had one rap [laughs]. And they got tired of it, and I didn’t like the fact that they got tired of it, so I wrote some new raps. That’s when I caught the buzz.
The way that my records got explicit was that I would put some curse words in my rhymes in the early days, and people would always laugh at it. I went back to the drawing board and made a rap with a few more curse words. I would notice the reaction. I had a rap partner by the name of Freddie B. We just kind of slowly but surely progressed into making a lot of funny, explicit stuff. To me it was no different than Richard Pryor. That was always my intention. The humor was always there. If you listen to my first three albums the order that they came in they were Don't Stop Rappin', Players, Raw, Uncut, and X-Rated. But in reality Raw, Uncut and X-Rated was recorded first. I was dealing with this label called 75 Girls in the Bay Area. I was coming out of the phase of making homemade tapes. 75 Girls found one of my earliest tapes and turned it into a real album. Raw was exactly what we were doing between the years 81-84. It was when I got into the studio when I actually recorded Don’t Stop Rappin’ and Players.
We were recording at a really nice studio in San Francisco. We would start from 11pm to 6 am, the graveyard shift in order to get the cheaper studio rates. And the guy that financed everything was Dean Hodges. He owned 75 Girls Records. If you listen to those albums there are a lot of live musicians on there; a lot of keyboards, guitars mixed with the drum machines. There was a very ‘80s environment in that studio; a lot of drugs and a lot of chicks. There were always parties, and I was the youngest person there. That whole time taught me two things: I didn’t want to do hardcore drugs like cocaine. And it taught me how to actually make music. I needed those two experiences to evolve into Too $hort. Without that it would have been a different story for me. I probably would have fell into the drug thing. At that point we all had the choice to not use them, get all the way into drugs or be a drug dealer. I chose music.”
“I was just telling Melle Mel from the Furious 5, ‘Man, when you guys made ‘The Message’ my visual was New York City all the way. You could just listen to the song and envision the actual video without ever having to actually visit New York. It was clear as day. My light bulb went off in my head. I thought that’s what I need to do with Oakland. I need to tell that story so the world can see and feel Oakland. That’s where the pimp culture in some of my songs came from. I spent my early years in L.A., so when I moved to Oakland I was so fascinated by how colorful real street life was. And I was always infatuated with the whole pimp thing from the ‘70s movies like The Mack. It would even be in the Shaft movie or a Pam Grier movie…there would always be a pimp character in the movie. The cars were there. The girls were there. So I decided to tell the story of Oakland on the Born to Mack album. That’s what me and my partner Freddie B rapped about when we were in high school: pimps, people dealing with drugs, the newest slang in Oakland and what was going on in the ‘hood.
At the time, the biggest music coming out of the West Coast was coming from L.A. That was the L.A. Dream Team…they were hot. There was Dr. Dre with the World Class Wrecking Crew. And then Ice T came along and he adjusted the whole L.A. game from being on an electro kind of tip to talking about some street shit…on some killing shit. Here I am at the same time in Oakland. We were sort of on each other’s vibe. I met Ice in ’84. I knew he was talking that shit and he knew I was talking that shit. A few years later, Jive Records found me. These concerts would come through Oakland and the promoters started asking me would I open the show. They would give me a few $100 bucks just to get the crowed warmed up. I was pretty good at that. So the people that would see it would come to me after the show and say, ‘I never heard of you…how long have you been doing this? And how the fuck does everybody in the crowd know every word to your songs?’
There was a word-of-mouth thing going around on me. I originally released Born To Mack independently. We released it in the summer of ’87 and for those first six months it was the hottest shit. In L.A. and the Bay Area there wasn’t but two acts in heavy rotation: Eazy E and Too $hort. ‘Boys In The Hood’ and ‘Freaky Tales’—the bass in those two songs and what they did to your car and your speakers, everybody was bumping those songs. So I guess Jive Records heard about it. Someone called Barry Weiss (former Jive Records head). With the money Jive was offering I was thinking, ‘Fuck Jive Records. We don’t need them.’ We were already getting a lot of money. But basically all we could do is get records play in Northern California. We couldn’t really penetrate any other part of the country in terms of distribution. So we decided to sign with Jive so that we could get the Born To Mack album out nationwide.
