Too Short vs. MC Hammer: 2 Of Oakland’s Finest Were Beefing Subliminally
In the year between September of 1990 and 1991, three Oakland, California Hip-Hop acts would have albums receive platinum certification. Digital Underground would be first, with Sex Packets. In January of the new year, Too Short secured a plaque with Short Dog’s In The House. M.C. Hammer would follow two months later with Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em. All three Bay artists had signed to big labels, in New York (or in Hammer’s case, Capitol in Hollywood). While they ran in some of the same circles, Too Short recently revealed a beef with Hammer in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Moreover, the leader of the Dangerous Crew confirms that he was dissing his neighbor on some of those memorable singles.
Appearing on this week’s Questlove Supreme Pandora radio show, Short walked Quest’, Phonte, and others through his career. He recalls those “special request” tapes, getting label backing from neighbor hustlers, and his lucrative relationship with Jive Records and executive Barry Weiss. In the chapter dubbed “MC Hammer,” Short explains that it upset him to watch Hammer be embraced by the music media in a way that he wasn’t.
“A microphone and a blank cassette was all I ever needed to make my Hip-Hop successful,” Too Short says, referring to his DIY Rap career since the early 1980s. By 1990, Oakland Hip-Hop was expanding. “E-40’s been my homie forever. So E-40’s up the street doing his thing. But when you talk about Oakland, my counterpart was M.C. Hammer. M.C. Hammer, if you let me tell it, was going around Oakland…he was very famous for dancing. He was popular for his run being around [the Oakland Athletics] organization. He’s popular. A lot of his friends went to high school with me; I knew his whole crew. But Hammer had a dude named Ace. They used to dress alike and be at the clubs doin’ the same dance moves and sh*t. Then they’d get a crowd around ’em and he was popular. So I knew he was as a dancin’ dude. I knew that was Hammer, but I ain’t know his f*ckin’ name.” While Short knew Stanley Burrell for his dance moves, he was unaware of his rapping ahead of “Let’s Get It Started.” Short continues, “Then he came with these records. And it’s like, one day you see him, he’s got like four bodyguards, he’s got an entourage of like 20 people, and I remember the sh*t clear as day: somebody was like, ‘Who the f*ck is that?’ I don’t know who the f*ck that is; I don’t give a f*ck. I’m popular, I’m famous, we mob deep, I’m in this mothaf*cka, everywhere we go…I heard [about M.C. Hammer] a few times. [Finally, somebody connected the dots for me].”
Short took umbrage with Hammer’s overnight Rap success, especially when his own presentation was focused on the word, above dance moves and sizzle. “He became more famous for [acting famous]…and then the music came with it at the same time. He walked in the door with four bodyguards and an entourage and his first single was just coming out. Having him as an example, I’m like, ‘I’m not doing that.'”
Questlove asks if “Short But Funky” was aimed at Hammer. That featured this verse: “You never catch me on the mic rappin’ a dance tune / I like it kind of mellow with the sound of the bass boom / The style is mine, I’ve been doing it for 10 / You might say it’s simple, but I’m making my ends / See I don’t trip on a punk ’cause I jack him / Too Short plus the cuss words equals platinum / What would I look like dancing on a stage / I wave my hand and do it like the old days / But some dumb fool want to take it out of hand / With 50 million dancers and a big old band / That ain’t me, I’m from the old school / Play the instrumental, get the mic and I’m cool.”
The guest confirms, “I was doing lines at Hammer; we all were. I had a lot of songs at Hammer and Hammer references.” He continues, “So I’m saying sh*t like that in the record. We’re down the streets [from each other] and sh*t, talkin’ lil sh*t about each other to our mutual homies. There’d never be any friction, ’cause they thugs and we’re thugs, and we all know each other. But Hammer’d do sh*t like sit on the f*ckin’ couch with Arsenio [Hall] and say, ‘Where are you from Hammer?’ ‘I’m from Oakland.’ ‘How’s Hip-Hop out there?’ ‘Well, I’m the only rapper from Oakland [Laughs].’ Like, I’m never [going to be invited on] Arsenio; you’re gonna sit there and tell the whole f*ckin’ world a lie? Like, he would do sh*t like that, and that was his character. He poked, I poked back.”
However, while Short admits that M.C. Hammer was a target of his disses, he wanted to go a sharper route—while artists like 3rd Bass, The D.O.C., and LL Cool J dissed him (among others). “It got to a point where we were like, ‘Man, let’s just go there with him. Let’s just all out go there.’ Louis Burrell, Hammer’s big brother, he called us said, ‘Man, I know what’s going on, I know who y’all are, I know all the sh*t. We just off tour. We just getting home. We been through hell out here on the road; somebody got killed, all kind of sh*t happened.’ He wasn’t asking, ‘Bruh, we are not coming home to this bullsh*t. We’re not.’ It was so real what he said, so it was like, ‘Aight, it’s all good.’ So basically, [after] it escalated the most, it just took a phone call [to squash it]. Short says he considers Hammer and his crew “family and friends” since. They would work together on The Team’s “It’s Getting Hot (Remix),” 15 years later. Redman recently shared that Hammer and his possé checked him too.
Later in the interview, Too Short says that his longtime musician/engineer Al Eaton pressured him to sound like M.C. Hammer. That, coupled with an air of disrespect, led to Short building The Dangerous Crew with Shorty B, Ant Banks, and Pee-Wee, among others. That sound transformed Short’s sound, and likened him more to Parliament-Funkadelic.
Short also describes a frustrating relationship with Rap media. “Early on, I made money. Early on, I’m famous as f*ck. Early on, I’m rockin’ crowds. My self-esteem is way the f*ck up there. I’m rappin’, and I consider myself nothing of a sex symbol. I’m nothing; I’m me. I got money, and I won’t even fix my f*ckin’ teeth…it didn’t bother me at all to be on TV with a f*cked up grill, I’m like, ‘I got a pool in my backyard and a Mercedes; I don’t give a f*ck.’ So I would look at the media’s interpretation of all of Hip-Hop, meaning like The Source or something. I read it front-to-back; I been on the cover of The Source early on—one of the first. I wasn’t like treated badly by The Source. But I would look at the reviews that I’d get, and it’d be like ‘can’t rap, the beats [are wack],’ and the sh*t’d go platinum, and I’d be like, ‘Ha ha, mothaf*cka!’ But I would also watch the media take the New York guy—and you can probably relate to this as a Philly guy—[they would] take the one guy with the one f*ckin’ song that they f*ckin’ love and make this mothaf*cka a mega-star. Like, he ain’t even proved his self yet! ‘He’s our guy for the whole year!’ I’d watch that s*t again and again. To me, they just didn’t get it.”
Elsewhere in the Questlove Supreme interview, Short says Freaknik and violence in Oakland prompted an impulsive relocation to Atlanta. He also claims responsibility for getting E-40’s Click, Spice 1, and U.G.K. signed to Jive.