Too Short, Oakland’s original out-the-trunk tape slanger, is making a return to the independent hustle. After a 20 year relationship, 2008’s Get Off The Stage marked his split from Jive Records. He’s taking his newly reinstated freedom to the digital sphere, set to drop a new online-only LP Still Blowin.
With old material also in the cannon, the self-proclaimed “old ass rapper” talked to HipHopDX about the digital age divide, his storytelling approach and the state of Bay Area Rap.
HipHopDX: I hear you’re going digital with this new album, Still Blowin?
Too Short: Yeah, it’s pretty much a no-brainer for me. I’ve been testing the waters for the last couple of years and it’s been working out pretty good. So I decided instead of playing the major label game and trying to get a deal and trying to get the marketing and video budgets and battling with the labels when they talk that good shit on the way in the door and then back the fuck away and don’t push the project right once it gets out… I’m just sick of that shit.
DX: Coming from an independent background, could you have ever predicted the Internet opening up the independent world like it has?
Too Short: I can’t say that I foresaw that it was gonna happen like that, but I can say that when the CD duplicators came out and downloads started getting out of hand, I knew that [the end was near]. The labels at first cried “This [is] terrible, we’re losing our money.” But I’m just thinking like, you guys have been getting fat with this 80/20, 90/10% splits and shit forever. It’s almost like the music was fighting back against the system. The music is for the people, so I feel like all the free downloads and all the CD burning, that hurt the record sales but at the same time if you’re making good music your phone is still ringing, you’re still doing shows. For a guy like me to turn to digital, it’s perfect at this point in my career. I’ve already made a name. I don’t have to build a career on the Internet, I can just maintain a career. We gonna make some good music, we’re gonna tour around and keep doing shows for the people. We go across the ocean. My career is beyond where it was supposed to be anyway. If you do the normal mathematical equation of what Hip Hop is, I should have been out of here years ago. So I’m just riding a wave that’ll never end.
DX: Do you think majors are still a necessity for lesser-known artists?
Too Short: I think the major labels do what they do. They know how to make you a big star. If you’re not on your way to being a big star then there’s really no place for you at a major. They wait for that lightning in a bottle. If you put a single out and it’s a super hit, they’re rolling with it. Anything short of that they’re not fucking with you.
How many people have we seen, in their own region, build up hundreds of thousands of dollars with independent labels? They run the community, everybody loves them and then they sign with a major and the shit fades away. “So-and-so got a five million dollar deal, they the new shit.” Next thing you know, two or three years later and they’re gone. It happens so many times. But then on the flip side, Cash Money [Records] and labels like that thrived in a major label system.
DX: Yeah like a few years ago when the Bay and Hyphy were being touted as the next big mainstream thing, then a lot of those artists who signed with majors just sort of fizzled.
Too Short: The Bay Area’s always been on this little “do it our way” thing. This our shit. So when they called the shit Hyphy or whatever, it wasn’t really a local thing. Motherfuckers were just using the word and doing the sideshows and everything that went with it, ghostriding the whip and the media dubbed it the Hyphy movement. And then everybody was like, “Oh, we got a movement, let’s roll with it.” But when it was supposed to go commercial and it didn’t motherfuckers were like, “Let’s just do what we do.” It never changed. The dances didn’t change, the attitude didn’t change. The shit stayed the same, they just disassociated the scene with the word. So it ain’t nobody running around Oakland talking about “I’m Hyphy” anymore. That shit is not even existing. But if you put on some music, it’s gonna look the same as it always looked. The scene is gonna keep on.
There’s a lot of artists that have regional success, that are doing their shows, traveling around. If they don’t sell five to ten thousand units, they’re still bringing checks home. It’s a Hip Hop career. You don’t have a job that you have to get up and go to. You don’t have to work in a fucking warehouse or fast food or some shit. Me personally, that’s the kind of Hip Hop that I came up in. We got this talent, let’s get some money off this shit. Not necessarily, let’s be on MTV. Fuck that shit. Let’s have fun making the music and make some money out of it. If I’m eating and the homeboys eating then it’s cool. That’s the good shit. Not motherfuckers saying, “Oh, you sold 10,000 units, you wack.” Fuck that. There’s nigga’s selling 10,000 units in little areas all over the country.
