September 25, 2015

Reader Review: Too $hort - $hort Dog's In The House (September 11, 1990)


(Today's Reader Review stays firmly set in Cali territory, as Hansgrohe writes up Too $hort's third album, Short Dog's In The House, which just hit the twenty-five year mark a couple of weeks ago, but you don't see $hort complaining about not having a cake.  Leave your thoughts for Hansgrohe below.)


Todd Anthony Shaw, better known as Too $hort, is an emcee and producer originally born in South Central Los Angeles, but later relocated to Oakland, California as a teen. Short is mostly known for rapping about sex, girls, and pimping, being the one-man West Coast equivalent to 2 Live Crew. However, during the early 1990's Short Dog (as he is also known) was also known as one of the more politically-flavored voices in hip hop, rapping about very serious social issues that were affecting inner-city America.

It's incredible how long Too Short's career has lasted. He's one of the pioneer emcees of the late 1980's and early 1990's, standing alongside N.W.A., Ice-T, and Compton's Most Wanted.  It could be argued that Too Short is the true father of G-Funk, given that he was one of the first acts to heavily sample funk records, but unlike Dr. Dre's The Chronic, Too Short's brand uses a lot more live instrumentation and feels less polished.  The man is still going strong today: as recently as 2006, he had another radio hit alongside Lil' Jon with "Blow The Whistle".  The man will clearly outlive us all.

Short Dog's In The House is the man's third album, distributed by Jive Records, the label which is still to this day better known for crafting pop stars than it is for treating rappers fairly.  The funk sound is represented pretty heavily here, as is Shaw's social commentary: the original pressings of Short Dog's In The House show Too Short's support for the Stop The Violence movement headed up by KRS-One.  Unfortunately, Jive's meddling in Short's approach throughout his career became so prevalent that his more conscious lyrics were essentially eliminated, replaced with more bars about pimping, women, and pimping women.

So, about that album. Is it a yay or a nay?

1.  SHORT DOG'S IN THE HOUSE
Might I present to you the longest rap album intro that may exist. To be fair to Short Dog, he does actually spit some rhymes, but the lyrics make it seem as though Shaw intended this song as some kind of educational recording for a geography class, bringing back memories of Schoolhouse Rock. Hell, Short even name-drops such gangsta destinations such as Wisconsin and Chattanooga.  Overall, very monotonous. However, I have to admit, the instrumental here is funky and sounds fucking dope, probably the best composition ever created by Pierre James. The instrumental reminds me of driving through International Boulevard on a hot sunny day in a bucket. It would've been nice if there were an instrumental version of the album released, but the only projects I've seen get that kind of treatment are Dr. Dre's 2001 and Common's Like Water For Chocolate, so I'll likely never get my wish.

2.  IT'S YOUR LIFE
The song pretty much jacks the beat from Parliament's "Dr. Funkenstein", even going as far as to swipe the hook. The song itself? To be honest, it's mostly average, perhaps slightly above. Short's rhymes are effective enough, but they aren't really anything special. Also, for some reason, Too Short's usual apathetic I-don't-give-a-hoot flow doesn't really mesh well with the music, which is surprising.  The theme of trying to make a honest dollar on the Oakland streets echoes hard enough, and the lesson presented is genuine: crime don't pay.  Sets the tone nicely enough for the project, though.

3.  THE GHETTO
This song is just fucking fantastic. The sample of Donny Hathaway's "The Ghetto" is respectable and well-produced, so props to Al Eaton (who has also produced for Queen Latifah) for creating a goddamn masterpiece. (His work on here is so good that even the Hathaways loved this track.)  The pictures painted within are vivid to the point where they still ring true today, and there is genuine concern in Short's voice, giving this song the extra edge. This is probably one of the greatest rap songs produced during the 1990's by the West Coast overall. Hell, I'd even go as far as to say that this is one of the greatest songs produced of all time. Seriously, this record is that good. Overall, this was a very nice nostalgic ride through East Oakland, or Grove Street, depending from where you heard this first.  (My understanding is that the version presented on cassette tape copies of Short Dog's In The House is even longer than the regular album take: if anyone happens to have that version, report back to me in the comments below.)