I got the idea for ‘Freaky Tales’ from one of my favorite rappers Spoonie Gee. And I also got off on Jimmy Spicer’s ‘Super Rhymes.’ And if you listen to those guys they weren’t making 16 bars with a hook. They would rap forever before they would even take a break. The hook was the rapper shutting up for a while [laughs]. So when I got my chance to get in the studio I used that format for ‘Freaky Tales.’ I was rapping forever on that record. Almost 10 minutes straight. ‘Freaky Tales’ originally featured the names of 75 girls. Some of the shit was outright corny because I was trying to do so many names. I erased about 30 names. I was being told that rappers don’t have curse words in their records. So I got my own money together and created Dangerous Music and we put out ‘Freaky Tales.’ That was the first song we recorded. And it was explicit because I wasn’t looking at what the commercial world wanted.
It was real rag tag. We had a DJ Rack. On all those early 75 Girls records there was always me on the drum machine and me doing the basslines. And we had a keyboard player by the name of Greg who used to play with Rick James. If you hear anything really intricate on those records that’s Greg. And when we were making Born To Mack there was a guy is San Francisco name Chris Wayne. He had a real 808 drum machine. That gave us the bass that we needed. I had one keyboard, a Roland—SH-101…a very small keyboard that made a lot of Moog sounds. We made the entire Born To Mack album with just that keyboard and a drum machine in three sessions. Chris helped me out with a lot of programming.
Using the word bitch was another thing that came from my early days with Freddie B. We would do these skits where we would do an intro to a song and act like we were pimps. And we would be pretending that we were actually freebasing cocaine with a chick or something and would pass the cocaine to the female, and she would start smoking and hogging it. And we would yell, ‘B-i-t-c-h…stop smoking!!!’ And it would turn into a joke. We would do it at parties and people would always yell out bitch. My man Freddie B kind of got caught up in the streets and did a couple stints in prison. And this all happened when my career was blowing up.”
“The difference between Life Is…Too $hort and my early albums is I met a studio engineer by the name of Al Eaton. He was a guitar player and he had that love for old soul and funk music. He was the one that had me remaking songs like Cameo’s ‘Keep It Hot.’ You had the Average White Band’s ‘School Boy Crush,’ and we did it before Eric B & Rakim used it. So Al was a guitar player who came in with a lot of ideas. He was playing the riffs to these songs. And I’m like, ‘Shit, let’s do this!’ I knew when we were recording the new music it was way beyond anything we had done before. I had a girl that could barely sing on ‘Pimp The Hoe.’ [laughs] When Jive heard ‘Life Is… Too Short’ they said, ‘Yeah, that’s the single!’ We got a video director for my first video. He didn’t know what to do and we didn’t have a treatment. I told him, ‘Look, I got this fucking Cadillac and the whole city of Oakland loves me. Let’s just ride around the city and get everyone’s reaction to me rapping the song.’
Songs back then used to come about organically. When we went into the studio and had this beat and concept, I talked to these girls who were only like 16 back then. I told them this was their homework: ‘Go home and write around this concept. It’s an older dude pulling up in a car while you are walking home from school. And the dude is trying to fuck you. And you are telling this dude to beat it.’ That was the concept around ‘Don’t Fight The Feeling.’ But the girls went home and wrote a rap on some, ‘Fuck you, fuck yo’ mamma, and fuck yo’ lame ass game.’ We are in the studio and girls are talking about my teeth and all this shit [laughs]. I was like, ‘Whoa…Fuck that!’ I re-wrote my whole rap. To me that was the best way to go. Some people in the studio didn’t think it was a good idea to let a girl talk about me like that. But I was like, ‘Fuck that. This is the shit!’ ‘Don’t Fight The Feeling’ became one of those songs that was bigger than my single. I wanted to empower my listeners in different ways on both the male and female side.
