In House With Too Short: MC Talks ‘No Trespassing,’ ‘George Clooney of Hip-Hop,’ Jill Scott
Too $hort enjoys when people refer to him as Todd Shaw. For those not in the know, the moniker is his government name and one that he greets strangers, friends and the like with. There’s a whole other side to the man behind the dirty raps. A lauded Bay area rapper who helped launch the hyphy movement to the mainstream and has lyrics littered with expletives, Short prides himself on being a gentleman despite the pimp-related content that appears on many of his albums.
The West Coast MC’s current opus, ‘No Trespassing,’ isn’t a far cry from the previous 18 albums he’s released in his storied career. He touches on weed with ‘Cush Cologne,’ tackles infidelity on the soulfully decadent, Martin Luther-assisted track ‘I Got Caught’ and serves up boastful spending on ‘Boss.’ The songs are up-tempo, the beats are smooth, the vocals are in his signature cadence and overall, the project is the perfect soundtrack for a road trip.
During a visit with The BoomBox, the 45-year-old hip-hop influencer put his lyrical stylings on display and opened up about his life. He compares himself to Oscar-winning actor George Clooney, explains how he was schooled by Jill Scott then smoked a joint with her, describes Jive Records as “shady” and tells the story of a pimp who fathered a prostitute. Delve into the mind — both masterful and mad — of Too $hort.
You have 19 albums. The first you one put out was in 1985. What do you feel is the biggest growth you’ve experienced since then?Somewhere around the fifth, sixth album, we got this little formula together where we knew how to record Too $hort songs. You need the bassline, a good drum pattern, call in the keyboard, the guitars — it’s just a way we mixed it all together. We pretty much always saw ourselves as a spinoff of Parliament-Funkadelic — if you listen to the older albums. After we got the formula down, I remember I said I retired, that was in 1996, so ever since I came back from the retirement thing, it’s almost been like, I step up to the plate to make a new album. I just know how to do it. There’s a certain level, there’s no fear, no second-guessing. I know what to do.
I could’ve made ['No Trespassing'] up-tempo, I could have made it one-dimensional and geared it toward ass-shaking and being raunchy but if you at least listen more and more to it, I tried to do something that I don’t really do a lot, which is touch on different subjects, different parts of relationships. I’m trying to be true to Too $hort and curse and talk about sex but I’m trying to do it other than just saying, “Hey, bitch, suck my d—!”
How did you get 50 Cent to get on the song ‘I’m a Stop’?
50 heard a song I did with E-40 called ‘Don’t Act Like a Bitch.’ The hook is “N—- don’t act like a bitch,’ and people just loving singing that song. 50 did a song in the Bay and he got in touch with E-40 and he said, “I need you and Too $hort to come to my show.” We went up to his show in San Francisco and the crowd loved it. We went backstage and 50 comes up and he was like, “You gotta put me on that song.” He wasn’t asking, he was telling. We’re like, “S—, hell yeah.” So 40 sent him the song, a week later he sent it back. He changed the hook a little bit. It got love on the East just with 50 adding to it.
In the midst of doing that, he called me to the studio in L.A. one day. He’s like, “Listen to these joints.” I had known 50 since before he got shot, but I hadn’t been around him since he got rich. You think he’s like this 50 Cent dude, but he’s Curtis. People are coming in and he’s real polite, manners and stuff. I do the same thing. You think Too $hort is gonna come around and call you a bitch [laughs]. I’m like, “My name’s Todd. I don’t really curse a lot.” You’re like, “Where did $hort go?” It was a good session. I did a song with him. He’s like, “Man, you wanna rap on another one?” Did another song with him. So now we did the E-40 song, did two songs for him. I’m like, “I’m gonna need you on my album.” The beautiful thing is he didn’t even charge me.
<>Last year there was a song called ‘Sugar Daddy’ that came out and people thought you and E-40 debuted it but it turns out they were imposters. How did that make you feel?Remember it even had Raphael Saadiq on there. I called everybody. Me and 40 couldn’t figure it out. This is what 40 said, “Man! What’s this song you got with me on it and it ain’t even me?” He thought I leaked it. I’m like, “Lemme hear it. That ain’t even me!” But it really was Raphael Saadiq [on the song]. So what happened, some dudes — we have no idea who put it out — took an old Tony! Toni! Toné! song, got the TV track version with the hook and no verses and went in the studio and made that s—.
You and E-40 have a collaborative album coming out. What’s going on with that project?
It’s called ‘The History Channel.’ We’re looking at a summer release. It’s 10 years in the making. The reason why it didn’t get made originally was Jive Records refused to greenlight it. They refused to let us work together or share a budget. I think Jive was just a shady label that they didn’t want artists in the same room like, “Hey, what you making?” Like I never worked with R. Kelly, I never worked with Q-Tip. I never worked with anybody that was on Jive. I never did a song with KRS-One. We never did shows together. At one point, I went to Barry Weiss at Jive and was like, “Dude, you see what Def Jam does? Look at this s—!” You got all these artists that are hot. He had Keith Murray, he had Mystikal, he had UGK, KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest, Too $hort, I’m missing a few. We did a showcase at a music convention and it was the biggest s— of the weekend. I’m like “Why the f— don’t you send us out on the road?” They didn’t want any parts of it. People don’t even remember, one year Jive was the hottest rap label. They had several platinum and gold artists.
