Bay Area legend Too Short weighs in on street renaming

Spend enough time in Oakland and you’ll eventually hear the taut bassline and crisp, biting flow of Too Short’s “Blow the Whistle.” Whether it’s crashing the dance floor, blasting out of a classic Impala cruising down Grand Avenue, or mingling with the sounds of picnics and barbecues on sunny days at Lake Merritt, Too Short’s entire repertoire, often styled “Too $hort,” is in fundamentally shaped. Bay Area hip-hop as we know it. Now he will be remembered for his achievements on one of the streets where it all began.

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On Saturday, a three-block stretch of Foothill Boulevard between High Street and 47th Avenue will be renamed “Too $hort Way” in honor of the rapper and his impact on Oakland, the city — sorry, town — where he made his name.

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“I’ve felt like I owe Oakland a debt and that nothing I do will ever repay it for the life that was given to me through Oakland,” Too Short told SFGATE.

Born Todd Anthony Shaw, Too Short moved to Oakland from Los Angeles as a teenager, where he attended Fremont High School on the same stretch of Foothill Boulevard that would soon bear his name.

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“There are some things that happened in my life that if they didn’t happen Too Short wouldn’t happen and going to Fremont High is one of them,” Too Short said. “It was like our home base; we met at school and then we went home and made tapes, then we went out into the neighborhoods and sold the tapes.”

File photo: Too Short poses for photos at Hotel 21 in Chicago, Illinois in February 1989.

File photo: Too Short poses for photos at Hotel 21 in Chicago, Illinois in February 1989.

Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo, who proposed the street change along with Mayor Libby Schaaf, said he knew Too Short when the rapper attended Fremont High.

“I remember when he was on the street selling his cassettes. Then one day he became a star,” Gallo told SFGATE.

Too Short eventually went on to pioneer the sounds of Bay Area rap, along with other local hip-hop greats like E-40 and Mac Dre. Although his music embodies the culture and history of the Bay Area, his influence on Oakland in particular cannot be overstated.

“Too Short represented Oakland and put Oakland on the back foot at a time when the Bay Area wasn’t the first place people looked for hip-hop.” When we think about who put Oakland on the map within the hip-hop canon, it has to be Todd Shaw,” said Dr. Andrea L. Moore, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at California State University, Sacramento.

Moore has written extensively about the social impact of the hyphy movement, a hip-hop and lifestyle genre that spread out of the Bay Area in the early 2000s. Too Short’s influence, Moore said, helped lay the groundwork for the movement.

Too Short says that this influence came from the existing foundation, which was laid before his time by Bay Area funk, soul and gospel artists and groups such as Walter Hawkins, Sly and the Family Stone and Marvin Holmes.

“I stood up on a foundation that was already solid, it was already built. So I really had to uphold the legacy of Oakland and the bay,” Too Short said. “It wasn’t like I was starting this for the first time – big things had happened in the bay, it had a rich history. I don’t take it lightly.”

Too Short performs at EMBA Fest 2020 at the Oakland Arena on February 21, 2020, in Oakland, California.  Oakland will rename a street in honor of the legendary rapper.

Too Short performs at EMBA Fest 2020 at the Oakland Arena on February 21, 2020, in Oakland, California. Oakland will rename a street in honor of the legendary rapper.

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

His commitment to maintaining this legacy and his commitment to Oakland in general led to his involvement within the community over the years, and in particular to his dedication to Oakland’s youth beginning in the early 2000s.

“I would come back to town many times and see it change. What really struck me at that time was that it wasn’t just kids who were in trouble and in danger, it was my friends’ kids,” Too Short said. “It had really affected me and I was like, I can’t come back and save the city from some turmoil, but I can come and save some kids who probably just need different opportunities and different options.”

In 2008 he opened a music studio in downtown Oakland where he worked with local youth. A year later, 22-year-old Oscar Grant was killed by BART officers at the Fruitvale station. Thousands took to the streets in protest and Too Short was called in to address the crowd.

“Young people were getting dispersed for the first time in their lives, the first time they were part of any social activism or civil disobedience. And it wasn’t the police that could stop or control this crowd,” Moore said. “They literally had to call on Too Short to come and talk to these young people and guide them in a certain direction.”

The rapper said his hope for Too Short Way is that it will also help mentor young people in Oakland, despite his feelings that city officials could have celebrated his accomplishments long ago.

“Mayor Libby could have done this sooner, you know? It’s a great gesture on the way out the door,” he said. “I can’t complain about what she’s doing, I just hope we have a lot of future legends coming out of Oakland.” All kids should know that there are legends who came before them, who walked the same streets and went to the same schools and had the same obstacles in front of them, and look what they did.

Too Short added that as Oakland continues to be battered by the wave, he hopes the street could act as a bridge back to the soul of the city.

“Primalization came in and it cost more than a lot of people who are already there,” he said. “Communities will be displaced and lifelong friends will lose each other and people’s comfortable lifestyles will become very uncomfortable.” And you move into a city, into your newly renovated address, and you don’t even realize what all happened to get it.”

Too Short Way will do more than pay homage to the rapper, Moore said. It will also redefine the type of people who usually give their name to streets.

“Martin Luther King Boulevard is pretty much in every hood in the United States.” He’s seen as a leader, as a black intellectual, as a great speaker on all these different things,” Moore said. “When we think of the Bay Area, especially hip-hop, Too Short is an icon. He is a legend. So why not celebrate the street legends, just as we would celebrate a popular myth that was accepted by the dominant mass society?

The rapper plans to attend a ceremony at Fremont High on Saturday to unveil his new street signs. But the real credit, he said, is the connection he’s made with the people of Oakland.

“I feel like the city is my family. They treat me like family and I have so many loved ones there. The town means everything to me,” he said. “I get so much love from the city, from its people, that things like that don’t weigh as much as the love I get. This is the true street name.”


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