4.  SHORT BUT FUNKY
Keenan Foster drops another funky 1970's-flavored beat; however, this time the beat is a bit more radio friendly, as we must remember that Short was signed to Jive Records at the time.  It isn't bad, though, and it fits very well within the overall tone of the project.  The lyrics here are more introspective and "thoughtful", relatively speaking, but they weren't written by Shaw: instead, credit must be given to Dame "Dangerous" Edwards.  "Short But Funky" was a contractual obligation, as Jive wanted Too Short to adopt a quicker, friendlier flow, but he actually doesn't sound bad playing this role.  Also, there's a subliminal MC Hammer dis on here.

5.   IN THA OAKTOWN
You might as well say that this is a sequel to "Short But Funky": it even immediately follows that particular track.  Instead of introspective rags-to-riches lyrics, though, we are hit with boasts about how Too Short is a much better rapper than you, how he visits all these foreign places you would never dream about, and how he (obviously) sleeps with plenty of women, because that's just what Too Short does. As mindless as the lyrics are, I really like the beat here; it sounds absolutely funky, and it keeps the momentum of the album going. Seriously, this is a forgotten gem, again produced by Al Eaton, who also did "The Ghetto". All in all, a very solid song.

6.  DEAD OR ALIVE
A pretty infamous song.  After his second album, Life is ...Too Short,was released in 1989, there were rumors floating around that Short had been shot and killed in a crackhouse deep in the ghettos of East Oakland. This couldn't have been further from the truth, but for a very brief moment, Too Short had become the Paul McCartney of the hip hop world, and this actually boosted his reputation and increased record sales, as it tends to happen with dead celebrities. Oh, the song itself? It's all right; Short's humor manages to shine through the dark subject matter (even taking a shot at Casper the Friendly Ghost's social anxiety), but the beat here doesn't hold up as well as the earlier tracks.  This was produced by Too Short himself, so that could explain it a bit.

7.  PUNK BITCH
This is where the album begins its "pimping" side, which is to be expected from a man whose material usually revolves around sex, promiscuity, pimping, and calling women dogs and farming equipment. Take that as you will; whether you enjoy sex raps is up to you, but if you're faint of heart, you'll probably want to pass. Personally, I don't really care much about the content, as long as the lyrics and content mesh well, and on here, Short primarily describes the sex he had with various women. This is the last Al Eaton beat on the album, and my God is it amazing. Seriously, his work on this project is incredible: this man deserves credit for assisting with Too Short's career taking off, and by extension, the West Coast itself.

8.  AIN'T NOTHIN' BUT A WORD TO ME (FEAT. ICE CUBE)
This was a big song back in the day, being the first time two emcees from the Bay Area and Los Angeles collaborated.  For Cube, this marked his steady retreat from N.W.A.; for Short, this was an attempt to get his name even more known in the hip hop crowd. Sadly, this monster collaboration is a fail, one of the worst songs on the album. The lyrics sound like thirteen-year old boys in the throes of puberty, as if they're snickering when they see the girls go to the bathroom, laughing at what a period is. Rest assured, as Shaw states, that "not all bitches ain't women", whatever that means. Sir Jinx's beat is pretty ass here, as well. Seriously, this was the Too Short-Ice Cube collab?

9.  HARD ON THE BOULEVARD
Meh.

10.  PIMPOLOGY
A man once told me the difference between satire and straight up offending people: satire does not try to offend people on purpose, although it isn't afraid to do so. Here, Too Short's brand of satire actually works brilliantly" the concept of pimping is completely exaggerated to the point where there is an education system in place for the practice itself.  The beat here, self-produced, is actually quite good, so "Pimpology" ends up being a high point. Nice work there, Shaw.

