Too Short | Creating Music Inspired By Oakland Through & Through

Written by

Photo credit: @mpvinny300

Photo credit: @mpvinny300

Too Short will forever go down in history as one of the greatest to come out of the Bay Area. Putting on for his hometown of Oakland through and through, there’s no denying the impact the West Coast rapper has had on not only his generation, but endless generations to come. To date, you can’t have a conversion about West Coast rap without mentioning Short Dogg.

With endless timeless hits to his name—“Blow The Whistle,” “Gettin It,” “The Ghetto,” “I’m A Player”—it was only right for real name Todd Shaw to participate in an epic VERZUZ for the books with his Bay Area compadre E-40. The first song the dynamic duo ever did was “Rapper’s Ball” back in 1996, and decades later, they reunite on their own joint project: Too Short’s Ain’t Gone Do It and E-40’s Terms and Conditions

Beyond that, fans are currently waiting patiently for Mount Westmore’s first release, a collaborative project between Short, E-40, Ice Cube, and Snoop Dogg.

On the 9th episode of Shirley’s Temple, Shirley Ju sat down with Too Short at Matrix Studios LA to discuss his roots in East Oakland, the turning point in his music career, his take on pimp culture, this new era of social media, having his own strawberry soda, thoughts on lean, forgetting his lyrics when he smokes, conversations with E-40 during the Hyphy movement, the epic VERZUZ, his favorite female artists, and the Temple 10 spitfire round!

Photo credit: @mpvinny300

Photo credit: @mpvinny300

How you been since the last time I saw you? That was at Snoop’s compound.

Chillin’, that was a good day. We were celebrating Hip-Hop Uncovered debuting before it came out on TV. 

You’re in the show, how’d it feel to be part of that story and give your input?

Yes, I have a couple of lines in there. Big U’s a friend of mine. He called me up to the studio one day and did an interview with me. I forgot about that, I didn’t really know specifically at the time what the project was. That’s one of those things where you look back, I’m watching me for the first time just like you. 

Do you watch Love & Hip Hop?

I believe in love but at the same time, the Love & Hip Hop thing is like watching a TV show. It’s supposed to be unscripted, but it feels predictable. “Oh, someone’s about to fight!” You feel it. The fights are the highlight of the show. 

Were you a fighter back in the day? In the streets of Oakland.  

I did not personally fight a lot of people, but people try to fight you all the time. At some point in my life, I hung out with a lot of crazy people. Fights around us didn’t last very long, it’d just be over. I come from East Oakland where you could walk around the corner and get into some shit, so you really gotta watch what you do. 

Do you miss East Oakland? 

I spend fairly enough time in my life in Oakland. The only time I’ve been away from Oakland as much as I have right now is during this fucking pandemic. I hardly travelled in 2020. I’ve been there only a handful of times this year and it’s already April. Normally I’d be in the Bay 2 or 3 times a month. 

Do you usually drive or fly? 

A mixture. I used to keep a car out there up until a few years ago. Now what I do is when I know I have a few trips coming up and I want to be flossy, I’ll drive something up and leave it with my brother. 

How many cars do you have?

[laughs] Enough to leave one out of town. 

Coming up, you said people around you relied on you to make it. Was there pressure? 

I was dead ass serious about this music thing, really fucking serious as a teenager. In my early teens, I was very serious about music. Very serious about hip-hop when I dabbled and realized I’m good at this. I was extremely serious when I finally got the dream. 

What was that moment? 

Getting close to the mid 80’s, ‘84 and ‘85 when Run DMC and different rappers started making big money. The Fat Boys, they had movies out. Krush Groove. You’re looking at LL Cool J, all these rappers doing it big, going on tour. It went from a fun thing to rock the party, to “damn I’m good at this. I want to have a career in this.” In those days, a career wasn’t something you could be supported in your dreams by your friends and family because everyone’s like “a rapper? [laughs]” It’s a joke. 

It was a joke to say “I’m about to do this.” You’re looking at a handful of superstars. In your real world, your family, your people that’ve been with you forever: we’re way out here, you’re not going to get where they’re at. People don’t have that dream like you might have. It was a far-fetched dream, but I was very serious about music at a young age. I don’t think that ever went away with my approach to getting the job done. I never really said to myself “oh I’m about to be better than everybody. I’m about to get fly ass cars and shit on everybody.” I’m the music guy. 

