Rapper Too $hort talks to Jalen Rose about Tupac and MC Hammer

If you were to write the hip-hop dictionary, this Bay Area legend would be responsible for a large chunk of it. And listening to Todd Shaw, aka Too $shortto this episode of “Renaissance Man” is like a history lecture on rap culture and the slang that just rolls off the tongue today.

He was born in the ’80s planting the seed of inspiration that would be manifested in the work of so many great rappers like Snoop Dogg and Outkast.

Of course, his earliest influences came from New York City.

“As soon as I moved to Oakland, Sugar Hill Records started releasing a lot of stuff,” Too $hort told me. “It was Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang, the other albums after ‘Rapper’s Delight’ … It’s like 1980 … I listen to all this hip-hop and I’m like, ‘Man, I could do this.'”

Too $hort took what he heard from the East Coast and added his East Oakland flair, adopting the language of the colorful pimps in his neighborhood. He coined words like “Biatch” and “Mack” and named his 1987 album “Born To Mack”.

“The pun was important. You have to use it or create it,” he said of his style.

“The slick OGs in the streets dropping a little rhyme, the little one-liner, a little slick punchline at you… We interpreted that in hip-hop.”

Another example: the phrase “heezy fo scheezy” that he and fellow Bay Area pioneer E-40 dropped on “Rappers’ Ball” while messing around in the studio.

“It was something that was going around the bay. It came from the pimps… Then Snoop Dogg went ‘fo shizzle’ and it took its own life. ‘gamer hater’ is a Bay Area term.”

I met Too $hort in college and hung out with him and his colorful characters. Let me tell you, he lives this life. I’ve always thought of him as rap’s Hugh Hefner, and certain lyrics about toes underscored that. He’s still producing those sly songs about the ladies and just released Big Sexy Thang starring Lil Duval.

“I realized early on that if you said something really crafty, if you said something funny, it would evoke a reaction… All of those reactions are like recurring themes in Too $hort songs.” He believes that “a lot of rappers do their have strengths in vocabulary”. But crazy jargon and clever lyrics became his calling card.

In 1993, as Atlanta’s hip-hop scene grew around freaknik parties and HBCUs, he relocated to the Southeast, bringing his bold Northern California lifestyle with him.

“I come to Atlanta and show up, I have big rims on my car,” he said. Guys like Young Jeezy and TI were kids who hung out wherever he was, whether it was in front of his house or in front of the hair salon.

But back to his roots. There was a time when the Bay Area had some of hip hop’s most distinctive acts MC Hammer to Tupac Shakur and Mac Dre, so I wanted to hear his thoughts on them.

And it turns out that “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” wasn’t that far-fetched after all.

“MC Hammer, man, homemade. Hammer is a marketing genius the way he came into play. He literally invented himself as a superstar. [He didn’t start] as a star. [He] played the role before it happened.”

Too $hort added that Hammer is “sometimes mistakenly called ‘the dancing guy’… But [he’s] definitely not the guy you want to disrespect, face to face or, really, earlier, go up to his crew and treat them like R&B singers or something. The Oakland would come out right away and you’d find out, ‘Oh, Hammer isn’t messing around.'”

As for Tupac, Too $hort was worried he would burn too bright too fast.

“This guy… If I put this guy in the deep Oakland Hood, he’s going to die… And he did just that.”

“He dug too deep,” Too $hort said of the late legend. “He wanted to be everything. He was 100% for the ladies. He was 100% an activist. He was a 100 percent gangster. He was a 100 percent poet. He was 100% everything he did…I felt like his talent was going to be diverted…I felt very protective of him. And when he came to LA, we didn’t protect him that much. But you couldn’t hold him back… When we got to LA, he was already there. He found his own way down.”

As for Mac Dre, who died in 2004, Too $hort wishes he could have seen him reach his full potential. “I’ve always felt that Dre is the people’s champion.”

And I think Too $hort is the champion rapper. He’s a godfather of the genre and an icon who refuses to stall his creative flow. He still has his, um, notorious toes on the gas.

Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five that shook up the college hoop world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA before blossoming into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for NBA Countdown and Get Up and co-hosts Jalen & Jacoby. He was executive producer of The Fab Five for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, author of the bestselling book Got To Give the People What They Want, a fashion tastemaker, and co-founder of Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a charter public school in his Hometown. Rapper Too $hort talks to Jalen Rose about Tupac and MC Hammer


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