Too $hort speaking at a protest in downtown Oakland in 2009. Credit: Thomas Hawk

Todd Anthony Shaw, better known as Too $hort, began his musical career over 40 years ago, rapping about the realities of Oakland’s streets—including the violent drug war ravaging the city, and pimping and sex work. As a teen, he honed his talents drumming for Fremont High School’s band, and his East Oakland neighborhood inspired the themes and sounds he has explored across a prolific 22-studio album career that has produced six platinum and four gold-selling records.

Next week, the Oakland City Council plans to honor Too $hort by approving the renaming of a portion of Foothill Boulevard near his former high school as “Too $hort Way.” As a student, Shaw rode the bus on Foothill to school, and he later rapped about the bus line in his raunchy 1987 song “Freaky Tales,” according to the East Bay Times.

Too $hort helped define the city’s sounds in the late 1980s and early 1990s, putting Oakland on the national hip-hop map. His influence and passionate local fan base were made evident at a 1987 Coliseum rap concert headlined by several East Coast artists. Too $hort’s set was cut short by the concert’s promoters, who weren’t familiar with the hometown talent, and Town locals let the promoters know what they thought about that. “The ‘boo’ that arose from the crowd was the loudest noise that night,” wrote Oakland Tribune journalist Larry Kelp in a 1990 profile story.

Too $hort’s influence is described in the City Council resolution as permeating “every corner of modern music,” with stars like Drake, DJ Khaled, and Nikki Minaj sampling his hits. His current project, the West Coast supergroup Mount Westmore, which includes Vallejo’s E-40 and Los Angeles icons Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube, plans to drop its debut album on Dec. 9.

Oakland has renamed other streets after famous residents, including a span of 14th Street for slain journalist Chauncy Bailey, part of 7th Street to honor Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton and a portion of Telegraph Avenue to remember barkeeper Peter Van Kleef.

Too $hort posted a screenshot of an East Bay Times story about the street renaming on Instagram to express his excitement about the upcoming ceremony: “December 10th it’s official. Blow the mafuckin whistle Biiiiiiiitch!!!!!”

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.