Odds are your mama doesn’t know who Todd “Too $hort” Shaw is and neither does your daddy, but the Oak land-born rapper has made a viable career out of proffering street science to those who don’t mind laughing at his subjects, the dregs of society—wannabe and actual ballers who, with out remorse, elevate their own mental plates by preying upon the misguided, unenlightened, disenfranchised, unempowered, self-esteem deficient—and to anyone open-minded enough to entertain being entertained by one man’s puerile perspective on all things odious that begin with the letter “p”: pissy pussy, pimping, playerism, polygamy, pandering, pilfering, plagiarizing, pi racy, and of course, politics.
Gold and platinum albums, like the three he recorded for 75 Girls Records before getting signed to Jive, served as preambles to a volume of pimp parables containing songs where the titles are as interesting as the lyrics: “She’s a Bitch,” “Invasion of the Flat Bootied Bitches,” “Freaky Tales,” and “Dope Fiend Beats” (where he plays connect-the-cuss words: “motherfuck you bitchgoddamnasshole”). Unforgivable as it is unforgettable, collectively this encyclopedic anthology of little radio airplay gave street credibility and an air of flyness to a snaggle-toothed Catholic school boy who flunked the 10th grade, rolled on two feet instead of four wheels, and took pride and pleasure in pimping sex objects who existed only in his vast imagination.
This imagination, however, only runs rampant when Too $hort is in the studio, because Todd Shaw, a laid-back brotha who wants to get married and have children, is personable, articulate, and polite. The 32-year-old Taurus, like most born under this sign, is hard as pinky-toe corns on the outside, marshmallow on the inside. He craves stability and security, is supremely romantic, and puts the woman in his life on a pedestal. Tauruses rule the throat and vocal cords and are lauded for their melodious speaking voices. Astrologically speaking, this would explain why this mainstay in a rap game that has gone from rudimentary to sophisticated possesses the ability to work words into positions of power.
Effortlessly, poetically, on Can’t Stay Away, album number 11—which debuted in Billboard‘s pop top five three weeks ago—the self-professed Dog, rhyming a hairbreadth faster than Mase, excoriates young tenders bartering ass for cash and embarks upon an exciting adventure through the ghetto. He curses like film idols J.D. Walker and Willie Dynamite and shoots more game than his favorite author, Iceberg Slim. Not too heavy on big words, he gives nouns like “bitch” and “ho” dual connotations. “Bitch” as a compliment exudes admiration; it’s something young ladies in need of validation aspire toward, like earning a college degree or the title Mrs. If girlfriend keeps her weave tight and gets the right gear, then she might be able to join $hort’s stable. But, when the weed aficionado uses “beee-iiitch” in a multisyllabic whine to describe a bitch who’s trying to gank him for his stash, it comes off as a reprimand, an insult, fightin’ words.
Gradually achieving bicoastal appeal, the founder of $hort Records has splattered lyrical conine on wax with rappers as far east as Lil’ Kim and as far west as Snoop Dogg. Can’t Stay Away‘s best songs, “It’s About That Money” with Puffy and “Here We Go” with Jermaine Dupri and Jay Z, ooze non-West-Coast flavor thanks to the “featured artist” dictum that’s becoming a mandatory staple in hip hop. The rest of the album sparkles underneath the incandescence of $hort’s timeless “trunk funk,” a sound he popularized by fusing Funkadelic’s loud, rock-inspired live instrumentation with harmony. It’s called “trunk funk” because it blasts out of the trunks of lowriders favored by hustlers, in cities like Oak land where there’s room to cruise.
When he was 24, a head-on collision that left the other driver dead became the impetus for the bitter sweet paint that colorizes $hort’s artistic canvas today; his worldview further darkened after his insolvent Dangerous Music record label folded. Life-hardening incidents educated the rapper, resulting in an unexpected mission to in turn educate his young fans—at least in one song per album. In Can’t Stay Away‘s “Tell the Feds,” he even tells kids not to sell drugs. And, yes, this is the same five-foot-seven guy who allowed female guests to shoot venom at him on “Don’t Fight the Feeling” in 1988: “Do they call you short because of your height or your wit? Diss me boy and I’ll hang your balls from a cliff…” His hilarious response: “You’re acting like it’s that time of the month. Are you bleeding? Can’t think about sex? Irritated by your Kotex?”
Being able to laugh has strengthened $hort’s character, but will it protect him from the fear that all of his glory, all his free booty, might one day come to an end? Maybe not. Either way, $hort, who threatened retirement an album ago, will never possess Nas’s nimbleness on the mic—not with his cockamamy bitch- besmirching. He won’t touch Puff’s all around entertainer chops or Master P’s business acumen, either. But he will continue effacing the competition with his inexhaustible consistency. Baby just can’t stay away.