Too $hort
As one of hip-hop’s most influential voices, Too $hort is back with a new album and some new ventures. From “Born to Mack” to his latest collaboration with “Up All Night Crew”, Too $hort breaks down the music game, the ATL scene, and how to pimp.
Interview by Rob Schwartz

WHO?MAG: How did you first get into rap?
Too $hort: I first got into rap in the early eighties listening to those early albums out in the 80’s like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Sugar Hill Gang and Kurtis Blow. There wasn’t a lot of rap out there. I already played drums in the high school marching band and decided that I can do that. I had a few records that had instrumentals on them. I just flipped them over and did it. It was a hobby for about a year until I met this guy named Freddie B. There weren’t a lot of rappers in the Bay Area. We just messed around recording at the house. After we finished, we decided that people just might want to buy it. Sure enough, they did.

WHO?MAG: What was your earliest memory of hip-hop?
Too $hort: The earliest memory I have of someone actually rapping and acknowledging that it was rap was The Fatback Band with the song King Tim III. Really, just that and Rappers Delight in ’79. I think I was in 9th grade. I remember running out to the record store and buying the record, then running home and playing it over & over again. Then later in 1980, we started to get a lot of rap records coming out here in the west coast. I remember just starting high school and carrying a radio around everyday. All I played was the new records that were coming out. If it wasn’t Parliament Funk or a funk band, then it was rap, ya know?

WHO?MAG: What was the biggest difference between selling your first album out of your car to your first album with a major label?
Too $hort: The fact that when we hooked up with JIVE, we had no intention of it being some sort of major money move. Money wasn’t the motivation. The motivation was that this was our way to get our album in every record store across the country. Since day one before I went to a major, I had BEEN selling tapes in the streets. People BEEN knowing the Too $hort name. I have BEEN making money off rap. None of that was an issue. It was that I was stepping to a national audience. My first two albums that I did with JIVE, “Born to Mack” and “Life is Too $hort” was my whole line of thinking. That was my whole train of thought. I was just thinking that everyone is going to get this. I was never thinking like “oh shit, what did I just do”, but more like “now I got them like this. Now I’m gonna show them some shit!” It was all my motivation, like the way I had the whole Bay Area on lockdown, which then spread to Southern California, until it became a west coast thing. It was around California for a while before it left the state. I just knew from the success I was having and received from the first time I performed in front of a high school crowd, I knew that there was never a doubt. I started to play a bigger game and it worked out just fine. I still feel that way.

WHO?MAG: Being a pioneer in the Bay Area for rap, what was the main distinction between the sound of the east coast compared to the “mob music” at that time?
Too $hort: I would say from the start was when the west coast started to make their entrance into the game which was through my eyes was when Eazy E and NWA released their first record with Boyz in the Hood in the summer of ’87. That was the same year when I first dropped “Freaky Tales”. Prior to that we had Ice T and World Class Wrecking Crew with Dr. Dre in it and that group that used to call themselves the West Coast Kings. It was a little bit of a music scene out there in the west coast. There were records out. I think when Boyz in the Hood with NWA came out and the Too $hort stuff came out, it was all about how the 808 was hitting with the bass line and that was pretty much where it started. What your catchy hooks were and your rhymes were just secondary compared to how that bass hit. We specifically would not mix our song or have it mastered or have it in any kind of complete form unless we take it to the car, pop the tape in, and made sure that that bass was hitting in the woofers in my car. Once I knew that, I knew that if I would ride with it, they would ride with it. It was always tested in a car right outside the studio with a thousand woofers in it. In my eyes, in the east coast they weren’t doing that in the late 80’s or the early 90’s. People were not going down the elevator and out to the parking lots and going into a car that had eight 12 inch woofers in it and then go back into the studio and say that the bass is too loud or the bass is too low and then go back to the car until the bass was just right. We used the car to mix the music. It may take like 8 times to get it right. I don’t even think we would do that now because we learned the speakers and it’s not as hard to learn in the studio that it’s bumping like you want it to be bumping. Back then, that was our technique. We had to be car tested. I used to get CD’s from NY groups and I used to like everyone’s rap. I don’t love everything, but I listen to everything. What I could say about the east coast rap is that they weren’t putting out the 808 in there or use it as the main focal point. Right now if you listen to Lil’ Jon, the 808 is always there. I don’t think that the east was there because maybe they were home listening to a smaller stereos, radios, or boom boxes or walkman. If you listen to Too $hort in a walkman, you won’t get the full experience as if you were in a ’73 Impala with 18 inch woofers in the back. It’s a whole different experience.

WHO?MAG: What is your formula for selling so many back-to-back platinum albums?
Too $hort: Don’t waste a lot of time putting the albums out. Once you get the first album out, before you start to get the national attention, you can’t let the album go up the charts until you put another album out. My philosophy was to have after 9 months after the album was released, to have another one ready to go. Like right now, I have an album going out in June. I have so many songs recorded. I am never going to let it get to the point where I need to drop an album and I need to get into the studio and make that album. It’s already ready. That’s my philosophy.