You still are! I respect it.

When I talk shit about music, it’s not “watch what this music is gon’ get me.” It’s “watch how good this shit’s gonna sound.” I feel the music. I’m a part of the process, really having that love for it. You could have love for writing rhymes, but I have a love for making music. That runs deep till this day. 

Coming up, you were rapping about everything. 

It was easy to find subjects to rap about and things to keep me going living in the city like Oakland. Before I even really developed who Too Short was, I said to myself “I’m gonna tell the story of Oakland.” I’m comparing myself to other rappers out there on the radio, what the image is. I can tell the story of Oakland and the shit will be dope. The more I did it, the more the city reacted. The more the Bay reacted, the more Too Short fans reacted. I lived in Atlanta for 15 years, but still spent a lot of time in the Bay and LA. Going back and forth: West Coast, back down South. I never lost that thing, I tap into the Oakland-ism and a song comes out. I tap into an Oakland story or an Oakland image, and it’s a song. The attitude alone can keep me going. I can be on the other side of the planet and put that Oakland attitude to work. 

A lot of Oakland artists rap about pimp culture, and sometimes the music can be dark. How was your mental state through all that?

I’ma tell you something that somebody told me. One of the homies said “man, them youngsters like that dark ass shit.” You’ve gotta be on some personal perspective to see it that way. Listen to a lot of the shit that some people would consider dark in the subject: Bay Area music talking about “this pimping hard on a bitch.” If you look at it a certain way, you’ll go “wow that’s scary.” Another way, you'll go “holy shit, that’s very educational.” Another way, you’ll go “all these motherfuckers are like superheroes, I love this shit.” It’s perspective. 

The way I come at it is to literally motivate you or scare the shit out you, one or the other. You may want to tap in and visualize a wonderful story, but there's a lot of education in there. The educational part is the talking. What you might consider dark is saying to one person: “this is how you do it,” and to another person: “you better not ever fucking try to do this, because it ain’t for you.” It’s a thing, pimp shit. Hip-hop culture adapts to wherever it’s at and what its surroundings are, it’s a very very prominent pimp culture in the Bay. It always has been. If you listen to Bay Area hip-hop, it’s about many things. The culture isn’t just pimping, but some of us choose to always dip over to that subject. Remind you even if you’re not a pimp, if you acquire that Bay Area pimp game, there's so many ways you could apply it to other things in life. It really works. 

How are you enjoying this new age of social media?

I’m a little jealous. The generations of rap keeps growing as an industry. Whoever came before me, didn’t have the opportunities I had. I toured around in arenas, sold millions of records. Those coming after me, I didn’t have the opportunities they have. You put out the record. you get popular, then you’re afforded dozens of other platforms to be something. To get shit, to get money. We had limited access. Even at the height of my career, they refused to let rappers perform in arenas. They jacked up their insurance rates. Those big tours the fans wanted to see, weren't going around. 

I was a part of that shit where luckily, I went on a bunch of tours. Some shows put a bad reputation on a lot of other shows, they shut that shit down. The stadiums would still have every other kind of music in there. After a while, it came back around. We got back into it, but I missed out on a lot. The layers and layers of other opportunities you have as a rapper right now.  As an artist if you become popular they'll start knocking and say “hey, I need you to endorse my product. Can we license your music for that?” 

You’re still doing that though.

I survived different eras of hip-hop. At the height of my career, it translates to a lot more when you're selling millions of records. You have millions of people engaged in your shit at that moment, then you have all these other platforms come through. I’m telling you, you see somebody get a Sprite commercial back in the day: oh shit! A beer commercial. I love it is what I’m saying. I love the new shit, I love the opportunities. You could make a hot record, you get a fucking billion streams and a whole bunch of opportunities off of that one record. You could walk away with a bag, that shit’s dope.

What does your button say?

There’s one that says “what’s my favorite word?”, and one that says “BITCH.” Two different buttons. If anybody wants one, it’s easy: go to tooshortstore.com. Get your BITCH button, all kinds of Too Short shit.

Speaking of Shirley’s Temple Soda, you have your own strawberry soda in the works.

Yep, we should have a soda party. My shit got that flavor. I used to make Shirley Temples at home, with the little cherry. It should be a cherry floating in this muthafucka. 