I was very content with being this underground artist. Before Jive took over, we had sold about 60,000 copies. They picked it up and sold another 150,000 with no posters, the radio ads, no video play and no TV ads. That was pretty good for Jive back then. But then when we went gold and Jive was like, ‘This is crazy!’ Now radio is taking to it. I didn’t really want my face on the album cover and I didn’t want to make a video because I didn’t want to be famous. I just wanted to make my dirty raps. But I started promoting the album. That’s when RCA, who was the parent company of Jive, was like, ‘Send this Too $hort motherfucker to us.’ RCA grabbed me and placed me with each one of their regional reps on a nationwide promo tour to Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Houston…all over the country. That was the moment I learned how to be an artist on a professional level.
I remember coming off the promo tour and I had sold 500,000 more copies. Then Eazy E calls me and ask would I like to go on tour with him. This is when the Straight Outta Compton had dropped and they were doing even bigger numbers than me. Before I even got off tour someone puts a rumor out that I had gotten murdered in a crack house. [laughs] That added another 500,000 records. Now we are at 1.3 million copies of Life Is…Too $hort. And that was with just two singles: ‘I Ain’t Trippin’ and ‘Life Is Too Short,’ with just a little radio airplay. RCA and Jive were shocked. This was unheard of. They had all these great artists like KRS-One, Whodini, Kool Moe Dee, the Fresh Prince…and I don’t think A Tribe Called Quest was signed to Jive just yet. And they were all headlining over me. But I’m shoulder to shoulder with the big boys, now.”
‘The Ghetto’ was based on a Donnie Hathaway song, another song that Al Eaton brought to me. Like I said, he was into that real old soul music. And I already knew that record. Al says, ‘This record has so much emotion in it.’ It’s just Donnie humming and singing the chorus. The music was all about the feeling it gave you. At that time there were a lot of records being made that described the ghetto in a very negative way. You would hear, ‘It’s so hard in the ghetto…it’s so dangerous in the ghetto.’ This was the crack era in 1989. But I was like man, when I go to the projects and see some of these apartments there are big ass TV’s and leather couches…everything. That’s the other side I wanted to tell about the ghetto. I was saying, ‘Even though things are bad, they are not that bad.’ ‘The Ghetto’ crossed over [to the pop charts]. People grabbed on to that emotion. They needed that hope during those bad times.
The first song on the album is ‘Short Dog’s in the House.’ I looked at the schedule after just coming off of tour and I rapped a song about my experiences on tour. I mentioned all the cities and the stuff I learned about those cities. That shit was making people connect, ya know? Saying I went to a certain local barbershop in Tennessee to get a cut was a big deal back then. I used to go down south, Midwest and all these small towns on the West Coast. And I was being treated like Michael Jackson in Little Rock Arkansas.
‘Ain't Nothin' but a Word to Me’ was my way of answering people who had a problem with me using the word bitch. If you know Ice Cube’s writing technique and the subjects that he chooses he likes to play on the lines and makes them make sense. He doesn’t just use curse words for shock value. He’s making a point when he raps. So I got him to help me dig into the B-word. We explained the meaning…the fact that bitch was nothing but a word. But in the end it was a way for me to slap the critics in the face. It was a weird education, but people still come to me and say, ‘Man, over the years I have learned a lot from your music.’ And then there are other people who think that I’m just dirty. But those people weren’t really listening.
By this time I started to develop what I called the formula. I knew how to make music that people liked. There’s a Too $hort fan who loves what I do…that goes for he or a she. I would picture that one fan when I was making songs. I would ask myself, ‘Would a Too $hort fan like this record?’ It’s the simplicity of my music that draws people to it. That was the reason for my success. I’m in tune with somebody that loves my music.”
“Ant Banks is a student of Too $hort. Even before 1992 he was studying me. This guy came from a background of music lessons. He came up reading music and playing in the band just like I did. He had done some stuff with an artist called Pooh Man. And he had a lot of local success. Ant was already in it. He was already working the machines. He was doing a spin-off of my style. And Pooh Man was doing a spin-off of my voice. It was very Too $hort-ish. So I was getting ready to record my third [major label] album in Al Eaton’s studio. I paid Al $40,000 of my budget upfront to record Shorty The Pimp in his space because we were good buddies. So I come into the studio for the first session and Al is going trying to educate me on what he learned hanging out with his buddy who was the engineer at MC Hammer’s studio. Hammer had sold millions of records and had a real recording situation in the suburbs outside of Oakland. You know he did everything over-the-top, so imagine what Hammer’s recording facility looked like at the height of his career.
