Q&A: Too $hort On Not Getting A Lot Of Love In New York, His Aversion To Mixtapes, And Working With Biggie

"They tell me to get my old ass off the mic, but every time my old ass gets on stage I put on a hell of a show!" So promises Too $hort, the godfather of Bay Area hip-hop who'll be hitting Brooklyn this Thursday and Friday for shows at the Knitting Factory. The back-to-back gigs mark $hort Dog's solo Big Apple stage debut; with a discography that harks back to 1985's Don't Stop Rappin' and a spell before that crafting custom songs for local customers, the East Oakland-raised, pimp-styled icon has a rap stash that runs deeper than most. But as a West Coast pioneer, Too $hort hasn't always been so readily accepted in hip-hop's heartland. In the run-up to his inaugural NYC shows, we got $hort to look back on his early days dealing with East Coast elitism, bantering with cynical Manhattan bellhops, and being told by Biggie that he was kinda like a big deal in Brooklyn.

Can you remember the very first time you came to New York City?

The first time I came to New York was to do a Yo! MTV Raps thing. I've had some crazy New York experiences!

What's the first one that comes to mind?

I remember talking to the guy who was taking my luggage up to my room—talking to a bellhop—and he was asking me what I do for a living and I was telling him I rap and stuff. He was like, "Well good luck with your career." I was like, "Well, shit, I've already sold millions of albums..." He was like, "Nah, get the fuck outta here!" I kept talking to him; I named some rappers I'd done shows with that I thought he'd know, like I mentioned Big Daddy Kane, and he was still like, "No, you're fuckin' lying!" So the bell-hop's taking my bags while he's like "Get the fuck outta here!"

Did you still tip the bellhop?

Yeah, I'm not that kind of guy! At the time I was extremely hot in the South, on the West Coast, and throughout the Midwest, but my stuff would never catch on the East Coast 'cause on the early days New York was like, "We're not listening to anything that's not from New York." I'd come to New York and do a lot of media and we'd go around and sometimes do radio promo, but we'd never do shows. It was almost like certain people, like I'd see people in the streets like, "Yeah, we know who you are," but they were never into the music.

Why do you think your music never caught on in New York?

I feel it was, you know, the justified arrogance of being the creator and inventor. You gave something to the world and feel like no one can do it better than the creator. I always understood what it was. The first time I went to shows and saw Run-DMC and those guys, and the first time I got an opportunity to perform with other New York groups at a show, I kinda copped the vibe early on, like hip-hop is ours. In the early days, with the West Coast and me, it was like I was seen as a hostile and my music was offensive to the creators. How could you take our invention and mess it up like that? But my opinion was—and I say the same thing to this day—that hip-hop is the same thing that every time someone hears it for the first time they fall in love. I don't care if it's the '80s, the '90s, or now, just all over the world, even where people don't speak English, they listen to American rappers.

So once hip-hop got to the West Coast, we grabbed it and we listened to it and we started doing it. Everywhere hip-hop went it was just infectious. So I'm not the creator but at the same time I'm somewhat of a hip-hop creator 'cause I provided a certain style of hip-hop to a lot of people—though not New Yorkers or anything—like the whole pimp thing, and saying "bitch." I listen to a lot of rap and hear elements that I brought to the table. I understand that if I hear a rapper say "beotch!" I'm like, "Why the fuck are you doing my shit?" It doesn't bother me like that, but I get the point.

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