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Introduction to Veteran Oakland Rapper Too $hort

For over 35 years, Todd Anthony Shaw, better known by his stage name Too $hort, has been a staple of West Coast hip hop culture. Emerging from the streets of Oakland, California in the early 1980s, Too $hort helped establish the “Bay Area” style of rap which eventually exploded in popularity during the early 1990s gangsta rap era.

With an unapologetically raunchy lyricism focused on explicit tales of pimping and sexual conquests, Too $hort stood out from both the early-80s old school NYC rappers and “political” late-80s artists like Public Enemy. Even as social consciousness and gangster narratives took over mainstream rap, Too $hort stayed true to his signature, hedonistic “Pimp Tales” style.

Unlike many rap careers which flare up and disappear in a few short years, Too $hort has shown exceptional longevity. He continues releasing new music and dazzling live audiences well into the 2020s, over 35 years since his amateur 1985 cassette tape Don’t Stop Rappin’. Too $hort’s longevity can be credited both to his business savvy and his ability to adapt his sound and lyricism over time while retaining his core stylistic identity.

This profile will cover Too $hort’s origins and early career before reviewing his extensive discography, musical evolution and enduring cultural impacts. Too $hort’s influence extends far beyond the typical metrics like album sales and chart placements. As one of the first West Coast rappers to achieve indie success, Too $hort paved the way for countless Bay Area hip hop artists through his prolific output, entrepreneurial mindset and celebration of Oakland culture and slang.

Early Life and Career Beginnings in Oakland

Todd Anthony Shaw was born on April 28, 1966 in South Central Los Angeles. His family moved to Oakland when Shaw was 7 years old, and Too $hort has considered himself an Oakland native ever since.

Growing up, the young Too $hort was heavily involved in the Oakland street life as a self-described “little hustler.” It was during his adolescence that he gained the street knowledge and vocabulary which would later define his lyrics. As Too $hort explained to Vibe magazine:

“I was impressionable, so I learned all the street slang, everything that I wasn’t supposed to. Cursing, sex stuff; I took it all in. Before I knew it, I was the little bad influence on the block.”

Too $hort discovered rap music just as the art form was taking off in New York City. Like many early rap fans, he was captivated by the way artists like Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill gang and old school legend Grandmaster Flash captured the reality of inner-city streets in rhyme. The game-changing 1981 track “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash especially influenced the young Too $hort.

During high school, Too $hort started penning his own raps and eventually bought a few turntables to try his hand at music production. Lacking money to book professional studio time, he recorded tracks in his bedroom on a Radio Shack-style tape recorder. At age 17 in 1983, he joined rap group The Dangerous Crew and also recorded his first solo track, “Girl“. Like most of his future output, the lyrics detailed his sexual exploits in extremely lewd detail.

Too $hort formally launched his rap career in 1985 at age 19 releasing the amateur cassette tape Don’t Stop Rappin’ on his self-created Dangerous Music record label. Seeing local success selling tapes out of his car, he recorded two more solo tapes in 1986 and 1987. These early independent releases contained many elements which would define Too $hort’s music for decades like funk samples, profane tales of sleeping with women, and specific shout-outs to Oakland streets, regions and culture.

Major Distribution Deal and Breakthrough Album Life is…Too Short

By 1988, Too $hort’s local grind paid off in a big way. His rapid early success attracted the attention of super-producer Quincy “QD3” Jones III, son of famous composer Quincy Jones. Through the hip hop connections of QDIII’s dad, Too $hort secured a major distribution deal with legendary hip hop label Jive Records. Signing to Jive brought Too $hort’s music out of the Oakland underground and into record stores nationwide.

Too $hort’s official studio debut Life is…Too Short arrived June 7, 1988 on Jive Records. While low budget compared to the lush productions found on popular albums of the day, Life is…Too $hort perfectly captured the raw, gritty East Bay street sound. Hard drums hit accented by P-Funk samples laid the foundation for Too $hort’s tall tales of macking, pimping, party life and hustling dope on Oakland corners.

While very explicit, $hort Dog’s rhymes also contained biting social commentary, such as on the track “The Ghetto“:

Talking about the ghetto…funky ghetto
Good shit, bad shit, it’s all good shit
I’m from the Fillmoe district, black folks on dope
The GG’s on the corner, sell that fucking rock

Life is…Too $hort cemented $hort Dog’s position as the first nationally successful rapper to rep the streets of the Bay Area. While his success was centered in Oakland, it paved the way for the eventual explosion of San Francisco rappers like RBL Posse, Rappin 4-Tay and E-40. $hort Dog wouldn’t embrace the term “Bay Area rap” himself for many years out of city pride for his Oakland hometown. But his early accomplishments undoubtedly spawned the entire Northern California hip hop scene.