Al Eaton comes back to me during our first session and explains to me that he’s had an epiphany, and that he saw the light. He says, ‘From now on you have to make pop music for white people.’ He was like, ‘Man, all that N-word shit, I don’t want to hear that stuff in my studio. Unless it’s geared to go pop I’m not even trying to make it.’ I think we did one or two sessions. I’m trying to tell him I’m not making pop music. I’m not trying to make music for white folks. I grew up on Parliament Funkadelic.’ If it ain’t the funk, I’m not making it. So we had these sessions and Al was acting like he didn’t even want to do the engineering! He was actually falling asleep. He kept saying there was a computer glitch. He would re-boot the computer and it would take 20 minutes to get back up.
I found out Al was doing that shit on purpose when I had Ant Banks in the studio. I thought it would be cool to get the dude that was making all the beats for Pooh Man. We watched Al. Banks had this thing where he would work at different studios and he would tell the engineer at that studio, ‘You move out the way, I’ll run the session and you just tell me what to do.’ I was getting really upset at Al. We wanted to fuck him up, but I was on some professional shit. But Ant didn’t need much of Al’s help, so we started looping shit and making beats. We developed a new formula. Me, Ant Banks, my guitar player Shorty B, the keyboard player Pee Wee from Digital Underground. We started that formula on Shorty The Pimp and you would hear that funkier sound on the next albums.
When I listen to a song like ‘In The Trunk,’ I think about the fact that I was never a critical favorite. I would never get those reviews or positive write-ups in Right On or Word Up. I wasn’t getting any credit. I would get these terrible reviews about how Too $hort can’t rap. And then I would see whoever had that one big single for the year and people would be like, ‘Oh, that’s the dopest rapper ever!’ I’m doing sold-out shows and going platinum. My thing was I dare you to go on after me on this stage. I’m going to beat the shit out of this crowd. So that’s where ‘In The Trunk’ came from. Whatever that other artists were doing, I would do the opposite. I didn’t care because everybody else was riding around listening to my shit in the trunk. It’s coming out of those amps and the woofers for everyone to hear. I felt like, ‘Now tell everybody how wack Too $hort is.’
“By this time me and Ant Banks were a team. We are in the studio arguing with each other, agreeing with each other…but we had one thing that was unifying us: Clones of Funkenstein. We loved everything George Clinton did. That’s what we were trying to [capture] on ‘I’m A Player.’ That Parliament Funkadelic sound. Me and Ant Banks agreed on that. We had Shorty B who also played bass and Pee Wee again on the keys. We would just put a bunch of instrumental stuff on the tracks. We would tell the guitar player to play through the whole take…don’t stop even if you fuck up. Then we would argue about how to mix it down.
‘Blowjob Betty’ was just another rendition of ‘Freaky Tales.’ It was from a reggae sample, but it was funky. When I hear the original version of [‘Ring the Alarm’] I always love those horns and that bassline. I was listening to a lot of reggae back then. I wish I would have done more stuff like that. We would keep stripping down the music from the bass to the keyboards to the drum machines and to the guitars. Me and Banks would have a field day trying to make all of the parts make sense.
You got Pro Tools now where you can place any sound or line you want together. But back then if you wanted to move a bar or a certain part you had to know how to splice tapes. We were flying in different samples with the S-900 keyboard. But I was totally against the SP-1200. It was too hip-hop [laughs]. Everybody was using the SP, they had the dancers, they had a DJ with two turntables. So whatever all the other rappers were doing I’m not doing it. My whole thing was the bass…that 808. I wanted someone to say, ‘Too $hort, you owe me some new woofers.’”
