Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ‘Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
Too $hort has been performing onstage longer than most rap fans have been walking the earth. The 35-year rap veteran has seen and done it all. From having an empty audience because of parental protests of his obscene lyrics to watching women perform oral sex on each other — onstage — the west coast rap legend has memories that would break the internet.
“Doing a show is about as difficult as saying the ABCs,’ $hort slyly tells REVOLT TV. “I can rap just about any of my songs to you onstage, look at my phone, read the text, and reply with a quick ‘Hit you after the show,’ while I’m performing and not miss a line.”
For this week’s installment of Tour Tales, $hort discusses parental protests emptying the audience at his shows with N.W.A., the first time he felt like New York City embraced him, and why you shouldn’t bang on his hotel room door — even if you hear your girlfriend inside.
Do you remember the first time you ever performed live as a rapper?
I used to perform at house parties, high school dances. It was that era in the early 80s where you walk up to the DJ and say, ‘Put on the instrumental.’ The DJ is like, ‘Who the fuck are you?’ You’re like, ‘Just put it on. Watch what I do with it.’ I come from that era.
Back then, ways of self-promotion were limited. Was there a show early on where your name was cemented as an act to see?
The first time they gave me a real audience outside of house parties, clubs, and club houses around Oakland was when UTFO was on tour for ‘Roxanne Roxanne.’ It was 1985. When that show came through Oakland, a guy named Lionel B who worked for [Bill Graham Presents] had the vision. He was like, ‘I want to put you on the show.’ They gave me 10, maybe 15 minutes. It was 5,000 plus, sold out in the Oakland Auditorium. I never made a record in my life. I never been on the radio. I got up there and rapped in front of 5,000 people, and the entire crowd sang every word. People backstage were like, ‘What the fuck was this?’ Even myself, I was like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ Me and my rap partner Freddy B had sold so many tapes in the streets that people knew the words I was saying. That was my first real show, and it’s been the same way ever since.
How did those early house parties prepare you for performing at the Oakland Auditorium?
When you’re doing a house party, my DJ booth is literally the kitchen table. When I break out the microphone and I’m rapping at the house parties, these motherfuckers are like, ‘We didn’t come here to see you perform. We don’t give a fuck about you.’ So, I learned how to deal with a crowd that close up and personal. So, when I get onstage in front of 20,000 people, I use the same technique where it’s really fucking personalized. I address people in the crowd. I do a lot of crowd participation.
My shows are like a karaoke sing-along. If I’m doing ‘Blow the Whistle,’ and the crowd’s not singing along, I would tell the DJ about 30 seconds into the song to stop it, start it over, and tell the crowd, ‘I’m not up here by myself. We’re doing this together.’ That would get them hype.
Do you feel like over time, as people learned more of your songs, doing shows have become easier?
Yeah. I’ve often told people that, for me, doing a show is about as difficult as saying the ABCs. I can rap just about any of my songs to you onstage, look at my phone, read the text, and reply with a quick ‘Hit you after the show,’ while I’m performing and not miss a line. I’m not going to say I do it at every show. But, I do it quite often.
What were some legendary performances you did with other people that you look back on?
The day that the Def Squad asked me to guest appear on their show at the Apollo Theater, it was a big deal. I’m in New York City, and I had never done a show for myself in New York City. I had done Showtime at the Apollo once or twice, where they let you sing one of your songs and the crowd show you love because you’re the celebrity guest and not the amateur. I had never done a Too $hort show in New York. Keith Murray, Redman, and Eric Sermon were always in Atlanta. Eric had a big ass house that was five minutes from me. That’s why we ended up doing all those songs together.
We had this song called ‘Buy You Some’ [in 1996]. It took off immediately in Atlanta and New York. That was the first time I ever had a song that anybody in New York would say, ‘Too $hort is dope.’ That was the first fucking time ever. I had five platinum albums, at that time, and nothing sold in New York.
Here I am on a song with Eric Sermon. I know the song is hot in Atlanta. I’m all over the midwest, down south, and west coast. Very seldom do I travel on the east coast for performances or anything Too $hort related. I knew the song was doing good, but I didn’t know that this song had blown the fuck up in New York City. Nobody told me. I knew what they wanted me to do. I was backstage, it wasn’t my event, and I was hanging out backstage with my hoodie on.
It was a big lineup. It was whenever they did the Def Squad album [in 1998]. I was the second verse, so Eric opens up the song and it was like a sing-along. The crowd was hype, and they didn’t expect me to come out. I’m seeing it now, and I’m like, ‘Damn, they like this shit?’ I come out, and the fucking Apollo lost it like goddamn Michael Jackson came out. I’m in New York City like, ‘New York you’re not supposed to like me like this. What the fuck is this?’ That was a social media moment that was missed. To get love from New York from the first time.
You were coming up during a time when hip hop was really attacked in the ’80s. Police were stopping shows for obscenities. Were there shows where you faced serious censorship?