WHO?MAG: What wanted made you want to move to the Bay to Atlanta?
Too $hort: I moved because LA Reid had La’Face Records, Dallas Austin had Rowdy Records, and Jermaine Dupri had So-So Def when Kriss Kross first was getting started back in like ’93-94. I wanted to see the people work around the whole LA Reid world with all the producers and the artists. Dallas Austin at Rowdy and Jermaine Dupri at So-So Def is all an extension of the LA Reid family. Without LA Reid, I don’t believe that much of Atlanta would have blown up the way it has. To come out here and see the music and see how comfortable if felt to be out here and then to be told by my homeboy from Oakland who has been out here for a few years, he took me and showed me the whole real estate game. When I first moved to Atlanta, I was in the market to find a new house. I was about to find a pretty normal 3-4 bedroom house somewhere in the hills or a nice area of the Bay area planning to spend about 500,000-600,000. My boy told me that for half a million what I can buy out in Atlanta. He showed me houses around 250,000 to 400,000 and I’m talking in Atlanta in 1993 bought you a mansion. And I was having a blast with all the college girls and all the strip clubs out here. As much hype Atlanta has on the strip clubs now, it can’t fuck with Atlanta in the late 80’s and early nineties and the caliber of the females that were in there. It was different vibe. Now everyone is a thug here now. It’s still fun, but its just not that baller fun like back in the day. It was crazy to see that Dallas Austin had a studio with 4 separate studios in it. I always had a studio, but I never had 4 damn studios. It was just something where I said that this is where I need to be. Right now, I don’t regret it one bit.

WHO?MAG: How did you form the “Up All Night Crew”?
Too $hort: I’m a firm believer of being able to get together with talented people and start making music. That’s how I got started in music. Since day one, I have been surrounded by talented people. When it was my turn to assemble the team, I always started with “can you play a musical instrument or are you a DJ? Can you program a drum machine? Can you sing?” If it’s not those people, I don’t want them around. I’m not going to grab some cute lil’ chick who’s sucking my dick to sing the hook if she can’t sing. If you look into the history of rap, there is always some things that I understood why the R&B artists used to hate the rappers. They would say it’s not real music to them and there wasn’t a lot of musicianship. If you listen to Too $hort, everything was always played in the right key. If we used a sample, we would play the instruments over it and tune the instruments to that sample. I am always surrounded by musicians. Since day one from the late 80’s, with what you call Protools now was born from a program called Performer. We recorded on Performer because you could go in between the spaces of the vocals and the instruments playing and you can just mute it out so there would be no noise and when I would punch out my voice for my a cappella. You wouldn’t here any noises because everything would be done in the computer. I was even doing my album covers on computers back in the day. In the Bay area, we were always on the edge of what’s happening. Not because we followed, but we always found our own way. I know that there is No Limit and all these other labels doing their computer imagery, but I was have been already doing that for a long time.

WHO?MAG: What can we expect from the new CD/DVD “Gangsters and Strippers?”
Too $hort: The crew is a lot younger. I’m not even here trying to pretend that this is my crew. Actually it’s just a business venture that I dawned on to help break a young group or two or three. The name just comes from the lifestyle. We kick it late at night, we hang out in the strip clubs and I have these little concept albums I have sometimes. “Pimpin’ Inc” was the first one, “Gangsters and Strippers” is the next, the one after that is “Lay It Down”, and it just goes on and on. The name of the albums relates to something that happens to the middle-of-the-night nightlife. We got titles of the songs like “Til the Sun Comes Up” just a play on words. In he process, it kind of Too $hortish, but I have these rappers and singers go where they want to go with it. But at the same time, just keep the spin on the concept “Up All Night”. Just make sure to mention things that happen at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. That’s just what we’re doing. Focusing on the “Up All Night” concept with the gangsters and strippers. That’s who you see in the middle of the night. Go to the strip club and you’ll see a bunch of thugs and a bunch of strippers.

WHO?MAG: So what can you tell me about your new solo album coming out in July in 2006?
Too $hort: My album is called “Up All Night” basically because I need that phrase to be bold and out there and I know that my album will get a bigger push than the album I am putting out independent right now. I wanted to get that phrase out there to signify where I’m going in 2006. The bulk of the production is by Jazzy Phe and Lil’ Jon who gave me 6 songs each as well as a few other producers. The album has at least 3 strong singles. I got some key guest appearances. I usually just do it by myself, but this time I always work with other artists and we were getting some nice little songs together so I put them on the album. I got songs with Snoop Dog, Will.I.Am, E-40, The Dogg Pound who just recently got back together, as well as David Banner and Bun B from UGK. It’s not a lot, but it’s a few other key guest appearances. It’s probably the best album I recorded since ’96. No doubt about.

WHO?MAG: What do you feel is the biggest change you noticed in rap over the past 10 years?
Too $hort: The biggest change is that originality is going out the window and everyone sucks. That’s the biggest crime in history prior to the whole “bling bling” era. No one tried to look like anyone else. No one tried to use anyone else’s voice or use there phrases or images. Some where in there from the late 90’s until now, we just said “who cares if another rapper uses another rappers line, were still love them.” I would have said that before the mid 90’s you would have been locked out of the industry. Unless like Snoop who got away with it with his Slick Rick song, but he did a remake. It wasn’t like he borrowed a line or anything like that. But now, it’s ok to do it. There are even sections in some magazines that show how the original verse was and compare it to now how it was rephrased. There is a whole lot of that going on. I never in my life used another rappers phrase and I never will.