“I made the Cocktails albums in my own studio in Atlanta. We shot the video for the [title track], and I’m getting that Midwest love and that Down South love. But I started to wonder why wasn’t 106 KMEL (legendary Bay Area radio station) playing this shit? They sent me back a message saying how we support the local artists, and since you moved away our policy is out-of-sight-out-of-mind. This came from a radio station that came to me when they were changing formats from heavy metal to rap and R&B. They called me and asked if I would come to some of their events and help them get support from the community. And I did it. And I got a lot of radio play from them. So now when Cocktails come out it’s, ‘Nah we can’t play your music because you don’t live here anymore.’ Then there was a song titled ‘Playa Hata’ that had the Luniz saying, ‘That’s why the town got rid of $hort.’ And KMEL had that song in heavy rotation!
So here you have the Luniz who I thought were my little homies and who used to come out to my studio with their manager Chris Hicks and hang out. Chris was a real good friend of mines, too. The whole thing didn’t make any sense. I’m thinking, ‘Damn, you gonna play a song that was dissing me and not play my song?’ That shit sat real bad with me. I waited until the Summer Jam came and I took about 40 niggas up there with me. I knew the Luniz would be there. I knew Chris Hicks was going to be there. We made our point that the Luniz had to apologize. But I was also trying to give a message to the Bay. I wanted people to know that there was no beef…that the radio station wanted to hype up that friction. We told them to bring us the Luniz. Their manager got beat up that da, and the radio station canceled the show before the last two acts could perform, which included E-40.
In the end I got so mad that the next song I did was called ‘That’s Why (The Town Got Rid of $hort)’ and I told everybody the truth. I’m hearing all this stuff about how the Luniz was behind some movement that said if you don’t move we will kill you. I’m like you gotta be joking. The motherfuckers I rolled with ran Oakland. KMEL couldn’t figure out how to handle me. The best they could do was pull a fake phone call to the radio station that had somebody imitating me on some, ‘This is Too $hort…I don’t give a fuck about Summer Jam. If I can’t go onstage, nobody can come onstage.’ They were trying to make it seem like I was dissing E-40! But they failed to realize that there was a time that E-40 was really a drug dealer and most of his allies were the guys who rolled with me. They were selling dope together and we were doing a lot of shit off the clock together.
Me and E-40 were homies. So instead of E-40 going, ‘Fuck $hort,’ he actually called me up and asked why I was on the radio talking shit. E-40 gets to the bottom of it and finds out it was prank. So me and 40 got into the studio together and made a song called ‘Rapper’s Ball,’ which turned out to be a huge hit. All that came out of all the negative shit of them trying to turn us against each other. I later went on the Sway and King Tech morning show on KMEL. It came down to the Luniz, me, and their manager getting together and saying, ‘We are homies…it’s all love.’ Once we got pass that KMEL started playing my record again.
As this was all going on I put out song called ‘Paystyle.’ I was hearing all this talk from some lyricists that I was wack. But at the same time, they are sitting up there praising somebody that was biting off of somebody else! They biting off of A Tribe Called Quest, they biting Pharcyde, all these groups that I liked and listened to. You rapping in a cipher and your style is Q-Tip’s style. How you gonna say I’m wack and you are biting off somebody else? There was a notion at this time that you are not a real rapper if you couldn’t freestyle. I had a problem with people naming it ‘freestyle.’ If they called it off-the-dome rap, that would be cool. But I was 14-15 years old getting paid to rap. I’ve never rapped in my life for free. So that’s how I came up with the title ‘Paystyle.’ I can’t freestyle, but I do a helleva paystyle. [laughs] I wasn’t trying to impress rappers. I’m like fuck passing the mic. How about passing the mic in front of a crowd? That’s what I was all about.”
“Me and BIG had been bumping into each other periodically in Atlanta. And he kept telling me, ‘Man, you got love in Brooklyn.’ But when I would look at Soundscan when it came out the numbers would read 1 million scans with 1000 scans coming from New York [laughs]. You would see 30,000 units being moved in one state and then you look at New York and the whole state only purchased 1000 copies. I just thought New York wasn’t fucking with me. It was the only city where I could walk around and nobody knew who I was. I actually liked New York for that reason. But I later found out that I did have some fans there. Puffy was the one that got at me. He was like, ‘Biggie wants to do a song with you.’ And I was all for it. At the time people were talking that East Coast/West Coast shit, but I was cool with everybody. In Atlanta I had a lot of East Coast friends. I was running real tough with Erick Sermon, Keith Murray, and Redman. They would come around my house a lot. So when it came time to work with Bad Boy, I just felt let’s go kick it. It was no big deal. That was a Bad Boy, Death Row thing, not an East Coast/West Coast thing.
