Too Short Details His Digital Presence, How His Sound Evolved Working With Lil Jon And Making "The History Channel" With E-40
Exclusive: Too Short explains predicting Durrough's "Ice Cream Paint Job" would be a hit over 10 years before it dropped, extending his career with Lil Jon and evolving with the times.
With a career that spans nearly 30 years and 19 albums in the can, what can anyone tell you about Too Short that you don’t already know? His legacy is cemented. Every time someone uses his trademark, drawn-out “bitch,” on a sitcom or sketch-comedy show, they should probably be cutting him a royalty check. As with an artist in any genre with a career this long, the real danger is becoming a caricature—some walking parody to be wheeled out for novelty purposes like the current version of The Rolling Stones. With album titles such as Get Off The Stage, and defiantly growing out his grey goatee, it’s safe to assume Short is aware of this. But he’s seemingly less concerned about it (if at all) than anyone else.
So when album number 19—No Trespassing—dropped on February 28, there were no snapback hats, skinny jeans or emotional half-song/half-raps. The formula has occasionally been updated to include club offerings and to satisfy our all-consuming digital landscape. But by-and-large you’re still getting the same raunchy, utilitarian entertainment Short was making before many listeners were even born. And it doesn’t matter if it’s being consumed through computer speakers, car subwoofers or whatever the next technological innovation may be.
There aren’t too many classic, American institutions left. Apple pie is full of high fructose corn syrup, and baseball is full of steroid freaks. That muscle car that touts itself as “imported from Detroit” is really a Fiat. You can attempt to question how and why Too Short is still doing what he does at a high level or you can sit back and enjoy it while you still have the option of doing so.
HipHopDX: You’ve already released six videos from this project…pretty much one every week. How would you compare this constant independent grind to your early days of selling from the trunk?
Too Short: It’s not something I intentionally set out to do. But with the quality of the videos now and the cost—being so much cheaper than it was 10 years ago—I just decided, “Why not just shoot a bunch of videos?” I’ve been noticing a lot of other artists doing it, and they’re shooting videos to mixtapes and songs that don’t even get released. So I joined in on the whole sensation of YouTube and Twitter. In this market, there’s just music everywhere; you can just yank something out of space and download it for free. You can’t just put out one song and be like, “Oh well, that’s it.” I mean, you can…but I figured since it’s an independent product, we might as well let them know that something’s out. So we shot a bunch of videos, and there are a lot more to come.
DX: One of the major things about Too Short has been interacting with fans at shows and in stores. How has that changed with social media?
Too Short: Back in the day you used to hand out flyers. Right now, if you hand me a flyer, it might barely touch my skin before it hits the ground. I might just barely let it touch me. If you put one under my windshield wiper, it’s probably going right to the ground too. Even if you don’t throw the flyer away, you can’t walk around without seeing flyers on the ground. It’s hard to say this, but even if you give me a free CD, I might listen to it. There’s so many things going on in my car—satellite radio, the iPod is in there and the phone is ringing. I can have your CD in there, and even if it looks interesting, I still might not play it. Nowadays, the music and everything else you put out there, is just about trying to see what’s gonna stick. That’s how I’ve been getting down the whole time. You make a bunch of music, and then you slide in on some hits.
DX: That’s interesting. For the longest people would reluctantly do the digital thing but still say that nothing replaced face-to-face interaction with fans…
Too Short: I’m looking at some of the newer artists that are making it, and it seems to be that most of them are thriving due to that Internet presence. So I guess that social media weight is like being out there in the world and knowing a lot of people. It’s just another form of it, and it reaches far beyond what we were doing. And if you wanna compare it—in order to become a platinum artist, you would have to go into every market and meet many different people. You’d be in retail stores that sold music as well as clothing. Sometimes I’d be having dinner in people’s houses and meeting the program director’s family. It got to the point where you’d feel like a politician taking pictures with the kids and the grandma. But I did it all, and I still do.
DX: On the business side, can you tell me about when you first discovered the difference between just rapping as opposed to learning about consignment and checking your weekly SoundScan numbers?
Too Short: It really hit me that I was getting into a serious business in about 1987 when I started Dangerous Music. Prior to that, I was dealing with a label called 75 Girls, and you’d see the boxes of cassettes and pressed up vinyl. And you would even see them [physically] take them places. I’d see them picking up checks, so I knew how it was going. But when I did it myself, I put out a song called, “Freaky Tales,” and I couldn’t press them up fast enough to meet the demand.
Basically, the reality set in when we pressed ‘em up, and pressed ‘em up and they kept selling out. Then we got a check one day, and it was like, “Whoa! This is the real deal, buddy.” It’s been like that ever since, and I take the business part of the music business very serious.
How Lil Jon Helped Too Short Extend His Career With Club-Driven Tracks
DX: The last time DX talked to you, you mentioned experimenting with the sound. The funk has been a big part of your trademark sound, so how were you able to balance that with more club-oriented tracks like “Double Header?”
