Too $hort has turned his back on the game. Sitting in a restaurant in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, he turns toward the flat-screen television above the bar, glances at the opening round of the World Cup match between France and Switzerland, and from then on, proceeds to ignore the biggest sporting event on the planet.
Instead, the 40-year-old Bay Area legend is busy breaking down business particulars with representatives from the Pack—a teenage hyphy crew from Oakland, Calif., he’s advising. Words like “advances,” “expected budget” and “tour dates” are tossed around. Finally, after an animated 10 minutes on his cell phone, a flustered Too $hort hangs up. “You’ve got four guys in the group,” he says. “So that’s like four sets of parents to deal with.”
With eight gold and/or platinum albums under his belt, and the definitive pronunciation of one of hip-hop’s definitive words (“Beeyotch!”), Too $hort’s influence spreads far beyond direct descendants like the Pack. An entire generation of rappers—anyone who ever refers to himself as a “pimp,” even if the term is misinterpreted from time to time—owes him credit. So on the eve of the release of his 16th (!) album, Blow the Whistle, XXL arranged for 21 of his progeny and peers to pay their respects via e-mailed questions we read to him in person. He’s up for the challenge, ready to prove that this old dog still has a few, ahem, tricks up his sleeve. You know he could never really turn his back on the game.
E-40: What year did you record your first song?
The first recording of my voice over music was a homemade tape in 1980. I used a jazz record that had instrumentals on it. I remember one of them was a Marvin Gaye song “Got to Give It Up” and the album cover was supposed to look like a booty or a coochie, but it was really a close-up picture of an elbow. It was sort of like a Kurtis Blow–ish [rhyme], which was the only style of rap that was out. I didn’t really do what you know as Too $hort-talking-about-Oakland until Melle Mel made “The Message” [in 1982].
Devin the Dude: What music were you inspired by as a child?
Parliament/Funkadelic, Ohio Players, Cameo were my favorites. I was never really fascinated by disco, which outshined the funk after a while. One of my favorite phrases was that disco killed the funk. But funk lived on through rap music. But I was extremely turned out by the funk bands of the ’70s. I would listen to entire albums on my headphones while I was supposed to be outside riding my bike. I grew up in a Motown house with maybe some Al Green, Otis Redding. Then we turned it into the house of funk. It was a real soulful house, but we turned it. When we were little kids, to be listening to Parliament was something your parents didn’t want to hear. That was the “noise.”
DMX: How did your experiences growing up in the hood affect you as a grown man?
I use my street knowledge in everyday business tactics. I like that I was exposed to gang members, slick hustlers, con men and neighborhood geniuses; I can spot those characters. You can run dialogue by me, and I will immediately be able to smell you.
Paul Wall: What is your favorite memory of your career?
Probably the first time I went on a major tour. It was almost like love at first sight. I quit my girlfriend after the first show and just wilded the fuck out. We were together for a year-and-a-half before that. When I left [out on tour], I said, “Baby, I love you.” On the first night, I called and said, “I’m not fuckin’ with you no more.”
Yukmouth: Who started the hyphy movement?
The hyphy movement started way back in the day at the sideshow in East Oakland, where they used to gather at the mall and show off their fancy car or do a stunt with their car, like do a donut… I actually filmed my first video, “Life Is…Too $hort” at a sideshow… My man Keak Da Sneak came up with the word “hyphy,” which I guess was an expression of how he was feeling about his involvement in the East Oakland lifestyle… The hyphy movement we know now comes from the youngsters in East Oakland, the little dudes that are not old enough to get in the clubs. They stop their cars anywhere in the street and have a party. We used to have a sideshow specifically in the neighborhood of Eastmont Mall or around it. These youngsters have a sideshow anywhere, any intersection. They don’t care if it’s a major intersection in the middle of the day. They are going to stop traffic, get on top of the bus and dance. The youngsters started it. Yukmouth should know the answer, but he just wanted me to say the right answer so it could be in the magazine.
Read Too $hort's answers to the final 13 questions in XXL's October 2006 issue (#85).