DX: And almost all the big artists started on that level anyway.
Too Short: I look at it like college. You talk to most of the successful rappers and ask “The day before you started making big money, how many years had you been trying to get in the game?” They all gonna tell you four, five, eight years. It’s just like going to college. You gotta put in work, pay dues.
DX: Do you pay attention to any of the younger artists in the bay who are coming up now?
Too Short: You hear the names in the wind. It’s a lot of dudes with skills that are coming behind the next dudes, after the Keak Da Sneaks and Mistah F.A.Bs and Messy Marvs. It’s a whole new crew making a name for themselves. I think we got a lot of cats in the bay that have verbal skills. People might not know it, but it’s a lot of rapper-rappers, you know? It ain’t really on that jump out the car and ghostride the whip, funny, party type shit. It’s motherfuckers out here spitting rhymes. There’s a next generation coming and they’re doing it through the MySpaces and the Facebooks and the mixtapes and all that shit.
DX: Have you been paying attention to any of the solo stuff the guys from The Pack, who used to be on your label, have been putting out lately?
Too Short: Yeah, Lil B went and got down with Soulja Boy, he’s been doing his thing. When he was with The Pack and they were around me, he was the was the one who was writing all the hooks and shit. B had that energy. I haven’t been seeing his tweets and his Internet activity, but I hear he stays very active. Lil Uno been posting up videos and stuff, Young L has some solo videos. I was just in Colorado and Stunna was doing solo shows. I’m glad to see them staying active.
DX: Yeah they seem real deep into the Internet thing.
Too Short: I never even heard of MySpace until I met them dudes a few years ago! When we met I was like, “What the fuck is MySpace, man?” Then they went and showed me that shit and they got a million fucking friends. Shit, that’s what they grew up in. That’s the new generation. They were born with Playstation controllers in their hands.
DX: Are you gonna jump into the Twitter or Facebook worlds or any of that?
Too Short: I’m personally not gonna sit around on a fucking computer and blog or have cyberspace friends and all that shit. As a business, of course we’re gonna have some presence in that world, but I’m not gonna sit around all day like my boy F.A.B. You hang out with F.A.B. and he sit around all day on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, his text messages, emails and making phone calls at the same time while he’s writing raps and recording. I’m like, “Motherfucker, what are you doing?” It’s what he does though, it works for him. But I’m from a different era, man. I could turn around and do that shit. I know a lot of OGs, guys like Yukmouth, keeping it alive by utilizing the Internet, but that ain’t me. You can find me on the net, but you’re not gonna personally get me hitting the keys, talking back and forth with you.
DX: On an unrelated note, is there any chance we’ll one day be able to hear some of those old pre-75 Girls trunk tapes?
Too Short: Hey, you know now that we have the internet cracking, now’s the perfect time. I can’t really get into the details right now but we are getting ready to post a lot of Too Short shit that’s kind of obscure. We’re gonna make the shit available. I personally feel like in my career and many Hip Hop careers, that the moment when it’s best is when you were broke. You just getting in the game, you young and writing, just dreaming. If you go to the early Too Short albums versus the later Too Short albums, it becomes a formula [as time goes on]. You go to the early Jay-Z albums and hear the shit he was saying, how naturally it was coming out, versus now where it’s just a perfectly crafted album. It’s just different. I like the young stages of a Hip Hop career. Most people can kick up that dust when their broke and still in the neighborhood and still just with the homies on the block. You ain’t really got an opportunity to have some money and live somewhere else. That’s when the shit is the best. The percentage of people that can get past that moment is very small. To get to that second or third album and still keep the magic, that’s impossible. Me myself, I feel like my best shit was a long long long long time ago. And even though I keep going I still that it ain’t never gonna capture that magic of that shit I was spitting in ’89, ’91. I was in the zone, I was a youngster.