What about strawberries in your strawberry soda?

My strawberry soda is for very particular purposes. You put it in a Styrofoam cup. It comes with a Styrofoam cup, it's for soda. 

Are you supporting people sippin’ the cup?

I don’t think any of us should be living a lie. If its flavor pops — the company’s coming from Texas, that’s the market I’d assume it’s aiming for. I personally want to get deep into this shit. No I don’t condone opioids, I really don’t. I think they’re addictive. The shit isn’t really my thing. As I smoke weed, I still don’t wish that fucking addiction on anybody. I’ve heard people say at the point where they didn’t want to do it, how hard it is to stop doing it. 

A lot of shit happens in a bad way at a young age, with fucking opioids. Just like we lose artists to violence, we’ve been losing artists to mixing opioids with certain shit or too much of it. I don’t know the particulars and I can’t point fingers, but I do know that the stats are way beyond hip-hop. It’s all throughout America. With that being said, yeah the strawberry soda and exotic pop coming out of Houston is about that lifestyle. I’m sure you’ve sipped on a few.

I actually haven’t tried lean, out of all the things. 

I’ve tried it, and I get it. I haven’t tried many opioids. One time I had surgery on my foot, they gave me these pills. OxyContin, then muthafuckas were flashing like [snaps]. 8 hours, gone. What the fuck? That’s my one experience to let me know, stay the fuck away from that. I took those painkillers for a day and a half, I dealt with the pain after that. I knew the stories already about this shit could have you hooked. The effect was a muthafucka though. I’ve seen people on the lean a little too much, you go “come on, bring it back homie.” Also weed heads too, people overdoing it on the weed. This thing we smoked, I probably won’t smoke weed for another 6 hours. I catch a little buzz, I’m cool. Later on when I want to catch a little buzz, I’ll smoke a little bit. I’m cool. 

Do you smoke before you perform?

I cannot smoke weed before I go on stage because I’ll forget the words to songs I really know. It’s something I’ve tested out. Sometimes, I’ve done it by accident. I hit that fucking weed then get out there, a basic song I know like a muthafucka, one line will just disappear. It could happen on any song. I know rappers who smoke while on stage, smoke the whole time before, and the show’s dope as fuck. I can handle my liquor but somehow the weed… I smoke weed every day, but I only smoke so much.

What were those days in Sunnyvale like?

I’d come out there to get money. You guys got clubs. I did the teen clubs. I did the over 18 clubs, over 21 clubs. Y’all probably had a club where the teens were on one side and the grownups were on the other side, security won’t let y’all cross. They did that shit in the Bay. 

Were you throwing up the T during the Hyphy movement? 

I supported Thizz, it was a movement. No matter what we did, if your songs were in that space of the Hyphy movement, it always had something to do with Thizz, Mac Dre, Mistah F.A.B, Keak Da Sneak, E-40. All the main characters who were generating the shit that’s really moving. A lot of people got in with a hot song, but it was a couple of producers. Traxamillion, Rick Rock, some producers were doing real foundation type shit. No matter how the movement grew, some people were keeping it real solid that it was going to stay intact.

I try to be a part of It. I remember when It got hot, I had a conversation with E-40 about how we felt about it. I said “listen to the music, it’s the same shit: it’s fun.” They sped it up a little bit, we’re having fun. The analogy was we should support this shit and make songs that go with the Hyphy movement to help out youngstas get in the game, and that’s what it was. 

Favorite song you’ve done with E-40?

The first one we ever did was my favorite, called “Rapper’s Ball.”

How’d It feel to play It on the VERZUZ all these years later? 

VERZUZ was cool. However it came off, we really were like “fuck these cameras, fuck this shit. Fuck a rehearsal, fuck talking points, let’s do this shit.” They mentioned discussing parameters. I said “if you guys tried to give me anything in advance, any protocol, I can’t do it.” I talk to this dude all the time, we’re around each other all the time. How the fuck can we fake it? I couldn’t figure that out. 

Did you get to play all the songs you wanted to play? 

No, we could’ve really kept going. There was a cutoff point we exceeded. I was threatening early on that the formatting of 20 songs was not enough. I've done this shit at concerts before where the promoter mismanages the time. People come to see you, then the promoter tells you “well, we only have 15 minutes until they shut us down.” Bro, what the fuck you talking about? You let all these people go all night, now you’re telling them they only get 15 minutes of me. I told them “even when you guys end it, I’ma keep going. You guys are gonna have to pull the plug, fuck it.” Then I’d say “I'm playing, y’all know I’m not really gon’ do that.” 

