Too Short Says There Was An Industry-Wide Plot To Shut Down Conscious Hip Hop
Exclusive: Short says Jive Records pushed him to be exclusively nasty and that the major labels plotted to keep positive Rap off the radio airwaves. He also explains the Dangerous Crew's disbanding.
During his recent interview with HipHopDX, the purveyor of punany raps, Too Short, addressed allegations that he had encouraged the sexual assault of young girls with his recent “Fatherly Advice” video message to young boys.
But also during that discussion, Short Dog delved deeper into why so many may have come to think that Hip Hop’s original mack is nothing more than a perverse individual, due in part to the content of his songs abruptly shifting into strictly sexually explicit material beginning around the mid-‘90s. Short candidly revealed why after his early ‘90s releases there were no socially-conscious songs on his albums ala “Trying To Come Up” from his just-released 19th studio effort, No Trespassing. The pioneering West Coast artist explained not only how his recording home of 20 years, Jive Records, prevented him from continuing to release songs about poverty, the effects of drug addiction and police brutality that had become the counterbalance to his “Freaky Tales,” but Short also shared his theory that all the major labels conspired to keep conscious Hip Hop off the radio airwaves.
Short concluded his stroll down memory lane by explaining how the ATL led to the demise of his Dangerous Crew, how the Bay Area legend actually helped to set off the South’s commercial dominance in Hip Hop, and why he owes a debt of gratitude to Lil Jon for extending his now 30-year tenure in the Rap game.
HipHopDX: I selected “I Want To Be Free” for the “10 Most Powerful Videos In Hip Hop History” editorial I did for DX a couple months back. I noted in my write-up about the video that you never really resumed your role of reporter of societal ills after “I Want To Be Free,” instead choosing to comprise your content almost entirely of Cocktails. Why did you shift away from doing heavier songs like that, “The Ghetto,” etc.?
Too Short: In the mid-‘90s when Death Row Records emerged to be like the hottest – no doubt about it on the West Coast – music around at the time, particularly with the Dr. Dre album, [The Chronic], Snoop Dogg’s debut album, [Doggystyle] and Tha Dogg Pound album, [Dogg Food], at that time I’m getting ready to make the album Cocktails and I moved to Atlanta …. I’m moving to Atlanta and things aren’t in my life, things aren’t the same as in Oakland. I’m leaving Oakland during a very, very, very hostile era, where there’s a major drug war going on between a lot of guys that I’ve known for years and years who are killing each other.
I’m rappin’ this pimp image but I’m also – In all of my early albums with Jive [Records], they all had lots of songs that weren’t about sex, that didn’t have curse words in ‘em, and I would pick subjects like crack cocaine, poverty and police harassment and rap about it. When I got to Atlanta in the mid-‘90s, Death Row’s emerging, Bad Boy [Records is] hittin’ and we’re just about to enter the bling bling era. And Hip Hop is in a mood where it’s like I’m rich now, I got money.
And, I’m not gonna blame this on anybody, but I was actually being pushed into a direction where I would talk to people at Jive [Records], I would go talk to the President, Barry Weiss, and he was like – I always wanted to do these [side] projects like the E-40 duet album, which was one they never would let me do. Jive would never let me and E-40 do an album together. They kept making excuses and so it never got done. I also wanted to do an album that was filled with songs like “The Ghetto,” “Life Is…Too Short,” “Money In The Ghetto,” “I Want To Be Free.” I wanted to do a whole album of positive Too Short songs, just to keep that balance. I had made a verbal deal with Barry Weiss, where he was like, “Right now would be the perfect time, you should do like the raunchiest Too Short album ever – the album cover, the songs, just do a dirty fuckin’ Too Short album.” This is the executive running the company advising me to put out an entire album of just cursing and sex.
So I’m like, “If I did that I’d have to then do the exact opposite and follow-up that with an album that’s all positive.” And so, I did the album for him, we did You Nasty. I thought it was a funny idea at first - we had like a porn star on the cover, I’m naked, the girls are naked and we really did a butt-naked photo shoot. And it got a gold album and all that stuff. But when it came time to do the positive album, it was never a good idea. It never got the green light. Once I did what they wanted, they would never let me do what I wanted.
I started noticing at that time in Hip Hop that the labels were actually signing the artists and promoting the artists who would bring in just the negative messages: let’s have sex, drop ya booty. We getting off into Crunk now, the bling bling is out there … it’s going down. It was a new swag and everybody wanted to brag about – Rap has always been about bragging, but everybody wanted to brag about the millions. And I noticed that at a certain point in Hip Hop the major labels stopped signing and promoting the positive artists, the ones that was just really positive. Positive images were hard to get out there. So I’m just saying that at some point it wasn’t that Hip Hop changed on its own, it had a little push. I’m a real conspiracy theorist, and I just feel like there had to be a gathering of the major labels and somebody had to say like, “Look, we gotta keep this positive shit off the airwaves and let this booty-shaking shit take over. It’s time.” And after that it’s like the floodgates just opened with sex and violence.
And it was on the radio! You couldn’t get Too Short songs on the radio back in the early days. But now I’m saying “Shake That Monkey” – the song is literally saying shake your vagina – and it gets played on the radio. C’mon man.
DX: While I’m asking severely dated questions here …. I don’t know if it was a record label conspiracy or a personal choice, but I spoke to Shorty B back in late ’08 after his stroke and he said of you, “It seems like he has forgotten what got him to where he’s at. … He keep making these records with all these, ya know, Lil Jon and all that, that’s all cool and shit, but they ain’t us.” Do you have any regrets about your Crunk-era catalog and breaking away from Ant Banks, Shorty B and the rest of The Dangerous Crew and their live-music street symphony?