11.  PAULA & JANET
On which Too Short describes an orgy. The beat here is a jarring departure from the usual brand of funk, choosing to side with a sample from The Steve Miller Band's "Take The Money and Run" instead.  Produced by DJ Pooh, it is an absolute hot mess, and Shaw does not sound good at all.  Next!

12.  RAP LIKE ME
Which is an even bigger hot mess.  Pierre James gets another shot at producing, but unlike the bomb intro instrumental, this is another contender for "worst song on the album".  It's mostly made up of more shit-talking by Short, and yet another subliminal dis aimed at fellow Oakland resident MC Hammer.  Regardless, this song is a fail.  Nothing on here meshes well at all: Short's lyrics aren't anything worth transcribing and, once again, the beat is a mess.  A disappointing end to what has been a pretty decent album.

13.  THE GHETTO (REPRISE)
Just the instrumental to "The Ghetto". Not much else, except that it's pleasant enough to play at a business meeting or something. Although if they wanted to give us instrumentals, why not just release them as a separate album or a bonus disc?  They'd be able to charge more money!

FINAL THOUGHTS: Short Dog's In The House is a pretty nice follow-up to the critically and commercially successful Life is... Too Short. It's not without mistakes; the beats aren't entirely consistent throughout (which makes sense, given the number of producers on this project), and some songs aren't really as memorable as others (which is the most basic of criticisms, really).  And that's not to mention the fact that half of the album will offend half of the human population.  But if you look past those issues, you'll find a solid West Coast gem of an album that helped inspire many other West Coast classics such as The Chronic and Doggystyle.  Seriously, Short Dog's In The House was pretty much is the grandfather of G-Funk and is still worth the listen today. It may not bang nearly as much, but it's worth checking out.

BUY OR BURN? If you can find this for cheap, buy it. C'mon, it's a West Coast classic!

BEST TRACKS: "The Ghetto"; "In The Oaktown";  "Short But Funky";  "Punk Bitch";  "Pimpology"; "Short Dog's in the House" (instrumental only)

-Hansgrohe

(Questions?  Comments?  Concerns?  Leave your thoughts below.)
 
 
 

7 comments:

  1. 'The man is still going strong today: as recently as 2006, he had another radio hit alongside Lil' Jon with "Blow The Whistle".'

    This makes me wonder how long it was since this review was submitted O.o

    "The Ghetto" is a classic, but I've never really had the determination to sit down and listen to an entire Too Short album. Good review though.

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    1. that 2006 comment, as well as the reviewer continually referring to songs as "a fail" makes this review seem pretty damn old

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  2. I appreciate Too $hort's status as a pioneer on the West Coast but that's where it stops for me. Also, for some reason I'm always comparing him to Slick Rick who's just a better rapper. Period. Though $hort's 1996 song Gettin' It, the track with Erick Sermon that Max recently reviewed for his 'Maxtape' if you will, wasn't bad at all.

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  3. A Bitch Ain't Nuthin But A Word is a classic. So is Hard on the Boulevard and Rap Like Me is a monster to close things out.

    This reviewer doesn't know shit about good music or hip hop.

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    1. Thanks for your kind comments!

      That's the point of this blog; good songs always get bashed. Now I feel what Max deals with :D.

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    2. Yeah he's tripping. This album cranks front to back. Rap Like Me is otherworldly.

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  4. Too Short was one of a kind when he showed up. His style and flow are unique, he introduced something different back in the late '80s / early '90s, but for some reason he didn't came through.

    However, this album is wonderful and has truly funky roots. Too Short is all the time talking about Funk and the good thing about it is that he brings the Funk. I don't agree with you Hansgrohe, that the album has some messed up tracks. Out of 13 songs, the 12 are incredible. The instrumental on "Paula & Janet" is one of the sickest of all time. The only thing I could complain about it would be the production (recording level is indeed a mess here). Everything else is just as it should be.

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