DX: So why continue then?
Too Short: Because of the people go around saying that there’s no such thing as an old ass rapper. If E-40 can make “Tell Me When To Go” when he’s fucking 40 years old and I’m making “Blow The Whistle” when I’m 41, tell me I’m wrong. I’m making shit that’s gonna hit again. I’m about turn 44 and I’m gonna have songs in rotation again. So when they put it in ink saying that you can no longer rap at a certain age you can say, “Well, Short did it.” I’m just doing that for Hip Hop. I’mma fucking be an old ass rapper! I ain’t never gonna dye my grey hair. I ain’t never gonna lie about my age. I’m gonna say, “I got a new album coming out and it’s gonna be the shit.” Then the next album is gonna be the shit, no doubt about it. I’m recording it now and the shit hotter than the last. The shit is just knockin’.
DX: Who are you working with on that record?
Too Short: Right now I’ve only been in the studio with one producer, this guy named John G, up out of the bay. He does a lot of Dance music, but he has these Hip Hop tracks. He started playing these songs for me and I’m like, “God damn, I could be a whole new motherfucker with these beats.” The shit is huge. I’m not making a “bitch, ho, suck my dick” album, it’s not gonna be that at all. So you gotta just see the shit is about something. I’m actually researching Too Short myself right now. I’m listening to 50 million old Too Short songs just reminding myself who the fuck I am.
DX: How do you separate Too Short from the “bitch” talk though? So much of your identity is tied up in that.
Too Short: Just like I said. If you research Too Short there have been a large variety of subjects I’ve gone through. Basically, from the start it was never about degrading women. From the start it was about promoting the pimp shit and telling motherfuckers to get their motherfucking money. Just don’t be no broke motherfucker, be a hustler. That’s what I’ve been promoting. I’m just finding that perfect place to be, to stay in my lane and to pass on the knowledge. Knowledge is not teaching you how to tell a bitch to give you head, knowledge is some real motherfucking useful information.
I’ma tell you like this. The majority of the shit that I wrote is some fuckin’ shit I made up sitting in a room, writing these vivid, imaginary stories. It’s based on experiences, I know what I’m talking about, but Too Short was never an autobiography. The Too Short albums are not the autobiography of Todd Shaw. I made up all that shit up. “Freaky Tales” is a bunch of names that rhyme easy with other words: “Anne” and “can” and “damn.” It’s not rocket science. The shit was about the humor. I could have took Too Short and made him a character in a book. And instead of making 16 albums, I could have written 16 books about the character. It would have been the same shit. It would have been the same wonderful stories.
Too Short’s a character, I made the shit up. I looked around Oakland. I grew up in L.A., I moved to Oakland when I was 14. I seen this city that was on a whole different heartbeat in L.A. and I liked the shit. When I heard “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel talking about New York [on “New York, New York,”] I was walking down the street with my boombox and I said, “Motherfucker, I’ma start rapping about Oakland.” And that was the light that shined on me. People from Oakland come up to me and said, “Short, we love you. You put the town on the map.” Shit the town put me on the map! Y’all made me. I walked around the city. I could have been an artist painting pictures and I would have fell in love with Oakland. I would have painted 16 classical paintings or some shit. Oakland has always been my muse. I could do this shit forever, as long as I got Oakland to give me the stories.
DX: What do you think it means for Hip Hop that artists aren’t really willing to draw that line anymore? It’s all about who’s the realest.
Too Short: Hip Hop took this sort of arrogant turn. This dishonest spin off, it came with the whole “bling bling era.” At first you were proud to be the best emcee, you want to stand up for you skills, you want to battle, you want to talk shit, you want to be the slickest, coolest person in your rhymes, you telling stories of your experiences and opinions about your community and the world. Hip Hop was just coming at you from every angle. From Public Enemy to Too Short to Ice-T to Brand Nubian, everybody had to have a different approach, a different look, a different sound in your voice. Nothing could be the same in those days.