On the strength of bangers like “Freaky Tales” and the title track, Life is…Too $hort peaked at #73 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart and #92 on the Billboard 200. These modest numbers didn’t come close to matching top-sellers of 1988 like It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy and the debut of gangsta rap icon Ice-T. But the LP proved Too $hort could craft albums equally deserving of the mainstream spotlight.

Rise to Prominence: Short Dog’s in the House and Shorty the Pimp

On the heels of his Jive debut, Too $hort kept his foot on the gas releasing new music at a prolific rate. His quick follow-up LP Short Dog’s in the House arrived in November 1989 and greatly expanded $hort Dog’s national fanbase. Songs like “Ain’t Nothing Like Pimpin”” and “Short but Funky” showed a refinement of his signature West Coast funk sound.

Short Dog’s in the House also featured Too $hort’s most influential track to date – the classic “The Ghetto” (not to be confused with the song of the same name on his debut). Riding a smooth groove, the song vividly described bleak realities of the Oakland streets:

Talking about the ghetto…funky ghetto
Good shit, bad shit, it’s all good shit
I’m from East Oakland, black folks on dope
The killers on the corner, they sell that fucking rock

The Ghetto” became a street anthem in Oakland and rankings like Source Magazine named it one of the 100 Best Rap Singles. Its influence can be heard in classic ’90s tracks like “Gin and Juice” by Oakland’s own Snoop Dogg. Propelled by its hit single, Short Dog’s in the House peaked at #33 on Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums.

On his 1991 follow-up Shorty the Pimp, $hort emphasized his identity as an Oakland pioneer by titling the album after his rap moniker. Songs like “In the Oaktown” name-dropped streets and neighborhoods throughout Oakland over funky synths and live instrumentation. The LP’s highest charting single “Don’t Fight the Feeling” even featured a sample of the Oakland Athletics baseball team’s anthem “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang.

Shorty the Pimp ultimately rose to #16 on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart. Too $hort further promoted his Oakland heritage by founding his own rap record store Real Records in Berkeley, CA along with business partner Steve Arrington. The store sells hard-to-find vinyl releases Real Records and other rap indie labels.

Mainstream Success with Get in Where You Fit In and Cocktails

After repping the Bay Area’s independent hip hop scene for the better part of a decade, Too $hort finally saw major mainstream success with his 1993 effort Get in Where You Fit In and follow-up Cocktails.

Propelled by funky, radio-ready tracks “Gettin It”” and “Just Another Day,” Get in Where You Fit In became $hort’s first album to crack the top 40 of the Billboard 200, peaking at #23. Cocktails arrived just a year later in October 1995 and rode high off Too $hort’s growing visibility. Cable networks like BET and Rap City began granting heavy airplay to singles “On Point” and “All My Bitches Are Gone.” The slick G-Funk production style also aligned perfectly with the West Coast gangsta rap that dominated mainstream hip hop culture in the mid-90s. Debuting at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, Cocktails marked Too $hort’s highest entry ever on the mainstream album charts.

While he incorporated some concession to radio expectations on these LPs, $hort Dog doubled down on his authentic Bay heritage more than ever. Both albums continued Too $hort’s long tradition of repping his hometown of Oakland, celebrating its culture and slang while warning about the dangers of gangs and crime. He also collaborated with many fellow Bay Area rappers like Father Dom, Spice 1, Ant Banks and Oakland legend E-40. $hort Dog now proudly embraced his role as “The Godfather of Bay Area Hip Hop.”

Get in Where You Fit In and Cocktails established Too $hort as much more than just a regional phenomenon. Even without adapting the formula that brought so many gangsta rap stars commercial dominance, $hort Dog attracted mainstream ears and record sales just by remaining himself – an authentic, unapologetic Pimp from Oakland.

Maintaining Success from the Late 90s Through Today

Even following the peak commercially successful period of his career, Too $hort never fell off. He continued releasing an album every year or two with fairly consistent radio play and album sales. In 1996, his track “So You Want to Be a Gangster” appeared on the hit compilation album Gang Related (Soundtrack). $hort Dog’s music continued reaching younger audiences by way of video games like Grand Theft Auto as well – “Blowjob Betty” plays on the fictional Wildstyle radio station in GTA: San Andreas.

In the early 2000s, $hort scored moderate hits teaming up with popular figures from the Bomb Squad production crew and Lil Jon. He even earned a Grammy nomination in 2003 for the track “Shake That Monkey” featuring Lil Jon and The East Side Boyz. Staying prolific throughout the decades, Too $hort passed 20 studio albums in 2010. Defying the conventional wisdom of rap as a young man’s game, $hort Dog continued touring and recording new music well into middle age without slowing down.

