Too $hort :: Life is... Too $hort :: Jive/Zomba
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

Following the moderately successful national debut of Too $hort with the re-released "Born to Mack," Jive Records quickly released "Life is... Too $hort" in 1989 to capitalize on these gains and increase his fan base. While the albums were selling well, it masked the fact that his reputation as a national rap superstar had not yet developed. Popular in the West, and somewhat recognized in the South and Midwest, the East coast (which unfortunately also dominated the music industry magazines) was barely checking for Todd Shaw at all.

As a result, Jive Records may have had greater expectations for "Life is... Too $hort" to increase his visibility - and those expectations would have been dissapointed. Too $hort didn't change his production - it was still largely his own, with a little co-production assistance from his Dangerous Music family and Al Eaton (for One Little Indian Productions). And Too $hort definitely didn't change his rap style. In fact, on "Nobody Does it Better" he proudly boasted that his form of hip-hop was so fresh that he didn't WANT to appeal to anybody but the West coast:

"You got a choice to make about me
Can I get busy, are my raps too weak?
Boy, you're too grown, don't say I'm borin
Just because you know I come from Californ-ia
Where many rappers get no respect
I'm at home in the tape deck
I get played and played until it's all played out
Sucker MC's come to my house
They want a contract, get signed up
But like toys, they need a good wind-up
Then the other suckers - sayin no names
Rap on the mic and use New York slang
Even though we don't talk like that out here
The point I'm tryina make comes out so clear"

It does indeed, but if you missed it the third verse crystalizes things:

"I sell records, everyday
And still I gets no radio play
I got homies, they love my beat
So you hear me all over the streets
I take pride in the bass, I make it deep
The kinda tape you'll always keep
So if you lose it, you're not my mama's son
It ain't free, go and buy another one"

And true to his laid back "I'm always mackin, never slackin" attitude, one of the album's best known songs is the single "I Ain't Trippin'." It's got a slow crawling "boom, boom, ba-boom-boom-boom" rap, with an rap that sounds even MORE subdued that one would expect from the already nonchalant MC. If ever an old school rap song was a candidate for a Screw mix, this track would have to be right up there at the top of the list:

"I ain't trippin, but the word went out, Sir Too $hort was through Can't really say where it all began, so I'm blamin it, all on you
Everybody used to say - Too $hort don't stop that rap
Now everytime you see my face, you say I'm smokin crack
Oakland, Californ-i-a, I heard it all before
I'm makin big bank now, rockin the crowd
I ain't trippin no more"

Proudly and loudly, Too $hort is throwing up his middle finger to the jealous haters trying to ruin his name; at the same time, sending the message that his Oakland rap style is here to stay for the long term. If that wasn't obvious enough the song "Oakland" should puts things into perspective:

"Straight from the West, Oakland is the best
Baby it's so fresh (Oakland)
It's called the Big Bad O, city of players on the go
You gotta have Trues and Vogues (Oakland)
Baby, that's my town, when all the tops come down
You'll hear my funky sound (Oh-oh-oh-Oaktown)
O-A-K-L-A-N-D, that city was made for me
Just rocking to the beat (Oakland)"

These days it's common place to hear rappers give shout outs to the city and/or neighborhood they're from, but back in the day a lot of the focus was either on the city of L.A. or the five boroughs of New York City. Too $hort helped pave the way for rappers to take regional pride in their home, even when thrust onto a larger national scene. Not long after that, rappers were shouting out hoods from Compton to Fifth Ward, and towns from Seattle to Miami. But even when setting trends, $hort stuck to the tried and true style of talking shit like a pimp and not caring in the least who is offended. He's so bold and nasty, he'll even take the First Lady to bed in "CussWords":

"Ronald Reagan came up to me and said, 'Do you have the answer
To the United States economy and a cure for cancer?'
I said -- What are you doin in the White House if you're not sellin cocaine?
Ask your wife, Nancy Reagan, I know she'll spit that game
Like one night, she came to my house, and gave me a blow job
She licked my dick, up and down, like it was corn on the cob
What is life? It is Too $hort
I play the bitches like it's a sport
Yea, I'll play the bitches just like y'all
Like Dr. J played basketball
Nasty bitches, around the world, I wrote this rhyme for you
You might not like my rap, but I'm tellin you bitch it's true"

And if you're wondering where Snoop Dogg got the phrase "'Frisco dyke" from on the song "Fuck Wit Dre Day," here's a little history lesson for y'all:

"Motherfucker can't spit straight game on the mic
Cause he's worse than a fag or a Frisco dyke
He's a sucker MC, I call him punk
You try to spit that rap, you can scratch that junk
You little punk-ass boy, wouldn't listen to me
Think I'm fakin but I'm takin all you sucker MC's
To the end of the world and push you over
Good luck couldn't find you in a four leaf clover"

Whether you like Too $hort's style or hate it, you certainly can't deny that he takes pride in his rap and fearless ability to clown on everybody - whack rappers, jealous fans, and even nasty girls in songs like "Pimp the Ho":

"I start workin the hoes, and it just don't stop
It's goin on till the panties drop
I'm Sir Too $hort, like I said
Bitch can't lick, don't give me head
Had a fresh young tender, won't say her name
It's the same old story, ran the same old game
She can blow more head than a well blows water
The girl won't stop when she get started
Like the freak you married, I had to get with her
Ain't no doubt, Short Dog would get her
I'm a cold player, I can't lie
They call me Playboy $hort, and I told you why
I'm a mack, so get back
I put my tape in the deck in my Cadillac
And as my ride goes on definitely
I speak each word loud as can be
I'm the T-double o, and like I said
If your girlfriend's freakin, I accept all head"

For any Too $hort fan, this album is a defiant and definitive must have in their collection. In all fairness though, this is still not Too $hort at his best. While the beats have improved somewhat from "Born to Mack," they're definitely not at the peak which "Short Dog's in the House" would hit and keep for the better part of the 1990's. The most improved thing about this album over the last is Too $hort's rap: not just his lyrics, but the cocky confident arrogance he displays from start to finish. It's entirely justified by his ability to switch up his flow whether the beat is fast or slow, and the crisp diction of his delivery that makes every word both naughty and nice come through crystal clear. The naughty definitely includes the word "beeeitch," and with "Life is... Too $hort" the rapper clearly made the word one of his trademarks. Still, this album is not overly obsessed with females and sex - it's a well rounded balance of hip-hop game that may not have pleased Jive in crossover potential but kept his already legendary rep growing larger. "Life is... Too $hort" proves that no matter what, Shaw just don't stop rappin'.

Music Vibes: 7 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10

Originally posted: May 2, 2003