Yeah, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Anywhere near what they call the Bible Belt, they would post up rules and regulations telling you what the law was. I remember doing shows where they put restrictions on the crowd. They would say the crowd couldn’t cheer or stand up out of their seats. So, I did a show where these kids really wanted to see this show. But, they had to act real, real behaved in their chairs because it was in the Bible Belt. I’ve been arrested and detained in places like Columbus, Georgia. In Cincinnati, Ohio, the cops surrounded the bus and made us get off; so they could give us citations for obscene lyrics when I was on the ‘Straight Outta Compton’ tour [in 1989].
I remember doing a show where the show was sold out. We got paid in full, and no one was in the crowd. It was a really small town in the northwest. They said that the parents were outside protesting with signs, and the kids couldn’t cross the picket lines of their own fucking parents. So, nobody came. They had already bought the tickets, so there were no refunds. People were really concerned that ‘rappers were coming into town.’ That was a big deal.
How has the business of live performances changed over the decades?
Now, they’re immediately letting the bigger groups go on tour. The Fresh Fest was the first big tour I went out on hitting just arenas. That would be with Run DMC back in the day. Tours like the ‘Straight Outta Compton’ tour, you cold fit five groups and do arenas. Then some things — probably along the lines of big violent outbursts at arenas — happened and prompted the arenas, and the insurance companies to make it almost impossible for a promoter bring a big rap show to a stadium.
So, for a while, during the height of my career that shit just ended. I didn’t go on tour in ’89. We toured arenas in ’90, ’92, and maybe four times. All this time, I’m still platinum, platinum, platinum. But, when it got to ’94, ’95, it was over. All I could do was clubs and shit. There were no gigs for rappers like that. It was impossible, unless you went pop. MC Hammer probably could do an arena tour, or Vanilla Ice, or some shit.
This is just on memory, but I remember when Def Jam was doing a big tour with all their artists. I asked Jive [Records] why we weren’t doing what they were doing. When Def Jam was doing their big tour; Jive had KRS-One, Too $hort, The Fresh Prince, Keith Murray, Mystikal, UGK. Everyone was gold and platinum. One year, Jive was the highest-grossing rap label. At that time, I was like, ‘Why the fuck are we not doing what Def Jam is doing?’ Jive did not want their artists touring together, doing songs together, or doing shows together. They were all about keeping the artists separated.
So, when you started your own label, did that change the sort of shows you were able to get?
l never really was a Jive employee. Outside of turning in the album and doing a promo tour, I didn’t do business with them. In the end of my dealings with Jive Records — about the time ‘Shake That Monkey’ came out — if I had a hit record, Jive wouldn’t promote it. They were making a billion fucking dollars off Britney Spears, *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys; and they said they didn’t have the budget or the money to shoot videos and promote rap and R&B records.
They literally would pay me a lot of money to make records and then, they wouldn’t promote them or do anything. I realized Jive quit the rap game. You can ask E-40, you can ask anybody. So, what I did was, I had been in the game so long, and I had known so many DJs that became radio personalities that became program directors, and music directors at radio stations. I jumped in my own personal contact Rolodex. A radio personality might have a night of the week that he DJs this club or that club. So, I was trading off free performances for radio spins. I would just be like, ‘I’m not going to do my big show there, but I’ll do a radio promo date.’ I never shared that with Jive Records. I never asked for their support. I used to have 15 markets that if I concentrated on those 15 cities, my life was good.
So, who is your favorite hip hop legend that you performed with?
In the rap world, I think I got my best results from jumping onstage with guys like Scarface. Scarface and I do a song called ‘Fuck Faces.’ The crowd goes crazy.
How has your rider evolved over the years?
Believe it or not, I’ve never turned into a diva. Always the same thing. We want some soft liquor, like champagne bottles. We want some hard liquor. Fruits, cold cuts, just for the hell of it. Sometimes, I ask for fried chicken because I know you can find fried chicken everywhere. We don’t get to specific like taking out certain M&M’s.
What has been the craziest reaction that you’ve seen from the crowd, while performing one of your songs?
Shit, I’ve had girls jump onstage and start eating each other’s pussies. That’s happened. You could be doing a show, and a guy in the crowd is with the hottest bitch in the crowd, and she’s just liking you too much. I’m pretty sure all the artists can relate to this. The next thing you know, this bitch leaves her dude and she’s doing things. I’m like, ‘Is that your boyfriend?’ She’s like, ‘I know. He’s probably going to break up with me. Fuck it.’
I had a dude knocking at my door in a hotel room and I’m having sex. So, I call my guy and say, ‘There’s somebody knocking on my door. You have to tell this motherfucker to stop.’ I hear the conversation and my guy says, ‘You can’t knock on that door.’ Then, the guy knocking is like, ‘Man, my girl’s in there. I can hear her.’ I was like, ‘Daaaaamn. Shit happens [laughs].’
There has been this wave of hologram performances. Tupac’s had a hologram. Amy Winehouse will have a hologram on tour. Would you ever do a hologram for a Too $hort tour?
Well, actually, they’re negotiating that right now. The hologram isn’t going to be me because I’m still alive. I’m going to do a show where they hologram a bunch of strippers and I do this explicit stripper show where it’s really me, but a bunch of holographic bitches onstage doing exotic ass shit. It’s the same guy who did the Tupac hologram.
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