Working on ‘The World is Filled’ with BIG was a great experience. I remember that session very well. I wasn’t there when Carl Thomas did the hook. But it was the first time I ever saw that technique that some rappers do where they write a rap without pen and paper and just spit that shit off the top of their head. I never saw anybody do that. I’m like, ‘How is BIG doing this? Where is the paper? Everybody uses paper.’ But they’re like, ‘Nah…not BIG.’ That just blew my mind. I would later see Jay-Z do the same thing. And Puffy was very insecure about rapping on that song. This is when he was starting to get his flow together. He needed the reassurance of me saying, ‘Yeah Puffy, it’s cool…it’s cool.’”
“Jay-Z is smart, man. On his first album, Reasonable Doubt, there was a song he wanted to do with Scarface. But at the time everybody was kind of skeptical of the East Coast/West Coast drama. UGK and Scarface would not even go to New York at that time. Face wouldn’t even get on a plane back then [laughs]. Me and Jay had already did a lot of shows together and that kind of started our friendship. And I’m pretty sure that when he heard me on BIG’s shit and the fact that I had did songs with Lil Kim and Erick Sermon, that made it easy for him to make that call. So maybe a year later, I get a call from Jay to do a song on the [In My Lifetime, Vol. 1] album.
Then it happened again for [Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life] with ‘A Week Ago.’ Just like he needed Bun B and Pimp C for ‘Big Pimpin,’ Jay’s one of those artists that don’t have to actually hear a chorus or a verse…he can hear it in his head. And he heard my voice on the ‘A week Ago’ hook. I didn’t even write the hook. Jay tells me, ‘I want you to say this line right here.’ And I got it…I understood why Jay wanted my voice on the record. Now you had some people in New York that said, ‘Well, I don’t want to hear nothing that’s not from the five boroughs.’ But then you had people like BIG and Jay that said, ‘Hell yeah, I listen to the Geto Boys. Yeah, we fuck with NWA.’ They listened to everything.”
“The reason why you hear [a wide-range of producers] on this album is because of Atlanta. Everybody is right there. Everybody comes to this town. I’m seeing it and I’m part of that whole scene. I’m imbedded into the fabric of the Atlanta hip-hop culture now. And at this time you couldn’t say ‘Atlanta hip-hop’ and not mention me. I was at every event and at every studio. I knew every artist and I was helping artists get on. Cats like Diamond D were coming by the house. We hanging out and kicking like, ‘Yo, let’s work.’ If you are sitting around a Diamond D and he’s playing beats and you hear one that you like you have no other choice but to say, ‘Throw that motherfucker up…let’s rap.’ So on Can’t Stay Away I was just utilizing what was there in Atlanta. That’s how I met up with Lil Jon. On this album I was starting a new crew called Nation Wide. I was pulling in these rappers from all over the country to be part of my crew. You hear that whole Nation Wide vibe on Can’t Stay Away. That’s why you hear everybody like Puffy, Jermaine Dupri, Jay-Z, Erick Sermon, and Eightball & MJG on that album.”
“To me this song was like a family reunion kind of vibe. Mac Mall, 4-Tay, Ant Banks and myself are not necessarily in the same camp. But we are still Bay Area cats who all love each other. Mac Mall is E-40’s blood cousin. He was working on a lot of music with Ant Banks when he was still in high school. And I put a song out on Rappin 4-Tay before he did anything. We just got together as a family. Before we even put our verses on ‘Player’s Holiday’ we knew it was a hit. Sometimes you just know. I think the best thing about that song is we opened ourselves up to the whole lowrider culture. That culture always likes the oldies.
