For his 19th album, No Trespassing, Too $hort wanted to tweak his image. The Oakland rapper (born Todd Shaw) hired local director Joslyn Rose Lyons to shoot videos that largely steered away from the misogynistic clichés about pimping found in many of his past songs. Their collaborations drew out sides of the artist previously unseen, such as when he's seen laughing while wearing clown makeup with Wallpaper.'s Ricky Reed in "Double Header," or peeling off on Harleys with Richie Rich on "Hog Ridin."
But last month, as $hort was preparing for the Feb. 28 release of No Trespassing, a video interview with him posted on the website of hip-hop magazine XXL ignited a scandal that threatened to undo his recent makeover. The video, titled "Fatherly Advice," showed Shaw telling boys of early adolescence to skip trying to merely kiss girls, and instead try to force them into more risqué behavior, offering graphic advice on how boys could get "to the hole." Though it was quickly taken down, the video caused a storm of outrage, with some bloggers calling for XXL Editor-in-Chief Vanessa Satten to resign. (Satten, who said she didn't see the video before it was posted, suspended the employees who made the video and kept her job.)
In an interview with SF Weekly, though, $hort says his comments in the video were taken out of context. He said they were supposed to be part of a comedy skit with Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz, but that the skit elements were taken out of the final cut. Still, $hort, a longtime community activist, says the incident has prompted him to reconsider his public image.
What did you learn from the controversy with the XXL video?
I am actually taking all of this social media attention as a lesson that, in these days and times of the instantaneous Twitter and all that stuff, you do have a certain responsibility to be on point when you're out and about and being followed. It educated me to be a lot more responsible with my responses in interviews and my behavior walking in and out of places, not knowing if cameras are watching. It's just a different time.
I went to New York and did a media run, interview after interview, and for the first time people were asking questions like, "Hey, what's a pimp? How do you be a pimp?" New York used to be disgusted with Too $hort's image, and this time they liked it, they were into it. And I was feeling free and running at the mouth, and I did a lot of shit I probably shouldn't have done, that I wouldn't do again in interviews. Now I know.
You say it was just a snippet of a skit that was used, but if more of the video had been released, don't you think it still would have upset people?
It was supposed to be a connection with me and [rapper] 2 Chainz. They said I was his father figure and [the advice] was supposed to be a joke that would have been for adults, not for kids. But they put it up as "Too $hort's Fatherly Advice," and they never put out the rest of the interview.
How do you move forward?
I'm blessed to be able to take it as a lesson. This put me on a whole new mission with myself. It's a big deal to me. Just in case that [video] touched one child's eyes or ears, I feel like it's my deal to tell the truth — that it's some bullshit — and give them some real advice that they can use for the future.
I was just fortunate enough to put out an album during this same time. It's supposed to hurt, but it doesn't really hurt the publicity side, you know? What I should have done is put out the album the day after they said I died on Twitter. [Note: In November, some online gossip websites mistakenly reported that Shaw had died.] That would have been genius.
You shot 10 videos to support No Trespassing. How does the budget compare from shooting videos when you were on Jive Records back in the day?
The cost of all these videos combined was cheaper than what I'd do for a Jive Records video; $25,000 was a cheap video — cheap as fuck. You'd get $50,000 or $100,000-plus. We're not doing that anymore!
Can you imagine what incredible videos you could make with those budgets today?
The imagination is endless; just imagine if we had the kind of [current low] costs back in the day. There's a hundred Too $hort songs I would have shot videos to, and you could have visualized the growth of me as an artist. Jive never saw any value in me as a long-term artist. Even as I was doing it they were like, "You're not really the kind of artist that we'd spend our money on." They never saw the value of Too $hort and E-40. They never respected that we could continue to be hot at this point in our career. By the time the new millennium came along, they were trying to kill our careers.
Now, Jive's out of business altogether and you're making an album with E-40, which the label never supported.
We could have always done the album on our own time and our own money, but the label always said that while they had us both under contract, they would never put it out. They didn't believe in us. I don't get it.
How did you maintain your passion for music if you always felt at war with them?
I'm a music guy naturally, so it's very easy. But it's even easier for me to make songs with [E-40], because I've got a partner who knows as much as I know about making music. So I really only have to do half the job.