Too Short: Atlanta was the only thing that really broke that chemistry up.
The elements of what made Shorty The Pimp, Get In Where You Fit In, Cocktails and Gettin’ It – Pee Wee played keyboards and he was like a fuckin’ Bernie Worrell, Jr. from Parliament. Ant Banks played a lot of piano, but he would be the main one programming the drums and he would mix all the songs and Banks would come with these clever little samples we’d be using. Shorty B played guitar and bass. And I would come in and do the vocals – sometimes we’d get somebody to sing on it. But I would come in and do my vocals and then me and Ant Banks would sit there and figure out how we’re gonna edit all this stuff together and arrange the instruments and stuff. And we’d make these wonderful fuckin’ songs.
When we moved to Atlanta we moved as a unit, everybody came. I don’t know who left first, but Ant Banks and Pee Wee – Ant Banks, for his life, he had to get back to the Bay. He married the woman that he was in love with, and they had kids, they had a big house. So he had to get back. If he would have stayed in Atlanta he would have never had that life that he wanted so much with her. And Pee Wee, he basically just didn’t wanna live in Atlanta. So now it’s just me and Shorty B in Atlanta – this is probably during the Gettin’ It album. Banks wasn’t really here but he still mixed all the albums, he still did beats for ‘em, we still kept it going but it was kinda like drifting away.
So I don’t really see it as me breaking away, I see it as me going into – well I call that a certain Too Short era. Before I linked up with Ant Banks, Pee Wee and Shorty B, there was a whole different era. I was in that muthafucka making the beats myself. I can name you so many beats that I made myself off of Born To Mack, Life Is…Too Short and Short Dog’s In The House, before I got to the Shorty The Pimp album. And, to me that was a different era, just like when I used to rap off instrumentals and make little raggedy beats in my room and I never had put a record out that was a different era. I had eight years of a career before I even saw any fame outside of the Bay. I was famous in the Bay for eight years before that. And I look at that as like an era of my career. I look at the Shorty B, Ant Banks, Pee Wee years as an era.
I look at the move to Atlanta as another era. When I got with Lil Jon and we did the original version of “Bia Bia,” which was “You Just A Bitch.” And it was so fuckin’ dirty – Lil Jon had a song out called “I Like Dem Girlz,” and on the B-side there was a song called “You Just A Bitch,” and it was getting more action in the streets than the A-side. So he was like, “Man, we gotta find a way to clean this shit up.” And that was the birth of “Bia Bia.” They put Ludacris on it and it was outta there. That was probably his first huge hit.
Right around that same time we had did “Couldn’t Be A Better Player” [from the Nationwide: Independence Day compilation in 1998]. That’s the first song that me and Lil Jon did together. It was a totally crunk song in the early days of Crunk, when the word had barely even got out there. When people used to talk about Atlanta Rap, and how Atlanta changed the shit and how the South was coming in, I was like, “Damn, I was right there.” They’ll never mention my name, but I was right the fuck there helping that movement find its way. I was a major part of it.
That song, “Couldn’t Be A Better Player,” was a major turning point in my life. Lil Jon took me to this little-ass club, 559, and sat me at a table and didn’t tell me what the fuck was going on. I assumed that he was going to tell me to watch what the crowd does when the song comes on. So, sure enough, the song comes on and the people go crazy. Lil Jon was like, “Check this out” and they go crazy just on the fuckin’ first note. The song takes a long time to come on, and just the sound of the 808 coming on they knew what it was and the crowd gets in a frenzy. So I was like, “Yeah, this is kind of what I was expecting.” Then it gets halfway through the song where Lil Jon used to have this signature breakdown, where the song gets kind of violent and shit and the whole fuckin’ mood of the song changes into like some angry shit, and muthafucka that song came on – “What’s up fuck nigga, what’s up?” – and I looked around and it went from people going crazy out of they minds to people fucking losing it. And he was like, “That’s what I wanted you to see.”
That turning point in my life was because I had never seen a party going crazy and hearing my voice at the same time. I never made party songs before that. And the only way I can describe it is the shit is infectious. I found a new lane where instead of it having to be Shorty The Pimp or Shorty the prophet, poet, whatever the hell you wanna call it, the “I Want To Be Free” Too Short, it turned into like some let’s have fun with Uncle Short. I almost kind of adopted parts of Luke Skywalker’s persona. It was working for me through Lil Jon. And he was doing it for Ying Yang [Twins], E-40 jumped in on the bandwagon later on and he got a few Lil Jon songs …. And if you ask E-40, what did those Lil Jon party beats do for your career? It was like a fuckin’ extension chord. Lil Jon and that party shit extended my career. Lil Jon produced “Shake That Monkey” and he produced “Blow The Whistle” and from those two songs alone I got a hell of a extra run. I’m not even sure if I would be here right now trying to make album number 19, album number 20, if it wasn’t for the Lil Jon affiliation from 1995 to 2005, however long we were affiliated making a lot of songs. To me it was a no-brainer why I had to go with that movement.
I’m in a mood right now though where it’s like I truly cannot put this thing down and walk away from it until I make that one album that I told you about, the positive Too Short album. I gotta make it just ‘cause that’s me. It’s in me. And I would feel totally like I missed something if I didn’t do that. Just like I feel like not going to a Black college and marching in the marching band – that was my dream as a child, and not doing it has always bothered me. Always. I wanted to go to Grambling [State University] or somewhere and march and I didn’t do it. So this is another one of those situations.