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Too Short is one of the GOATs of the rap game who’s transcended generations since he exploded onto the scene in the 80s. A true Baydestrian, the rapper and entrepreneur hasn’t let up in the slightest.
You may have caught the epic Verzuz battle between Short and E-40 to close out a crazy 2020, which not only honored Bay Area music, but its legends. When it comes to Short’s greatest hits, none other than “Blow The Whistle” comes to mind. To date, the smash hit is heavy in rotation, as it still plays in every club, function, you name it. Somehow, he figured out the formula for timeless rap bangers including others like “Gettin It,” “The Ghetto,” “I’m A Player,” “Choosin”... the list goes on.
How did it feel to close out last year with a Bay Area Verzuz?
It was an opportunity to tell a story and to celebrate a legacy that wasn’t being celebrated — that wasn’t even acknowledged in some places. Not that people didn’t want to, they didn’t know how to. They didn’t know that all your life, E-40 and Too Short was in their DNA. They didn’t know this shit goes generations in the Bay. It’s not you, it could be you, your parents, your whole family. People have sat around and celebrated major things in their life: graduations, Sweet 16s, wedding receptions. If you’re from the Bay, I’ve performed at weddings. We’re bumping “Blow The Whistle” while you’re walking down the aisle, that’s some Bay shit. It was nice turning people onto the importance of what we are. Not that we’re older rappers from the Bay still surviving the game, no we fucking set that shit up.
What was Too Short like in the 80s coming up?
At first, I used to sell a lot of tapes in the streets with my rap partner Freddy B. We built that legacy of shit-talking music — the funky beats — the shit that’s made for your car. I finally got with 75 Girls and started making records you could buy in the store. I had a learning curve mid-80s where I had to learn to be an independent music distributor, how to get my music out without a label. After we got it down pat, I started Dangerous Music. I go into the era where I’m making these songs in your face with my Cadillac. You’re somewhere on your porch and fucking Too Short rides down the street in that same Cadillac with the top down, you go, “Oh shit, Too Short!” I blow the horn and wave at you. I’ve had people so many people come to me: “Man, you remember you used to go down 89th Ave? That was me, that little kid you waved at!” Shit, I was a little kid. I was really riding around talking on my big ass cell phone with big ass rope chains on, jumping out going into the store. Hollering at the homeboys in San Francisco up in Hunters Point or pulling up through Richmond, California, or out in Vallejo hanging out on a Sunday. I really did all of that stuff in full character, it was real. Too Short wasn’t some make-believe thing on a record, it was real for the Bay.
What does Oakland mean to you?
That project I dropped is half E-40, half me. My half of the project is literally some Bay shit, it’s me fucking around with young Bay Area artists. They gave me the opportunity to do Verzuz, and what Verzuz meant to Apple Music, E-40, myself, Swizz Beatz, and Timbaland to celebrate the Bay, instead of it being promoted like Gucci and Jeezy or the other ones where it’s a real competition... This was truly a clear-cut celebration, two friends celebrating the same thing: Many many years of making music in the Bay. BIIIITCH!
Bring us back to when “BITCH” came about.
Bitch originates from those early days of me and Freddy B selling tapes throughout the streets of East Oakland. We had a lot of elements to what we did. We used to DJ hood house parties, we’d hype the crowd up. We’d have the crowd, “Everybody say BITCH!” It was a fun thing to do and when I got into making records, I could not let that go. It was so dope at house parties. The first time I ever got in front of a crowd of any significance was at the Oakland Auditorium, Henry J Kaiser. It was sold-out, the headliner was U.T.F.O. “Roxanne Roxanne.” They put me on the bill, I only got to do three songs. I got out there like, “Somebody say BIIIITCH!! 5,000 people screaming BITCH! I didn’t even have a record, I didn’t have shit out. It was amazing, people knew who I was from the mixtapes in the streets.
“Blow The Whistle” is one rap song that has transcended generations. Do you ever get sick of hearing or performing that record?
It’s amazing to be a part of “timeless.” Timeless could be so many things, it could be a fashion statement, a hairdo, a song, a movie, a scene in a movie. When you’re a part of “timeless,” there’s no ingredient for it. You don’t know how you did it — you were there and you did you. It happened to be that and people love you for that. I happened to be a part of timeless multiple times.
How did it feel to play “Rapper’s Ball” decades later with E-40? That was a moment.
Not sure if you know, but that song is a remake of a really old Too Short song I made in 1985. That music was on my very first album, Don’t Stop Rappin’. When we remade this song in the 90s, it was a big big record. It’s on E-40’s album — that album went platinum. It’s a real fan-favorite when we do live shows. Records like “Blow The Whistle,” it’s hard to explain. Lil Jon produced it, he has no answer for it. It’s very fucking basic: boom boom boom, boom boom. I could teach a 3-year-old how to play it on a piano. It won’t go away. I don’t know why the song won’t go away, it fucking feels good.
Sideshows, Mac Dre, throwing up the T, ghostriding the whip… what are your fondest memories from the Hyphy movement?
Do you see the magic that happens with the multicultural meltdown? The way it meshes together with the Hyphy movement at its height, you see these fucking Spanish kids moving a certain way. These Asian kids with the fucking swag, the little white kids, Black kids doing it together. Nobody’s going, “Hey you look like that, you can’t be involved. You’re not a part.” I love to see a little Filipino dude go stupid. Why’s this little Asian dude dancing like that? That’s the way it is in the Bay. That’s my favorite thing, the multicultural mixture of our music scene. You can’t just say it’s one or another, or somebody’s excluded from it. There’s no other in the Bay, it’s just us. I love that shit.