Because they said, “for the best production, you guys should end it.” We have a big ending, it’s a real production. Cool man, I ain’t gon’ fuck it up. We’re getting down near the end, they wave me over and say “you can keep going if you want to.” I said “let’s keep going!” I guess they went over to E-40’s DJ Big Von and told him the same thing. From that point, I’d already told my DJ, we slid about 10 songs to the side. They told us to do 20 songs, so we had 30 on deck. We played all them motherfuckers. It was still more to go, we could’ve kept going. 

Who are your favorite female artists?

That one’s tough, I got a couple playlists that are female rappers talking shit. Too Short’s playlist, that’s what it’s called. I know I have some Doja Cat in there. Mulatto, Flo Milli, Megan Thee Stallion, Danileigh, Kash Doll. I fuck with the females. They talk a lot of shit, I’m into shit talking rap.

Back in the day, would you date a female player?

I've dated females who were heavy in drug dealing, sold kilos and shit. It was a gangster bitch with gangsters that worked for her. I’ve dated some real serious chicks. We were together for a long time.

The Temple 10 (spitfire round)

Favorite emoji:

I don’t use any emoji. The only one I know the yellow one that smiles with the happy face. I express with words and facial expressions 

Favorite snack:

My favorite snack would be fruit, some pineapples. Watermelon or grapes, fruit that tastes like candy. 

Favorite song at the moment: 

Some shit that ain’t out yet. It’s called “Big Subwoofer” by Mount Westmore. It’s me, Ice Cube, E-4,0 and Snoop Dogg. It’ll be out in a few weeks, we just shot the video. Soon as the video’s ready, the song’s coming. We shot the video on another planet. They got this technology, you just don’t know yet. 

Favorite thing to do for self-care

All my life, I’ve gotten manicures, pedicures, facials, massages, spa type shit.  

Hot or cold?

I don’t fuck with the cold. I told you, I like Bay Area rain.

Greatest fear?

My greatest fear is not being able to do this Short Dogg shit and do it in a quality way. At times in your career, you go “damn, is this the end?” But then you figure it out. I’ve never threatened to retire. One time I announced I’d retire, then you contemplate on the moment where you say “this the last album.” I’ve made the last album a few times, and it happens again. 

Favorite sex position?

There is no favorite. The worst position is when a chick is trying to do some shit she can’t do. You try to stop her, she still decides to try to do this goofy ass move. Just stop, I'm trying to help you learn. Some shit you do doesn't work for everybody. The shit you did last week on so-and-so might not work on the next one. Favorite position is the most dominant one you can come across, to have a woman's legs completely in control giving it the deepest drill you can drill. The deepest, see what she’s made of. That’s one you look up and go “who the fuck are you?” That one, it happens every time.

What’s your idea of perfect happiness?

If there was such a thing, it’d really be based on the friendship. It’s a lot of things that will make you get along with each other and keep the shit going, but the friendship is the one that keeps it the most comfortable. All that other shit can be dealt with through a friendship. Without that friendship and other shit starts to weigh in heavy, you’re like “fuck you.” I believe in some cases, friends grow apart. At the same time, I’ve always felt like in my dealing with relationships off and on, that’s always the best thing for me. Do it with a friend where the friendship developed somewhere, not part of fucking or you trying to impress somebody: “like me like me!” A real friendship, that part. 

Favorite Bay Area term?

My favorite thing isn’t as popular as it should be, but as Bay as you can get. Something I often say in certain conversations is you ask me a stupid question, I say “ask the bitch, don’t ask me.” That’s when people bring little side questions or try to fish for something you might have done with a certain chick, find out to what extent ya’ll been… don’t ask me! Ask the bitch.

First thing that comes to mind: Mac Dre.

Mac Dre to me was a leader, a piper  leader. He had this magical thing that could make people have fun. I know how to rock a crowd, a lot of rappers know how to do shit, but Dre, they have fun. It’s a party, celebration circus. He had that thing. A lot of people couldn't stand amongst Too Short and E-40 on that Bay shit, and Dre stood right there. I commend him and always gave him that respect.