Friday, March 16, 2012

Choices and Responsibilities

Too $hort

I am just now seeing this interview conducted by hiphopdx.com and Too $hort. It creates a helluva predicament and honestly forces me to confront

In the interview, Too $hort tells out how Jive Records CEO Barry Weiss promised to back a politically conscious Too $hort record in exchange for a extremely raunchy album.

$hort put the whole situation into context. Hip-hop was moving away from the conscious content of the 80s to the explicit material of the 90s. $hort is known today for his outlandish persona glorifying pimp-dom and limiting his vocabulary to "bitch", "dick", "ass" & "pussy" for the most part.
However Too $hort's first major hit was "The Ghetto". A track about, well, the ghetto. Over his career $hort managed to sprinkle more conscious material in his albums apparently much to the chagrin of Jive Records.

As $hort explains:
"I’m not gonna blame this on anybody, but I was actually being pushed into a direction where I would talk to people at Jive [Records], I would go talk to the President, Barry Weiss, and he was like – I always wanted to do these [side] projects... [But] they kept making excuses and so it never got done.

I wanted to do an album that was filled with songs like “The Ghetto,” “Life Is…Too Short,” “Money In The Ghetto,” “I Want To Be Free.” I wanted to do a whole album of positive Too Short songs, just to keep that balance.

I had made a verbal deal with Barry Weiss, where he was like, “Right now would be the perfect time, you should do like the raunchiest Too Short album ever – the album cover, the songs, just do a dirty fuckin' Too Short album.” This is the executive running the company advising me to put out an entire album of just cursing and sex.

So I’m like, “If I did that I’d have to then do the exact opposite and follow-up that with an album that’s all positive.” And so, I did the album for him, we did You Nasty. I thought it was a funny idea at first - we had like a porn star on the cover,

I’m naked, the girls are naked and we really did a butt- naked photo shoot. And it got a gold album and all that stuff. But when it came time to do the positive album, it was never a good idea. It never got the green light. Once I did what they wanted, they would never let me do what I wanted." (http://www.hiphopdx.com/m/index.php?s=news&id=18861)

$hort made a deal. A deal for which many have given him hell. Too $hort played on the stereotypes and the imagery of Blacks as oversexed, money hungry, goons. Some would say that because of his position in the game as an influence to more than a generation of MCs that he made a decision extremely detrimental to the Black community.

As people shake their monkeys, blow their whistles and try to say "bitch" like him, they totally have no idea this other side of Too $hort exists. Too $hort will forever be known as one of the most vulgar artists ever and perhaps that is not what he wanted.

But all that begs the question: "did he do the right thing?"

There are two or three ways of looking at that. On one hand, as a Black man in a position of influence, maybe he had a responsibility to be more positive and made sure to get that positive message out there. On the second hand, as an employee he was being charged to make what the label wanted him to make. In a purely business sense Weiss wanted what would be assured to make Jive money. And finally the perspective of Too $hort the individual, a man who needs to provide for himself.

On the flipside of those are a few questions. One of which is "What responsibility does Too $hort have to the Black community?" Nobody voted Too $hort President or Senator of the Black community and he has no responsibility to uphold any image of Blackness. But at the same time he helped to create such a negative image of Black males that has permeated the industry and many younger individuals for decades.

Another question is: "Wasn't Too $hort's real responsibility to Jive?" Short answer (no pun intended) is yes. Jive is the church in this instance and $hort would be fuckin up the church's money by refusing to produce the content they want. To be honest Weiss didn't or shouldn't have had to make a deal with Too $hort to get him to make the material he wanted him to make. $hort was Weiss' employee...period.

Too $hort, the individual, the man himself is Too $hort's responsibility. The explicit nature of his music has sustained him for decades and created one of the pillars of the hip-hop community. Could a more politically conscious Too $hort have had such longevity and impact? There's no telling, but the fact that it is 2012 and Too $hort still makes extremely explicit music (his new song is called "Porno Bitch") means that Too $hort the artist, is making the music he wants to make.

$hort's case is one that also forces people to come face to face with the music industry. Recently hiphopdx.com did an interview with Chuck D and his response is to check the system of people and institutions involved:

Chuck D: "...Barry Weiss should be on blast then. Barry Weiss is the son of [former Stax Records executive] Hy Weiss. I mean, things is like - Forget a corporation, I think when you have a problem with somebody you should put that person on blast. You should put their family on blast. [Laughs] You know, the whole nine.

If you feel like your family’s on blast, put their family on blast too. Forget Jive Records, [put] Barry Weiss [on blast]. And Barry Weiss should be the person that answers to the community, and if Barry Weiss comes out and says, “Well, yeah, I told him to do that, and fuck Black people,” then the next step is whatever, if anything at all. But at least you get right to the source, you get to the core of it. "

Chuck D also believes that the industry and the political system of the country has allowed people like Weiss to wield immeasurable power over artists:

Chuck D: "The consolidation of radio stations was like the worst thing ever done to music.

And, look man, conscious record versus unconscious record, political record versus street record, that’s a bunch of bullshit really. [On an artist’s album pre-consolidation] there were always two to three songs for the hood, for your mom’s or whatever – by every artist. I think when it became formula to continue to just cut joints and you’re pressured to sell – Understand this, niggativity has always been popular and has always been a money-maker in America. Blacks [being degraded and] looked upon at our lowest has always sold – just like slavery itself – more than something that happens to be high standing on its own two feet … to this day. So we shouldn’t be surprised if somebody makes a conscious move to make a quote-unquote positive record and that doesn’t fly out of the record stores, and you make something that might just be talking about stripping or drug-dealing in the year 2012 and it happens to rise because it [works] in the club. I don’t think it’s unfair to measure the music by its quantity instead of its quality …. And too often Rap music and Hip Hop is weighed in bubblegum type standards.

Yeah, but Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act was cancerous to local, independent, room to breathe [music] so to speak. (Chuck D: Yeah, the latter was the real nail in the coffin – not so much to message-driven music but to local music being able to have a chance to independently breathe. The consolidation of radio stations was like the worst thing ever done to music.

And, look man, conscious record versus unconscious record, political record versus street record, that’s a bunch of bullshit really. [On an artist’s album pre-consolidation] there were always two to three songs for the hood, for your mom’s or whatever – by every artist. I think when it became formula to continue to just cut joints and you’re pressured to sell – Understand this, niggativity has always been popular and has always been a money-maker in America. Blacks [being degraded and] looked upon at our lowest has always sold – just like slavery itself – more than something that happens to be high standing on its own two feet … to this day. So we shouldn’t be surprised if somebody makes a conscious move to make a quote-unquote positive record and that doesn’t fly out of the record stores, and you make something that might just be talking about stripping or drug-dealing in the year 2012 and it happens to rise because it [works] in the club. I don’t think it’s unfair to measure the music by its quantity instead of its quality …. And too often Rap music and Hip Hop is weighed in bubblegum type standards.

Yeah, but Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act was cancerous to local, independent, room to breathe [music] so to speak." (http://www.hiphopdx.com/m/index.php?s=news&id=19022)

Chuck D.

The situation is much deeper than Too $hort, he is just one of many. As a influential artist he had the ability to take a stand against Weiss and the industry but instead he buckled and was rewarded with boatloads of money and the adulation of several dozen young rappers. Perhaps it would be unfair to call $hort a sell out, perhaps it would be appropriate...who knows?

The conversation on how people (both artists and consumers) can take back their power over creativity and consumption continues. Whether its Too $hort vs Jive or Lupe Fiasco vs Interscope, artists will continue to fight for control over their art.

Jono's Viewpoints