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Beats Per Millennium - Hip Hop Honors Week: Too Short

Hip Hop Honors Week: Too Short

Hip hop is regional as rock and roll is generational. You can name a rock band and identify it with an era immediately – The Beatles are best identified with the early 60s, R.E.M. is the late-80s early-90s. Hip hop is the same, to a lesser extent, but you’re more likely to associate a rapper with a region than with an era. N.W.A. is from Compton, Nas is from Queensbridge, T.I. is from Atlanta and Kanye is from Chicago. If you’ve gone three albums without mentioning your hometown, you’re an “indie rapper.” So finding out that Too Short is the godfather of Bay area hip hop was a bit of a surprise.

The Bay is the weird kid brother of hip hop. For instance, the Hyphy trend would not have been a trend if not for YouTube videos of white kids getting their cars jacked while idling them down the street and dancing alongside. Pair this with MC Hammer, and I’d like to think Bay Area Hip Hop is all a practical joke, an elaborate exercise in making white people look silly.

The transformative moment in my musical adolescence was playing Grand Theft Auto all day, listening to Radio Los Santos. Straight Outta Compton became the most important album in my collection. I was playing “A Bitch Iz a Bitch” for friends after breakups and sending “Express Yourself” to conservative Christian friends up in Michigan. I picked up Dr. Dre’s “Concrete Roots” at a used music fair, ordered The D.O.C.‘s “No One Can Do It Better” off Amazon, and burned myself a copy of Eazy-E’s “Eazy Duz It.” Albums that came out when I was three years old suddenly supplanted any of the indie rock I happened to be into at the time. Certainly, I couldn’t identify – I was listening to “Fuck the Police” and my mother was working 911 dispatch while pregnant with me – but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the realest thing I’d ever heard.

One of the only records on Radio Los Santos without any connection to the Ruthless/Death Row sound of the day was Too Short’s “The Ghetto.” It sounded a hell of a lot different than anything else on the station – laid back, devoid of the testosterone and conceit of Compton. The Bay Area lacked a lot of the anger of L.A. that exploded into the riots of the early 90s. Too Short didn’t record a record about getting up and fighting, but rather one about surviving, lamenting the state of the world as it was.

Sure, Too Short didn’t explore social commentary that much. His style was money, sex, and pimpin’, full of classic funk beats and live drums and bass. It’s downright positive compared to the N.W.A.‘s of the day. And maybe Too Short’s rise to legendary status came in tandem with the rest of his city’s idling in irrelevance. For whatever reason, whether it be the Oakland/San Francisco split or the comfortable weather, the Bay never had the anger that the rest of the country did, and so the Bay never produced any fighters – just pimps, dancers, and ghost riders of the whip. The fighters were more interesting, but Too Short persevered – and now he’s getting his due.

Posted by Joe Kaiser at Oct 07, 2008 03:44 AM