[14 November 2006]
With a career that dates back to the early ‘80s, Too $hort has outlasted every other rapper from his generation by following the well-worn cliche: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That is to say, he has a major label contract, yet he raps like it’s 1983. Rarely is there the faintest conceit of lyricism anywhere in his two decade span. No doubt, there are plenty of ways to make great rap music that don’t rely on being in touch with one’s inner Rakim. But dude just strings couplets together for as long as he can, never fucking with great discoveries like the internal rhyme scheme or the complex metaphor. Even his emotional depth is relatively limited. His rhymes have a weirdly antiquated quality, like time has not moved for him. It wouldn’t be that surprising to hear him reference the Soviet Bloc. One of $hort’s early albums was called Don’t Stop Rappin’; he apparently can’t pause even to retool his style. And yet, here he is, beloved, respected and still selling records.
This isn’t to say it’s hard to understand Sir Too $hort’s appeal. He controls the mic with the charisma and finesse of an old-school party rocker. His intensity gives weight to his extra-large verses and hookless tracks. “In the Trunk”, a six-minute manifesto with no hook, is riveting in a way few tracks are. His x-rated material (“Blowjob Betty”, “Freaky Tales”) is classic to say the least. And he championed the word “bitch”, helping to make it into the staple it is today. $hort also has a great ear for a beat. His early production, a creeping, minimal, 808-driven funk aesthetic, foreshadowed the George Clinton-esque beats that would drive Bay rap in the future. In the 90s, he got tons of help from the legendary Ant Banks. More recently, he moved to Atlanta and got in on the ground floor of the crunk movement with Lil Jon.
But ultimately, it’s all business for $hort: he will supply if there is a demand. There has been a reasonable demand for Too $hort albums since he was selling them out of his trunk in Oakland, and even as that demand wanes, his dinosaur style has gotten him this far. He has made it clear he’d rather retire than try something new. And so, as with Too $hort’s last four or so albums, Blow the Whistle might as well be called Y’all Still Want Me to Rap?. His latest isn’t a resounding yes, but it is everything we’ve come to expect from Sir Too $hort: funky, ignorant, and star-studded.
Whistle broke out early with a couple of wild singles: “Blow the Whistle” and “Keep Bouncing”. The album’s title track has been in heavy rotation since the spring. $hort mostly riffs on his influence on pop culture (“Ask Dave Chapelle about my rich bitch, / He got it from me, / He made 50 million dollars, / I’m proud of you, D”), while Lil Jon gets unconventionally fast and menacing on the beat. The Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am steals “Keep Bouncing” with his production, a strange mix of sparse drums, vintage synth buzzes, and maybe some marimba? Even though Snoop Dogg spits a pretty hard verse and $hort brings the usual, will’s rhymes (which include a request for a national Titty Holiday) are idiotic brilliance.
Whistle never surpasses its singles, but it’s still decent. Other highlights include some Jazze Pha-fueled indulgence in the form of “Playa”, “16 Hoes” and “Nothing Feels Better” ( hook: “Nothin in the world make a nigga feel better, / Than when you’re suckin my dick” . . . crooned by Jazze). David Banner stops by for “Baller”, which celebrates entrepreneurship and scorns for-profit churches. “I Want Your Girl” is strictly Bay Area, with the requisite cameos from E-40 and Mistah FAB.
$hort’s lyrics play mostly off two themes: he’s a pimp and he’s been around forever. Even “Burn Rubber Pt. 2”, ostensibly about cars, is basically about pimpin’. And it should be noted that he is still a pimp in the most literal sense. While many so-called pimps would redefine pimping through rap as a vague mix of fucking a lot and / or not paying for dinner, Sir Too $hort does not beat around the bush. Though his X-rated raps no longer pack the shock value they once did, his descriptions of the pimp reality are pretty rough. The breakdown of the average whore’s background on “Pimpin’ Forever” is hard to ignore, as is $hort’s readiness to smack his women. But $hort also disparages the tricks who would pay him and plays up the business relationship between a pimp and a whore. In nihilistic contrast to the “thug ‘em, fuck ‘em, love ‘em, leave ‘em, / ‘Cause I don’t fuckin need ‘em” mentality, he may actually respect women more than so-called pimps.
There’s nothing new or surprising on Blow the Whistle, but it is one of his better efforts since the mid-90s. His status as a living legend still earns him top-shelf beats and big name collaborations; Pimp C, Bun B, Kurupt and Daz (four legends in their own right) all contribute. And even so, $hort is still a little better than the only-as-good-as-your-guests status that marks a career twilight. This is Too $hort’s 15th album. Judging from Whistle, he might make it to 20.