While everything in hip-hop either exchanges places or exits stage left, Too Short remains about as impactful as he was upon his arrival in the game. Nearly 35 years after releasing his major-label debut album, Born to Mack, Short, one of the founders of the West Coast rap scene, possesses the same hustler’s spirit that propelled his career but with greater wisdom of who he was and still is: original.
“I still have that same hunger and love for what I do,” Short tells Billboard. “I’m always in tune with who Too Short is, while still being able to adapt with the times.”
Even after accomplishing everything he has done — birthing a sound that defined a region, while also being successfully sampled on hit records like DJ Khaled and Drake’s 2016 “For Free” and Saweetie’s 2020 “Tap In” — Short elevated his Hall of Fame career over the last year and a half. The Oakland, CA native became the first major rapper to release an album in five different decades with his 2020 release, The Trunk, Volume #3. Then, in December of that year, Short participated in a VERZUZ battle against his fellow Mount Westmore member, E-40), which attracted 2.9 million viewers across streaming platforms. And in typical Too Short fashion, his output was prolific, including the premiere of his latest single “Nasty Dance” — which included a performance inside a virtual strip club through his partnership with Kid Cudi’s music app, Encore.
With 2022 finally settling in, Short is again ready to take off. In March, his newest album, Sir Too Short, will arrive. As a member of the Mount Westmore supergroup, alongside the previously-mentioned E-40, Ice Cube, and Snoop Dogg, the legendary quartet is expected to release new music soon. Despite some saying hip-hop is a “young man’s sport,” Short is another example of one of the genre’s most-tenured artists still thriving and leading the way.
Short recently spoke with Billboard about his upcoming release of Sir Too Short, Born to Mack’s 35th anniversary, how he’s evolved with the times, and more.
When you look back at what you accomplished last year, what was your biggest takeaway?
It was honestly too good to be true. [Laughs.] Even going back to the end of 2020, when I did that VERZUZ [With E-40], I was able to remain active because of that event, everyone being excited about Mount Westmore, and me performing again. Sometimes it’s crazy [to] believe what’s going on when thinking about the money I’m making from performing, or how many people want to see me. I’m blessed to be at this point of my career, and I’m inspired to be as productive as I can be everyday.
With your next project, Sir Too Short, how did you find a balance of maintaining your signature sound but still evolving as an artist?
It’s that formula of knowing what’s a good or bad song for Too Short while still having that same funky sound everyone knows from me. I have access to a lot of good beats, but I don’t always have intentions of making an album while recording. That’s something I was reminded of from the industry as these younger artists are just recording and getting their thoughts out before deciding which records could go on a future project.
I have at least 50 new songs recorded — whether it’s me or any features I’ve done. And then I have at least 40 songs recorded with Mount Westmore. It’s crazy to think at 55 years old I have a future in hip-hop. [Laughs.]
And not only that, but you’re sounding great and fitting in today’s times.
There’s a small group of us rappers who people would consider trailblazers. We’re out here reaching new levels in this game and doing so without a path — especially when it comes to being an older artist. I mean, when you think about it, some of the game’s best artists are just getting older, and that includes us at Mount Westmore. By us being successful right now, we’re making a statement for hip-hop, and encouraging that 25-year-old out there to rap for the rest of their life if they want to.
Among the many distinctions you’ve gathered in your career, you’re the only rapper to have worked with 2Pac, JAY-Z, and the Notorious B.I.G. What makes all of them unique?
With those guys along with anybody else who’s on that level, they’re hustling 24/7. There’s no such things as holidays and weekends. And distractions? Forget about it. They all have that hustler’s mentality and make the most of their situation — and that’s something I could relate to. Heck even with my night on VERZUZ, I made hundreds of thousands of dollars that night through my merchandise and any other deals I secured.
It’s bigger than writing rhymes, man. No one is sitting at home and waiting for their next opportunity. People are working, including the artists you haven’t seen in a long time. While people assume those artists are broke and doing nothing, they’re actually rocking crowds or even owning multiple business. We will always work and be active, because this is hip-hop.
This summer will mark the 35th anniversary of Born to Mack. What was your mindset like during its creation and when you were distributing it yourself?
My back was against the wall, and I had to find a way. At that time, our culture was so young and didn’t create any roadmaps or connections for us to follow. But you know what? I loved it, and it was my love that inspired me to push my music. I would ask questions to all the older cats, especially my guy Dean Hodges — who owned 75 Girls Records — and ask, “How can I push my record and make money off of it?” But the biggest lesson of all was: you just had to figure it out.
Many years later, that’s what Soulja Boy did on the internet. He pimped it, became a trailblazer, and found his way. Folks may want to hate new rappers, but you can’t hate the music! [Laughs.]
Was it ever daunting to make music about your home or represent it during times where people didn’t know or care?
No, and here’s why: I grew up with funk. James Brown, Rick James, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, and anyone else from that sound and era. And because of that influence, I had a safety blanket within my music to say whatever I want — whether it’s funny, about pimping, or about my community because it’s how I felt. I wasn’t thinking hard about outreach and other opinions, because within the success I had, I only cared about my sound and keeping it funky.
A lot of people love music that sounds good. Even for those who criticized me or falsely claim that I only talked about certain things, they’re wrong — especially when remembering a lot of my records had greater depth to them. But I’m always going to be me. I know music, I lived life, and I am successful. Now I’m passing on the game or more so the formula that myself, E-40, his Uncle Charles, and others made. It’s simple as that.