You once did a diss record called ‘Rap Like Me,’ which called out MC Hammer. What caused that?
Hip-hop has to have the battle, it’s part of the culture. Me and MC Hammer, we had a thing going. He was much more commercial than me when we were both hot — 17 or 20 million albums he sold. He would do s— like be in the super mainstream media and like sit on the couch at ‘Arsenio’ and say, “Yeah, I’m really the only rapper from my area. There’s not really a lot of rappers from where I come from.” I’m like, “Motherf—er, I’ve been popular since you was nobody. What the f— you talkin’ about?” He would run that s— without dissin’ anybody. I watched Hammer become Hammer. It was a total charade, and it worked. This guy was a dancer and he would be in the club with his right-hand man and be dressed alike dancing. They was those dudes. He never even had a song. He came up with this f—in’ entourage. He just made himself a star. We liked Hammer. Our crews knew each other. But he was just a funny kind of dude when he got that money. We would take jabs about it on songs. But we laughed about it. We laugh about it now.
I’ve never read anything about whether or not you have a special lady in your life. Are you married or do you see marriage in your future?
I’m the George Clooney of hip-hop. It’s not gonna happen. I’m not eligible. It’s just not gonna happen. The only way I’ll ever get married is in a business-friendship-relationship. It’s gotta be like, “This makes sense.” I’d marry for money. Like if you’re filthy, f—ing wealthy, not no hand-me-down money where you’re waiting to get it. You got to have it. And I’ll tell you, “You know I’m only marrying you ’cause you’re rich.” Outside of that, I’d marry for a partnership if I felt like we could partner up as friends. It’d be like a “Let’s grow old together type of thing.” I would never marry for feelings and love. In my mind I get married every three months [laughs].
If you had children do you think your lyrics would change?
If I had a daughter something probably would’ve happened. I have a homeboy who’s a pimp. He had a baby by one of his whores. That baby grew up to be a whore. He calls his daughter all kinds of bitches and she just accepts it. He’s like, “Bitch, you a h– ’cause you’re momma was a h–.” That’s how he talks to his daughter and it’s a loving kind of way.
‘The World Is Filled…’ is one of my favorite Biggie songs and you were featured on there. Tell us about that time in the studio when you were recording that with him.
The one thing that always sticks out to me about that session is that I got to witness the technique. Every rapper writes down lyrics and raps or he freestyles. But I never seen the technique [that Biggie used before]. We’re in the room, the music’s playing in the studio, people are walking in and out passing around drinks, there’s a lot of weed being smoked, a lot of talking, a lot of noise. Even Big is interacting and s—, but somehow, while all this is going on, he’s writing, memorizing a verse in his head. I got my pen and my paper and I’m getting my part together. He’s like, “I’m ready. Put me in the booth.” I’m not saying anything about all of this. I’m just watching. No pen, no paper, never wrote s—. He goes in there and he starts rapping, gets his little tone together. He just did it in like one take. I’m like, asking, “Did you already have that? Where the f— did that come from?” They’re like, “Big don’t write s—. He just raps that s—.” I don’t think Biggie was making it known at that time how he worked. But Jay-Z adopted it from Biggie. I assume, I think he did. I don’t know why they started doing that. When Biggie died, Jay was doing a lot of things just to keep that Big spirit alive. He probably always looked up to Big. Biggie and Jay-Z was E-40 and Too $hort. Jay more or less popularized that [no pen or paper technique].
How is your technique?
If I was to do it, I can sit here and remember four lines, six lines, eight lines but then I get down to the end of the verse and I’m like, “Damn, what was I saying at first?” I literally can think of some fly ass s— to me and if I don’t f—in’ write it down somewhere right now, tomorrow I’ll be like, “What’s that s— I was trying to say?” Never can bring it back. You coulda played [my whole 'No Trespassing' album] and said, “Sing along with it,” and I’d say, “I don’t know it.” I don’t really memorize [my songs]. The only things I memorize is what I have to say on stage. I don’t know any of the Too $hort songs by heart.
Who have you done a song with that people may be surprised by the collaboration?
Jill Scott. I go in the studio and she starts trembling. She’s like, “Nothing makes me nervous. I am the biggest Too $hort fan.” That was one of my favorite sessions too. She told me what to do. She had this song, that she’s never gonna release. It’s about pimps. But it’s not about pimps pimpin’ whores. It’s like a socially conscious song about politicians and preachers who are in a good position and supposed to be responsible but they’re really just pimps. My part was to come on and explain to a listener who don’t know what a pimp is, what is a pimp. I go in there and I write the song and I record my verse.
She goes, “Can everyone please leave the room except me and Todd?” So she says, “Let me see your rap,” and she starts to talk to me like my mother. “You see right here where you say that? I really don’t get it. I know what you’re trying to say but I really don’t get it.” She gives me all these pointers. She leaves me in the room and I take her advice. I say it a little more boldly and I rephrased it the way she wanted. She came back and said, “That’s it!” I got the Jill Scott approval. Nobody ever handled me in a session like that ever. Just checked me. We even smoked a tiny little joint. It was a great experience.