What is your favorite Mac Dre song?
My favorite Mac Dre song has always been “don’t ask me shit, I won’t tell. You can send me to jail.” [“Don’t Snitch”] is my favorite because of the music. I’m the nostalgic type shit, I go all the way back. Still that “Too Hard For The Fucking Radio” reminds me when we’re all young ass rappers trying. E-40 had songs out, Dre had songs out, I had songs out, Rappin 4-Tay had songs out. We didn’t know what the fuck the future was, we had the Bay Area’s attention. We’re serving them good music.
How does it feel to have Saweetie’s “Tap In” go up like that? So many people sample your songs.
I manifested that shit. I always admired James Brown, the way he let the music play in so many of his songs. If you listen to a James Brown song, you’re going to hear multiple old-school hip hop songs. One James Brown song is like four hip hop songs. The way he’d let the instrumental play, you could get the loop and sample it. In James Brown fashion, as well as Parliament-Funkadelic, nobody really gave a sample like James Brown. When you’re digging through the crates looking for samples, a lot of groups give it to you, but James Brown did it so often. Being a musician and a guy really in tune with the instruments playing, I’d always let the instrumental loop play on my songs. I’m like, “One day, these fuckers are going to catch on and start sampling the shit.” I knew my shit was funky as fuck, I wanted to put that shit on that James Brown level where in the future, people would keep finding these loops. The music’s original, I don’t do entirely a lot of sampling. We make music so fortunately, a lot of the songs being sampled are originals. I get a fat steak of the writer’s share, it’s a beautiful thing.
On “Gettin It,” you said that was going to be your last album. How adamant were you about retiring?
I wasn’t trying to retire, I’m very mathematical in a lot of things I do. If you listen to the first verse of “Blow The Whistle,” it’s mathematics. Have you noticed? It’s numbers, I’m adding shit up. I actually had a calculator, pen and paper. When I wrote the verse, I was doing a bunch of math. Album number 10 was released when I was 30 years old. A significant number for a rapper to say at that time in 1996, “I have 10 albums.” Ten fucking albums? It was a lot for the time. I was 30. It was a thing going around back then like now, 30, you’re way too old to be a rapper. That’s an old ass rapper. 30-year-old rapper, 10 successful albums, it was a good moment to play on the numbers and make that announcement. Yeah man I’m 30, I retire at 10 albums. Platinum, gold, I’m out of here. It made for the greatest PR campaign album.
On the track, you say, “Cause life ain’t long for a young Black man.” What is it like to be a Black man in America today?
We go through these phases of growth and awareness of different aspects of the multicultural experience in America. In my case, the Black man’s experience. I stand here right now and honestly believe a lot of doors opened up for certain Black men, opportunities have been there for a lot of people. Those opportunities have not been there for all people. I think that even though those opportunities are there, you may think they’re for everybody and they’re really not. There’s got to be a breakout moment, some luck or determination that gets you out. It’s not you have a chance and you can get it, everybody doesn’t have that chance. Despite the fact that some people think that’s the truth period: “Everybody has a chance. If you don’t fucking succeed, it’s your fault.”
Somebody walking around during the Jim Crow era scared as fuck — you walk to the store to get eggs for your mother and you might end up on a fucking chain gang for the next 50 years, those feelings haven’t gone away. You get the fucking feelings when you’re a certain person and you go out into the world like, “Fuck, I’m vulnerable. Something bad could happen to me.” It hasn’t changed.
I’m real curious about what Americans are going to do, I’m sure the whole world is curious. I’m real curious as to who we’re going to be after the pandemic. I am, I want to know what did the pandemic do to us? I can’t even give opinions because who the fuck can foresee what 2021 is bringing? It’s like a glacier melting, it’ll be a new world.
You say the new project with E-40, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg is an LLC, not a group. What can we expect?
Early on, even before the first song is released, we’re putting together merch. There’s licensing things going on with products, there’s talk of after the pandemic franchises. A couple the guys in the group are really food-oriented: 40 and Snoop. All of these things are in the mix. It’s a long list of things, it gets off even into real estate. There’s other sides of it too — the music side. There’s a song going into a big movie coming out. There’s a song that’s going to a corporation as a PR campaign. It’s different, you’d think making an album as a group would be the thing you do. Make the album, get the deal with the label, put the album out, promote the album, but this isn’t really that.
The album’s one of the tentacles. The music is second tier to what the tour would be. The music is great, but you really want the music out, so you can see what the fuck we’re going to do when we all go on tour together. That’s going to be the shit. It’s really about making music the best shit you’re going to fucking love, the classics we got. We join forces and come out to the world, give you this bigger production than you would’ve gotten if it’s each of us individually. It’s a real good plan to not bring this big stage and keep our legacy going by joining forces, but it’s a no-brainer. If we’re going to do that, we have to do all of this other shit too.
Anything else you want to let the people know?
Keep your eyes and ears open for Mount Westmore. I’m working on a lot of music with young Bay Area artists, but that Mount Westmore shit is fucking amazing. I can’t even oversell it because it’s all that. My true passion is always Bay Area music. As much as you see me release music, you’ll always see the names of Bay Area area producers, up-and-coming artists, established young artists, veteran artists. I’m always going to keep that because that works for me. I don’t need to go out and search for who’s the hottest guy out right now, let me get features with him. I keep it Bay and it works.