Alright look, rappers, ball players and street level thugs used to be in the club in the general area. The motherfuckers who sat behind the rope with the champagne bottles was the drug kingpins, the dangerous motherfuckers that ran shit for real. When a rapper or somebody else got to come to the VIP it’s because the gangsters invited you over. The kingpin said “I want to meet so-and-so, the ball player. Bring Too Short over here, I want to meet him.” Then you got to hang out behind the rope. Somewhere the rappers put that shit in the video and pretended like it was them doing it, it was them at the table with the bottles. Next thing you know, life starts imitating art for real, next thing you know its all these goddamn rappers in the VIP buying champagne and shit. It turned into reality. Motherfuckers got on the mic in the studio and lied about their rented mansions and cars and pretended that they really owned that shit. And the fucking world ate that shit up. I was hearing little niggas, niggas like The Pack, when I first met them they was saying shit like, “Man, I’m trying to get rich, I need a motherfuckin’ mansion.” We got into Hip Hop because we was having fun and we wanted to rock the crowd. These motherfuckers, they got into Hip Hop because they wanted to be rich. So from the start, from album one, you could have been so honest and told me about your life and your struggles but the first thing you said was, “I got 40 Gs in my pocket, finna go buy some jewlery, last night I spent stacks.” I watch little niggas in the studio all the time. Motherfucker, you ain’t got two dollars for a burger right now and you just wrote that 16 about how rich you is. And I think most of them are just psyched out. “I gotta say what the other dudes said.” We still ain’t came out of that. I’m hoping that one day motherfuckers just come out of that and just get a little bit more honest. Or just start writing stories that sound honest, make me believe the shit.
DX: Do you think that it’ll correct itself as less money comes into Hip Hop?
Too Short: My wish is that this fuckin’ free-for-all we got going on with the Internet is gonna spread it out a little bit and make that shit a little more honest. Let some other motherfuckers get their word out there and their opinion out there. If something else just shines a little bit then the labels are gonna push that way. How many more videos are we gonna get with a house and a car and a pool and a bitch dancing? I watch Rock videos, Country Western videos and those motherfuckers be original as hell. And Hip Hop is doing the same video over and over again. We’ve been doing the same video for 15 years. I did a [guest appearance in a] video two months ago at a God-damn club. I’m like, “Man, another one?” I just go with the flow though. Put the bottles up on the table, spread the chicks out. But if we don’t [change] it somebody in another country is gonna do it and the center of Hip Hop is gonna shift to another part of the world.
DX: Do you think that’s a possibility?
Too Short: Hell yeah! When I’m in Japan motherfuckers is on stage rapping in Japanese and the crowd is singing along with it. I’m in France and they fucking flowing in French. That shit is everywhere. Motherfuckers is rapping in Africa in their native language. They ain’t trying to rap in English.
International shows are just weird to me because you see these people singing along to your songs but they can’t fuckin’ speak English. How the fuck do you know my song if you can’t speak English? I had someone say to me, “Where we’re from in Africa we use Hip Hop to learn English. We learn the words through Rap.”
DX: There’s probably a little African kid running around saying “biiiiitch” as we speak.
Too Short: Shit, I’ll take it. You can’t put your finger on Hip Hop and say this is what it is. They keep on trying to do it. They want to say the new shit is wack, the old shit is better, the fucking shit’s gonna die down, you can’t be this age. You can’t fucking tell Hip Hop what to do! This has been the vibe since day one. I remember when, in the mindstate of the mainstream, Hip Hop was the equivalent of a dance. They was like, “Oh, that little dance that the negroes are doing.” The shit ain’t never went away. The people who used to be in the R&B world, playing instruments, they shitted on Hip Hop when it came out. They was like “That shit is not music.” The radio stations wouldn’t play it at first, the awards shows wouldn’t even announce the shit, even if Rap sold millions. Now you can’t stop the vibe. You can’t make it New York, you can’t make it South, you can’t make it Midwest, it’s gonna do what it wanna do. And my old ass is gonna keep rapping throughout the whole shit.