‘Player’s Holiday’ was bigger for the Mexicans on the West Coast than damn near any song we did. Just that song alone got us invited and paid to perform at lowrider car shows. There would be like 15,000 people in the crowd. That was big to be doing those shows. And with Ant Banks, who had done a hand full of albums and a few hot singles, to see him have a hot, hot, hot one with his name first and everybody else featured, that was a big deal for me. He had always done so much for me. I was just happy to be a part of a highlight of his career.”
“It was a two-way thing with me and Lil Jon. We had a very clear understanding. When I got him out of his contract situation, I didn’t want him signed to me. I didn’t want him to be under me. I knew he had already been around Jermaine Dupri. We would just do songs together. ‘Bia Bia’ was the second coming of a song that had already been recorded. You have to go listen to Lil Jon’s first single he did with TVT Records called ‘I Like Dem Girlz.’ The 12-inch had a B-side, a song called ‘Bitch.’ It’s the same exact song as ‘Bia Bia’ except it’s the dirty version.
So Lil Jon called me and said, ‘Man, the B-side is killing the A-side. It’s the hottest song in the streets. We have to do a clean version.’ And I’m like, ‘How is that even possible?’ [laughs] But Lil Jon knew what he was doing. His job was as an A&R at So So Def. He has an ear for music. So he changed the chorus and it went to another level. I have a real understanding of Lil Jon. I helped him get out of a hole…so all I needed from him was that sound…something I had never experienced in my career—which was club music. I had never been a club favorite. But Jon put me in the club.”
“I didn’t know that I had a hit on my hands with Blow The Whistle. This was one of my last albums I did for Jive. I was made to believe that the ‘Blow The Whistle’ song was not even worthy of promotion. I talk to the people at Jive and they were like, ‘This is not a single.’ Six years later, ‘Blow The Whistle’ is a classic song that has been out for six years and is still bumping in the clubs every week. Jive was like, ‘Yeah, we missed that one.’ They didn’t even want to spend money on my videos. I swear they spent about $2 on my video for ‘Shake That Monkey.’ Again, the clubs were loving that song. But Jive at the time was like, ‘We are not that in to you…we don’t like you…and we don’t believe in you.’ I remember Barry Weiss called me when the Super Bowl was in Houston. And he goes, ‘Shake That Monkey’ is the hottest song at the Super Bowl!’ I’m like, ‘I know.’ [laughs] But when we got back to New York, no Too $hort. No promotion.
And who would have ever thought that Will.i.am and Snoop Dogg was willing to shoot a video with me and promote a single and my label would say, ‘Nah, we don’t want to do it.’ That’s what happened with ‘Keep Bouncin’’. That was another song that people was loving. A lot of times Jive didn’t get it. Jive/RCA believed in Too $hort, but not Jive/Arista. If you ever get the chance to talk to E-40 we discussed this all the time because he was also on Jive. We both came to believe that by 2005 and 2006 Jive said somewhere in a meeting: ‘We cannot let E-40 and Too $hort be huge because they are at the end of their contracts. If we blow them up now they are going to leave us as big artists.’ Both of us knew we had to get the fuck out off of Jive. We felt like we were going to be losing our houses if this keeps up [laughs].”
“I had worked with George Clinton before. We have had a real good relationship over the years. I’ve done a lot of music with him and I’ve shared the stage with him. The man is someone I listened to as a kid. He’s a legend. ‘Fo Yo Sorrows’ was like the same thing when Jay called me to do ‘Week Ago.’ Big Boi knew what he wanted, he already had the concept and the visuals. He had already envisioned me doing it with him, and I always wanted to work with Outkast. Basically, I jumped on a plane just to do that video. He knew exactly what he wanted. It was a great, easy session. I hope to work with Big Boi some more…we gotta get some more stuff in.”
