Oakland’s Too Short has been rapping longer than many rappers have been alive, and he remains one of hip-hop’s most craft-conscious entertainers. No Tresspassing, his 19th studio LP, is out today. It comes on the heels of lots of positive press from most major hip-hop outlets, and one of Short’s his first-ever New York concerts.
While the lewd rapper is no stranger to controversy, when XXL posted a video interview in which Short offered teen boys sex advice on their site (it has since been removed), he alienated many viewers. Seemingly taken aback by the overwhelmingly negative reaction, Too Short participated in a dialogue with journalist dream hampton for Ebony magazine last week to address the issue.
Prior to the XXL video’s appearance, we spoke with an already reflective Too Short. He talked about his earliest performances, making the most of the digital age and whether or not he was, in fact, watching Yo! MTV Raps on the day Ice Cube allegedly had a really good day.
Are you happy with where you are today? I don’t think I’ve ever been just like, happy with life. I live life as a realist. I realize all the good shit and all the bad shit going on, and I deal with it from day to day. But I fucking try to have some kind of fun every day. I don’t give a fuck if it’s the saddest day ever, I gotta get some kind of laugh in there, I gotta feel good. If I’m around a bunch of people that’s sad, I gotta try to make them laugh or come up with something positive out of the emotion that’s making you feel negative. I’m not a negative person. I don’t hang around negative people. I’ve had some in my life, but I beat that shit up all the time. I’ve never just been walking around all smiling and happy though.
Have you ever had your heart broken? Not really. But I had some let downs as a little kid. It probably did affect me and helped develop this Too Short persona. But I’ve broken a few hearts, and I have ended some relationships, or had some relationships that came to an end, and that takes a really long time to get over. That’s happened to me like twice—where if you’re trying to move on, shit ain’t working. But when it really really really is over, the shit really really really hurts. I’ve been in love, man. The shit hurts. It’s like you’re really sick.
What were you trying to do with your song “The Ghetto”? There were a lot of songs that reflected Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message,” which was a brutal tale of ghetto life. So, I’m in Oakland. I’m roaming around the ghetto. And I’m hanging with people who are not complaining about life. No matter where you go—all these houses in the ghetto, there are brand new TVs, new furniture, homeowners, new cars, everybody’s got extra money. So I start off each verse on “The Ghetto” saying, Even though. Even though the odds are against you, you can do all this other shit. You can still have shit, you don’t have to move out the ghetto to not be ghetto, shit. I wanted to tell the story about how the odds were against you in the ghetto, but I knew a bunch of people who lived good in the ghetto.
Did you ever get involved in politics? Do you consider yourself, in your music or outside of it, a political person? It’s not a passion of mine to follow politics. When I deal with political issues in my songs, I just say stuff that’s current, only as a songwriter. I could pick a cause right now, or twenty years ago, and preach it through the music. But I’m comfortable where I am as a rapper. I’ve never been competing with rappers about who’s the best rapper. I’ve been making songs that people like. If I wanted to be a rapper who rapped in metaphors and said slick shit, I could do that. Bu that’s not what I want to do. I don’t give a fuck who the best rapper is. I don’t even want to learn how to freestyle. I don’t give a fuck about battling. I’m making songs that people like, and I’m getting on stage singing them songs with people, and I’m having a good damn time doing it.
You have a charismatic stage presence. Did it take work to get comfortable perfoming? I had experience high school, performing my songs at parties. I was learning breath control and what limitations I had if I wrote something that was really hard to recite. I was learning my style. I had a little glitch in my program when I wrote “Freaky Tales.” I used to smoke Newports. I got on stage to sing this long-ass song, and I didn’t have the wind for it. I was on stage out of breath, you start sweating, you get dizzy and shit. And I know there’s a lot of cigarette smoking rappers, they need a back-up man, all the hype men. Rappers who rap really fast and say a lot of shit, they need the record to play with them because they can’t recite that shit back. I wrote my shit so I can say it just like it’s on the record. The voice that you hear me rap on the record, I rap that voice on stage too. Like a singer who’s true to themselves.
When you started doing shows, what kinds of venues were you getting booked in early in your career? I went from house parties to dances to little theaters. The places hip-hop used to come to. Never a big arena, but some kind of convention center. My first taste of the crowd was always as an opening act—they let you come out there and sing two songs. Get ten minutes and you do a little routine. I always showed up, and every time I got to the stage, in my whole fucking career, everybody always knew the words. I never had to step around. I experimented with dances. I never had a DJ or dancer. All I needed was to play the music, walk out there by myself, and rap that shit. It’s the words, man. It’s that simple-ass rap.