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. Hes 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 $horts 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 $horts 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 wasnt 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. $horts own experiences were part of a broader, more calculated scheme by the recording industrys 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 wasnt that hip-hop changed on its own, it had a little push. Im 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. Its time. And after that its like the floodgates just opened with sex and violence. Indeed, $horts perspective has been echoed by a handful of other emcees, hip-hop insiders, and media outlets.
Arguably the most poignant track of $horts career is the introspective I Want to Be Free (Thats the Truth) from 1992s 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 Shorts penchant for vivid storytelling and concludes with the classic closing refrain, I aint mad Im 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 $horts first-ever Yo! MTV Raps interview from 1989, plus the original music video for I Want to Be Free (Thats the Truth).
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