“I was told by Wiz Khalifa’s people that he had this track and that he actually said, ‘I want Too $hort on this song.’ That’s what he wanted, and I was kind of surprised. I heard the song. I already knew Wiz was one of the newest, hottest, up-and-coming artists. I knew Wiz was from Pittsburgh and I heard some of his mixtapes. I liked it, and I liked that song ‘Black & Yellow.’ But I didn’t think anybody knew he was going to be the Wiz that he is now. I know I didn’t [laughs]. But I liked what I heard. So I thought, ‘Shit yeah, I’ll work with the youngster.’ I feel that way about a lot of local artists that aren’t even nearly as huge as Wiz. If I like the talent and I like the song then let’s just do some work. I’ve always been in that frame of mind. When I was in the studio with a producer like Jazzy Pha in the mid ‘90s he hadn’t worked with any name brand artists yet. But he still had these hot ass beats, so my thinking was, ‘Come on in…let’s work.’ I felt that same way for Wiz. I’ve never been one of those OG artists that hate on the youngsters. I never got into what’s new hip-hop or real hip-hop. To me the real hip-hop right now is being true to yourself and getting money. I think what the younger artists like Wiz are doing is cool.”
“I’ve been in the business for 30 years. This is hip-hop. We have been told that this is not to be. The hip-hop culture puts an expiration date that says all the over 30 rappers are old rappers. But Erick Sermon said something that made a lot of sense. He said the hottest artist out right now is Jay-Z and he’s 45. And that was damn near true. Even if you say Jay is not the hottest artist, he’s one of the hottest artists around today. So what is the expiration date on rappers? We have not defined that yet. I’m not allowing anyone to define me or my career. How old was the genre of the blues when BB King was 40 years old? Now dude is pushing 80 and he’s still doing 300 shows a year. Now is he relevant? What’s the expiration date on BB King? I’m watching the Rolling Stones do their 50th anniversary and you telling me that a rapper can’t be 50-years-old and still rap? I’m against that shit. That was my mind frame making No Trespassing.
When I got ready to do my album E-40 was like, ‘I got a song you should do.’ And that song was ‘Money On the Floor.’ We do this a lot…give songs to each other. We are competitive, but at the same time we help each other out when we compete. We are carrying the legacy of Bay Area hip-hop. But I know I’m going to get criticized. I feel like the mainstream media never accepted Too $hort. They tolerated me, but I’ve never been a media darling. Snoop Dogg is Too $hort on steroids. But he has a lot more camera charisma and he smiles a lot. But he’s the same persona. I’ve always made it a point not to cater to the mainstream media or beg for their acceptance. Just like they tolerate me, I tolerate them [laughs]. I have a straight, direct connection with the fans. Not through radio, not through a concert or a promotional campaign. It’s me to the fans.
I’m not a guy that has big bodyguards around me. Sometimes I’ve actually thought that someone was going to walk up to me and do something. I’m measuring them up like, ‘Is this person hostile or is this love?’ When I was dealing with that XXL situation by thing was I would rather deal with any fallout for something I said or a mistake myself than deal with it by using someone who is 6’8 and on the payroll. My legacy is that I have made some good music. I’m not even talking about the words in the music…I’m talking about the actual music. I’ve written some good songs that have given people a lot of good memories.
During the longevity part of my career, I started noticing around 1996 when I wanted to walk away people was telling me, ‘Man, don’t retire.’ That kept me going. That gave me a whole new perspective of myself. I was just on the Tom Joyner Cruise. And even though the comedians onstage were like filthy, dirty, they asked me, and me only, can I keep it clean when I perform? So I said, ‘Okay.’ I go up there and keep it clean and I get ready to walk offstage and the crowd at the Tom Joyner Cruise—an average age of 35 to 80—they’re like, ‘Do Freaky Tales!!!’ They wanted some dirty raps. I’m looking at the crowd and I see people my grandmother’s age [laughs]. I couldn’t do ‘Freaky Tales’ in front of that crowd. But I got a 50-50 reaction after I walked offstage. Old ladies would come up to me and say, ‘Thank you baby for not singing them dirty songs.’ And then there were other people like, ‘That’s fucked up you didn’t sing ‘Freaky Tales.’
That to me speaks volumes on what Too $hort means to the vast majority. Half of them are calling me a fucking dirty rapper and the other half are like, ‘Fucking hell yeah!’ I’m half dirty, half clean. I’ve always been that way. As we are approaching near the end I feel like that explicit legacy outweighs everything, so right now the things that I am doing are more positive away from the music because I’m trying to make sure I don’t want to lose that balance.”