Some album highlights from Too $hort’s late career period:

  • Can’t Stay Away (1999) – Peaked at 31 on Billboard 200
  • You Nasty (2000) – Peaked at #45 on Billboard 200
  • It’s About Time (2003) – Peaked at #16 on Billboard 200
  • Blow the Whistle (2006) – Peaked at #26 on Billboard 200
  • Still Blowin (2010) – Peaked at #94 on Billboard 200
  • No Trespassing (2012) – Peaked at #113 on Billboard 200

In August 2021 at the age of 55, Too $hort announced his retirement from making new albums. But true to form, he refuses to quit music completely. He continues to tour and plot new ways to distribute music directly to his fans outside restrictive label deals. Given his longevity already spanning over 35 prolific years, it seems likely fans will continue hearing new flows, verses and collaborations from the Oakland pioneer for years to come.

Too $hort’s Rapping Style & Influences

Too $hort built his entire image around celebrating sex, partying and the stereotypical street hustler/mack lifestyle. While his subject matter wasn’t sui generis in rap, the extreme narrow lyrical focus was rare even among hardcore gangsta artists. No matter the production or instrumentation trends of the era, $hort Dog stuck to his signature Pimp Tales style covering graphic sexual escapades, glorified pimping/drug dealing and expressing affection for his home city of Oakland.

Early on, Too $hort received criticism for his vulgarity and seeming lack of substance. But just like comedy legends Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, $hort Dog used extreme profanity and outrageous scenarios to offer cultural commentary about society’s views on sexuality, gender and criminal glamorization. While not as outwardly political as contemporaries like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, Too $hort challenged social mores simply by reveling in vulgar topics and championing the historically marginalized Pimp figure.

Too $hort varied his vocal delivery to match every kind of beat – from fast double-time flows on early Miami bass-inspired tracks to laidback, harmonic flows over smooth ’90s G-funk. But regardless of cadence, his top notch mic skills made every verse both musical and visually vivid. Too $hort had a knack for turns of phrase elevating even simple scenarios into enduring street expressions like “Blow the Whistle” and “Can’t F**k With the Man in the Mirror.”

Too $hort’s Legacy & Continued Relevance

During over 35 prolific years in rap running his own indie label, Too $hort stands tall as a pioneer not just of West Coast hip hop – but independent hip hop as a whole. The sheer volume of his output – over 20 albums and likely thousands of guest verses – guarantees his lyrical influence will be felt for generations. Just as importantly, Too $hort’s business model empowered other artists to circumvent restrictive major label deals to become rap moguls themselves.

As one of the first artists to embrace explicit sexuality in commercial rap, Too $hort paved the way for chart-toppers like Lil Kim, 2 Live Crew, Khia and Cardi B to push boundaries. $hort Dog took elements of the Chicano rap genre to wider White and Black audiences unfamiliar with West Coast street culture. His frequent and proud use of the words “b****” and “pimp” also sparked necessary dialogue around gender respect in urban communities.

During the 2010s, Too $hort received official proclamations from city officials in Oakland, Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Atlanta honoring his lengthy career and positive impacts. In 2016, the artist worked closely with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to archive pieces of his personal collection. Items included his early flyers, rap memorabilia and some of his gold/platinum album certifications.

Even acknowledged rap legends like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and E-40 continue to pay respect to Too $hort as a pioneer. Cube told NME in 2022 “When you start talking about Too Short, Eazy-E, and Snoop Dogg – that’s Mt. Rushmore of West Coast hip hop soloists.” The iconic artists share over a century of combined experience in rap – so praise from them speaks volumes about $hort Dog’s contributions.

Even in his mid-50s after “retiring”, Too $hort stays active touring and plans new independent projects directly marketed to his loyal longtime fanbase. Given the remarkable staying power already demonstrated, it seems likely Too $hort will continue impacting West Coast hip hop culture for many years to come.

Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions About Too $hort

How old was Too $hort when started rapping?

Too $hort began writing his own raps around age 14 and recorded his first track at age 17 in 1983. He launched his professional rap career in 1985 at age 19 with his independent tape Don’t Stop Rappin’.

What Too $hort albums sold the most copies?

Too $hort’s commercial peak came in the mid-1990s – Get In Where You Fit In (1993) and Cocktails (1995) both broke 400,000 sales. Cocktails marks his best-seller worldwide, moving over 600,000 units.

How much is Too $hort’s net worth?

Celebrity net worth sites estimate Too $hort’s current net worth between $10-$15 million. As an independent artist owning all his own music, his wealth comes not just from album sales but residuals and licensing. He also earns big paydays still touring after 35+ years.

How many albums does Too $hort have?

Over his entire career to date, Too $hort has released 20 studio albums, 5 collaboration albums with artists like Scarface and E-40, and over 10 compilation/remix albums. He has also been featured on countless albums from Oakland and West Coast rap artists.

Is Too $hort retired?

In August 2021, Too $hort shared plans to retire from making new albums after 35 prolific years in the game. However he still plans to tour and release new music through independent means outside the traditional label system. Given his track record, fans can expect to keep hearing new collab tracks and singles from the Oakland pioneer.