This is a big year for rap legend Too $hort. Performing this weekend at Power 106's Powerhouse with Chance the Rapper, YG, Big Sean, Joey Bada$$, E-40 and DJ Mustard, the rapper known for wonderfully vulgar storytelling raps like “Freaky Tales,” as well as poignant social commentary on tracks like “Life Is ... Too Short,” will be continuing one of hip-hop's most prolific careers as he turns 50 this fall.
In addition to a half-century of Too $hort, 2016 also marks the 30th anniversary of his Raw, Uncut and X-Rated tape, the 20th anniversary of his Gettin' It album and the 10th anniversary of one of the biggest hits of his career, “Blow the Whistle.” He also recently opened Digital BoomBox, a new multimedia facility in downtown Los Angeles.
L.A. Weekly spoke to Too $hort about his hall-of-fame, 30-year career.
How did the decision to open Digital BoomBox come about?
I’ve always had recording studios, always had some sort of facility to help me and the artists that I’ve worked with. The evolution of that is, I was in Atlanta for 15 years, had a few facilities out there, I moved back to the Bay and had a facility there for five years, and I [realized I] spent so much time in L.A., so much money traveling to L.A. and having hotels in L.A., that I might as well be in L.A.
I’m glad I’m here; the evolution of what I did just led to wanting to build a facility that could house artists who are very active on social media as well as great recording artists and really good performers under one roof. It has the Short stamp of approval in terms of the mood of the building and the feel of the building. I’m looking forward to really getting it up and running and creating content.
Is there much different between working with up-and-coming MCs from the Bay and ones from Los Angeles?
Let me put it like this: If you’re not from the West Coast, all West Coast music sounds like West Coast music. If you’re from here, you hear the different areas between L.A. hip-hop and Bay Area hip-hop. It’s very different but very subtle, too. I happen to be one of those artists who’s very in tune with down South music, I just tune into that. I kind of like to get artists together and let you be who you’re going to be, as well as get an L.A. rapper to work with a Bay Area producer, or a down South producer to put some West Coast vocals on top of his beats to see what it sounds like, and we’ve seen a lot of good results.
You’re performing at Powerhouse this weekend. Given your prolific longevity, with over 20 albums, how do you even begin to put together a set list? Do you lean more toward classics or new material?
I have about three or four variations of my show. We pretty much have a formula. Me or my DJ will take a look at the crowd, evaluate their age, the region that they’re in, the type of show. People don’t realize I was a DJ, and back in my local Atlanta DJ days, I did house parties and was a mixtape master. I’ve always been a playlist king and able to entertain people with good music. I can look at the crowd and make a good playlist for the night.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of your Raw, Uncut and X-Rated tape. When did you realize making more explicit material than other rappers at that time was garnering you a following?
Probably when I was in the 11th grade. I just would say things in my song, one line that was explicit, and people would love it. Just saying one cuss word or one thing that was sexually profound. I went from doing one-liners to entire songs about it. I’d say, “I have 16 hoes sucking 10 toes,” and people would [react] and laugh, so I would go back and write a song about meeting 16 hoes and tell a little story and everything. It would be comedy but would sound like some real pimp stuff and be entertaining.
The more I did it, I learned people liked to hear that pimp game and the latest slang words, what’s going on in these streets and some funny stuff. If you put that to music, you will always make money. After I signed to Jive, my job was so fucking easy. All I had to do was keep doing what I’d been doing except stepping it up on a national stage and make freaky tales with top-notch producers.
Given how freaky your tales have gotten over the years, have you ever written something and then had second thoughts when it came time to recording it because of how freaky it got?
I think that question can be answered by a song called “Cuss Words.” In that song, there’s a line that says, “Nancy Reagan sucked my dick like it was corn on the cob.” When I said that, she was the first lady and I was only doing it for shock value, to make you laugh. There’s a way I could have written that where the humor would be completely lost and it could have been really mean. But everybody laughed at it; it’s my favorite line to this day. I never got any flack from the government. I think it’s just how I delivered the music [as] shit-talking comedy. I didn’t have to edit myself or be careful.
The way I write is not intended to offend the masses. If you listen to the music, it’s like I’m just spitting game to you. I don’t know how, when the Supreme Court was mentioning rappers with Tipper Gore, it never went my way. They never protested me. My name was never in the conversation when they were steamrolling CDs. I would talk to Luke [of 2 Live Crew] and Geto Boys and they would say, “We don’t know how they didn’t say your name, Short, but they didn’t.”
This year is also the 20th anniversary of your album Gettin’ It. At that time many of your contemporaries were facing resistance from the labels as the next generation of rap was arriving. Did you experience any pressure to change your sound at this point in your career?
No. I never had any issues about anybody trying to alter the music I was making then or the album right after that. Two albums after that I made an album called You Nasty, where it was suggested by Jive to make a really dirty album. They had a lot of logic behind it, with what Death Row was doing and how rap got really explicit and really hard. I did what Jive wanted me to do, it went gold, but when I look back it was not the right thing to do because a lot of my fans were like, “I really like when you speak on social issues and have radio-friendly stuff,” and I abandoned what worked to have one trick. When I doubled back with Jive about making positive music, I came into resistance where they didn’t want positive songs where I’d had one [on each album] in the past and they’d be radio-friendly, expletive-free songs. Jive shut me all the way down as far as that.
You had a hand in the early stages of Kid Rock’s career with songs like “Wax the Booty.” I believe you also brought him out on his first national tour.
I did take him out on his first big tour. Jive Records put us together. I always believed in him, I didn’t really care about the “white guy” part of it. When I first met him, he knew how to do all the elements of hip-hop. He had the whole culture, and I come to later learn it’s like that in Detroit. A lot of racial barriers didn’t exist there with white folks growing up on Motown and hip-hop. It was a no-brainer for me, this little white kid in front of a black crowd who would do the damn thing.
Along with your recent albums, you’ve been creating a lot of music for television, including rapping on comedian Nick Swardson’s Comedy Central show as well as doing the theme for Kendra. Is it a different writing process for you when you’re making music specifically for a visual component?
I have a thing called “a Too $hort song,” which is very specific, and if I’m working on anything else, it can’t be a Too $hort song. A lot of times I would hear people say, “Too $hort’s not a very good rapper.” When I would write songs, I would downplay that super-supreme-rapper technique on purpose. I didn’t want to be a wordsmith; I wanted to say punchlines that made you say, “That shit is dope.” I didn’t want to be in a rap battle. I’m talking shit, bottom line, that’s what it is.
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I like getting in where I fit in. My job is to get money, and if I’m writing Kendra’s opening theme, it’s according to what it’s about. I’ve had people write for me and I’ve written for other people. Back when I was on Jive, I’d have people write for me. I’d say, “Write me a song, my album’s going to go platinum, and you'll get $10,000 out the gate.” I didn’t need them to write me a song; I wanted to spread the love.
Too $hort will perform at Power 106's Powerhouse festival at the Honda Center on Friday, June 3. Tickets and more info at www.power106.com/powerhouse.