Too Short: What happened with my progression as far as making music that’s played in clubs—it’s simply through my affiliation with Lil Jon. I was in Atlanta going to strip clubs and dance clubs, and Lil Jon was the deejay. I knew he worked at So So Def and made beats for their All Stars albums, but he had another sound that was his sound. He had this one song named, “Who U Wit?” If you listen to that song right now, that’s the same beat as Durrough’s “Ice Cream Paint Job. ”
Back then, nobody had rapped on it because Lil Jon was just kind of doing these chants. When the beat came back recently, I was like, “I always knew that beat was hot.” The first time I ever worked with Lil Jon, I asked him for that beat. But he said, “Nah. That’s already old and done. Let’s make some new stuff.” And we did some new stuff, and everything we did was hot. Everything we did was in the club. So I kept doing songs with Lil Jon for that reason. I finally found a tempo and style of beats I could rap to that would get played in the club. It was a new experience. I wasn’t really looking at it like, “I want to get played in the club.” I just needed new, hot songs to perform when I was on stage.
I like to keep the show fresh. If I have something that’s hot on the streets, it’s hot on the stage. I was talking to E-40 the other day, and he was like, “Man, that Lil Jon connection was like a career extension.” I’ve been knowing that. And now, even when I’m not working with Lil Jon, I’ve kinda acquired that ear for what I feel like is still the funk. I’ve got to live and die by the funk. With “Double Header,” every now and then, I’ve always made different types of songs. I feel like, as an artist, I’m safe enough to do that. The album is safe, I know where it’s going and I can venture off into those songs. Usually, those kind of songs come about by me collaborating with another artist or producer who I let control the session.
If you listen to Too Short over the years, that’s me—I’m not hitting every key or every drum or singing every track—but that’s me telling everybody what to do. I like to work with creative people. But when it all comes back, and we’re mixing down Too Short songs, I’m right there. A lot of artists don’t sit there for the mixing and mastering sessions, but I’m there from the beginning to the end. In the early days, a lot of the entire process was me—making the beat, playing instruments, everything. Later on, when I met Ant Banks, we put a team together and we elevated the funk. I kind of fell back on that part of it, but I still got the ear.
DX: Let’s revisit that Lil Jon part really quickly. As a listener and a fan, it felt like you guys kind of discovered something between that “Bia Bia” remix and the later stuff.
Too Short: Like “Shake That Monkey” and that type of stuff?
DX: Yeah, exactly…
Too Short: When I work with Lil Jon, as soon as I come in the studio, he already knows what we’re gonna do. He’s one of those producers where when you know you’ve got a session booked with them, you’re job is easier because they’re probably already going to have an idea or a hook. Now “Shake That Monkey” is a funny story. I went to Miami and stayed there a couple weeks because I was recording some songs with Lil Jon for that album. I got the beat for “Shake That Monkey,” and I wrote a rap and recorded it…you know, the whole process. And Lil Jon came in like, “Nah, that ain’t where I want it.” And that was cool, because I probably wrote a song that was about something. And he was like, “This is just straight up booty shaking music.” So he went behind the console, and re-did the hook. He must have stacked that motherfucker about 50 times! It was track for track, and he just kept stacking it—and it turned out to be the shit. So I went back to the room, and I had my little chick with me and I was like, “Dance while I write this song.” And I wrote the song while she danced.
Too Short On Working With E-40 And Keeping The Funk Alive
DX: Art imitates life. Another thing you mentioned was your connection with E-40. When is the joint project with E-40 coming out?
Too Short: I’m gonna leave a few surprises, because we’re working on it right now. I haven’t been this excited about making music in a while. What I mean by that is, I know how to make albums and songs, but with The History Channel, I’m anticipating it. I’m sitting there, and we’re making it, and it’s so fucking hot that I’m like, “Damn, we’re too old for this shit man! We shouldn’t be getting down like this.” I’ll tell you right now, it’s more than what you think. And it’s probably gonna be a lot better than what you think. You’re not gonna believe how we’re getting down on this one.
DX: With 19 albums, what would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since the beginning of your career?
Too Short: It ain’t about business or money or anything like that. The biggest lesson to me is that I got the music from somewhere else—the notes, the music my parents listened to, and the stuff I listened to at every age. All of that inspired the music that I made. It may not be note-for-note. But if I’m in sixth grade listening to Parliament Funkadelic, that’s not my album; that’s my brother’s album. But I’m just eavesdropping and listening to it every time he plays it. So if I go put some George Clinton in my song, that’s where I got it from.
So the whole time, I’ve been trying to make sure that somebody else gets it. It’s like if you have a royal bloodline or wealth being passed down in the family. I feel like that music is that wealthy bloodline, and I can’t let it stop with me. I can’t expect someone to automatically come along and keep the line going…I’ve got to actually help the situation along. So I’m in the studio every year, schooling somebody else on what this funk is and what the music is. I was just talking to one of the young homies the other day telling him, “I love pop music and all kinds of other music. But if you want to be safe and have a guaranteed spot in the game, stick with the funk. You can rap on all kinds of tracks, but if you only rap over funky stuff then somebody’s going to love you.” I’ll go in the studio and hear a track that I don’t like, and they’re trying to pay me to rap over it. But I’ll tell them I just can’t do it. And when they ask why, I say, “Because then somebody’s gonna hear it…damn, find another track.”