#YoMTVRapsTBT: Too $hort Performs “I Want to Be Free” (1992) + Classic Interviews [FULL VIDEOS] @TooShort

Although New York City, Los Angeles and Atlanta traditionally garner far more attention within hip-hop circles, the San Francisco Bay Area has an impressive history of hip-hop music and entrepreneurialism that warrants more respect than it typically receives. And while the Bay has produced a crop of revered artists, none of them are as iconic of an embodiment of Bay Area hip-hop as Mr. Todd Shaw, more affectionately known as Too $hort.

With a recording career that spans over thirty years and sixteen studio albums, $hort is arguably one of the most prolific emcees of all-time. He’s also one of the most provocative figures in hip-hop, owing to his well-earned reputation for pushing the boundaries of political correctness by embracing sexual adventurism as a recurring theme in his music. Some have argued that $hort’s explicit, debauchery-filled “freaky tales” border on the wrong side of the frivolity-misogyny spectrum, and in select cases, the outspoken may have a valid point. However, there was a time earlier in $hort’s career when he intentionally balanced the pimped-out sex-rhymes with more righteous socio-political fare, along with his obligatory odes to his beloved hometown of Oakland.

$hort recently confided that the dearth of so-called conscious songs in his discography over the past twenty years or so wasn’t simply a creative decision he made as an artist, as some people may naturally assume. Instead, $hort contends that his record label mandated that he steer clear of songs like “Life is…Too Short” (1989) and “The Ghetto” (1990) in favor of more sensationalistic tunes that promised far greater shock value. $hort’s own experiences were part of a broader, more calculated scheme by the recording industry’s powers-that-be to marginalize positive messages in the music and flood the marketplace with low-brow material.


$hort has explained that, “At some point it wasn’t that hip-hop changed on its own, it had a little push. I’m a real conspiracy theorist, and I just feel like there had to be a gathering of the major labels and somebody had to say like, ‘Look, we gotta keep this positive shit off the airwaves and let this booty-shaking shit take over. It’s time.’ And after that it’s like the floodgates just opened with sex and violence.” Indeed, $hort’s perspective has been echoed by a handful of other emcees, hip-hop insiders, and media outlets.

Arguably the most poignant track of $hort’s career is the introspective “I Want to Be Free (That’s the Truth)” from 1992’s Shorty the Pimp LP, in which he explores the systemic victimization of the black community manifested through the legacy of police brutality & harassment. Propelled by a deeper-than-deep bassline courtesy of a 1979 Millie Jackson and Isaac Hayes duet and an Ohio Players vocal sample, the song showcases Short’s penchant for vivid storytelling and concludes with the classic closing refrain, “I ain’t mad…I’m just Black.”

In 1992, $hort stopped by the Yo! MTV Raps studio to perform the single and also took some time to chat with host Fab 5 Freddy about his evolving career and the ascendance of Oakland on the hip-hop map. Enjoy both clips below and check out bonus old-school footage of Too $hort’s first-ever Yo! MTV Raps interview from 1989, plus the original music video for “I Want to Be Free (That’s the Truth).”

Explore Too $hort’s discography via Amazon | iTunes

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