Music

Too : Get Off the Stage

Stuart Henderson

Wow, tough album title, Too $hort. You talking to yourself?


Too $hort

Get Off the Stage

Label: Zomba
US Release Date: 2007-12-07
UK Release Date: Available as import
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There was a time when Too $hort was relevant. Indeed, there was a time when his relentless misogyny was somehow acceptable, when his hopelessly limited vocabulary was a kind of asset, and when he seemed important, worthy of respect, or, at least, of our attention. That time has passed.

Too $hort is now, on this, his 16th record, a boring, uninspired artist with nothing new to say about anything at all. While his raw fuck-jams, his furious woman-hating, and his casual homophobia might have seemed a significant “message” back in the era of Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube (two overrated MCs who idolized $hort), it now sounds completely pointless. This is, by any measure, an entire record of graphic sex fantasies punctuated by the endless repetition of the word “bitch”. It’s goofy, since it’s all so horrifically insipid, but it seems somehow darker than that -- this isn’t a funny album, even when you want it to be. It's close to self-parody, but the reality is that everything is delivered with such earnestness that you’re left with the ugly feeling that this guy actually lives like this.

Rare is the record that inspires a personal hatred of the musician behind the music. And for good reason -- as an omnivorous listener, I tend to harbour respect for just about every artist out there, even if I don’t think much of their work. But I think I hate Too $hort.

I certainly hate what he says about just about everything. I hate that he feels a burning desire to (on the title track!) assail small-chested women for having the gall to dance in front of him: “If you ain’t got big titties, then why you up there stripping? Get off the stage, bitch!”. I hate that when a poor woman comes on to him, he chastises her before warning that “right now, I want to make you taste my nuts”. I hate that he tells a woman he wants to sleep with to “pull them panties down” and “let that pussy hang”. In three quick lines, Too $hort manages to attack a (silenced) stripper, insult a “broke” woman (high target, tough guy), and then order a bedmate to get naked for him (even as he obliquely slurs her vagina). It’s all of this thoughtless anger toward women -- which I know is hardly unknown to the world of hip-hop, but one of $hort’s claims to fame is that he started it! -- that highlight his lack of creativity.

In his website bio (which is by turns hilarious and unsettling), $hort emphasizes that the word “bitch” (which he has always made a point of pronouncing “biatch”, “biiiiiitch”, and “beeeeeeaaaaaatch”) is his trademark. In fact, he seems to think that this contribution was some kind of innovation. Yes, many artists copied his pronunciation, and indeed turned the word into a kind of street currency before it mysteriously made its way into the mainstream. Now, white suburban kids use the word “beeyotch” to refer to each other on the playground. Score one for Too $hort.

But are we really talking about this? Is this artist’s proudest legacy really his ground-breaking use of a word which, at the very least, denigrates women, and at most, well, denigrates women? On this record, Too $hort uses the word so often that it’s basically a comma, but every time he spits it, he’s talking about women. Even when he’s attacking men, his calling them a “bitch” is a put down -- in his tune “Shittin’ on ‘Em”, he calls a bunch of different men “bitch”, and it ain’t because he likes them. Even when he’s vaguely trying to defend his use of the word -- as in this supremely weird moment in “Pull Them Panties Down”: “Bitch, take ‘em off. Yeah, I called you a bitch. All bitches ain’t women. Pull ‘em down” -- he manages to avoid making any goddamn sense. I know he’s not the only guy who does this stuff (hardly!), but he claims to have been the first. So, I’m shittin’ on him.

Musically, the record follows the trend $hort established upon moving to Atlanta from his native Oakland a few years back. It’s all treble click and booming bass, slow jams with interchangeable vocal lines -- which, if you’ve been following the underside of the crunk scene, means his record sounds like every other lousy crunk record from the past four years. Guest MCs tend to be Oakland friends, but none seems up to the low-bar task of upping the ante on any of the tracks. Mercifully, the record is a mere 35 minutes long. At this length, it hardly qualifies as a complete album in the current world of bloated releases. Still, it’s a pretty long 35 minutes to sit through, especially if there are any women or homosexuals around when you’re doing it.

If you want, you can easily reduce all the songs on this record to one, awkward message: Too $hort hates “bitches”, but wants to fuck them. Freud would love this guy. Me, not so much. While I am so cherry picking using this line, how can a guy resist? Hey, has-been! Get off the stage, biatch.

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"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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