There has to be more where that came from is the principal reasoning behind unearthing unreleased music from the past. Typically, there are some independent singles that an act is known for in certain circles (collectors and otherwise), which provide the incentive to dig a little deeper and present the findings in commercially available items, sometimes in the whole ’90s spectrum – LP, CD, cassette. In Shorty Long’s case, that starting point would have been his 1994, self-released single “Shorty’z Doin’ His Own Thang” produced by Lord Finesse.
Shorty Long was, by his account, a hustler who hung out with up-and-coming neighborhood hip-hop artists such as Lord Finesse and Fat Joe when he decided to pick up the mic himself in the late 1980s. While “Shorty’z Doin’ His Own Thang” would remain the only officially documented collaboration between him and Finesse, he made other friends in the D.I.T.C. camp. First and foremost DJ Mike Smooth, who was co-billed on the album that started it all, “Funky Technician”. Mike Smooth brokered both the initial 2008 release of Shorty Long material on wax as well as this 2019 compilation CD, where he’s credited for four tracks. The other producers are Showbiz, Buckwild, Amed and Plead the 5th.
The latter remained a low-profile name, but the opening courtroom scene that he stages for “My Peoplez” would have gone down as one of the most elaborate introductions of a producer name – if more people had heard it. But the compilers wisely chose another track with a cinematic intro to open “South Boogie”. “Purple Rain” sees the rapper cooking up some addictive concoction of the same name, evidently a metaphor for potent product. Producer Amed (formerly known as DJ Timbalan) laces a dark yet jazzy track that Shorty Long hops on with gusto.
On the mic Shorty Long is quite a character. His raps feel conversational, but in a hollering across the street kind of way. Like he has important things to tell you but not enough time to do so. Lines tumble from his mouth, often potent enough to gain some momentum – until he spouts another contemplation. Still, across omitted vowels and an unpredictable thought process, Shorty Long emerges as an artist with a lot on his mind. For instance, he’s keen to establish actual coordinates – places, people, names appear frequently in his raps. Sometimes in quite colorful fashion. He’s “stayin’ thick like SoHo / while layin’ low like Columbo”, probably dodging untrustworthy types “huggin’ on your nuts like a five-dollar slut”. Other times he’s “blastin’ Ice Cream by Raekwon out of Shaolin” and attempts to rally everybody from the “thugs from Queens who ran with Supreme” to the “OG’s in Cali”. Elsewhere “a crackhead smack a wino on the head with a 40 oz.”, which is admittedly not as wild as when “death slob you down wet like a tongue kiss”.
Memories of hustling crack are still fresh on his mind (without he wouldn’t have been able to finance his rap career), but boy, did he listen when the righteous brothers kicked science. Their teachings helped him get his priorities straight: “Donate to the cause, fuck tryina floss, I done been [in] drug wars”. On “Say My Name” he offers, “I’ma take a Christian chick, give her knowledge of self / Take a nigga off the corner, show him knowledge is wealth”. His exact spiritual/political orientation is unclear, but in an inclusive argumentation that is typical for this rapper, he relates, “In my left hand is the Bible, in the right is my Qur’an / But the cypher ain’t complete until I pass the knowledge born”. “Igniting black minds” was not merely an abstract matter to him. If he was indeed down with the Nation of Gods and Earths, they rarely had such an outspoken advocate – possessing good old-fashioned street cred to boot.
To paraphrase dead prez, Shorty Long could be described as ‘gangsta but revolutionary’, or maybe a ’90s Saigon, or simply a not so distant cousin of Styles P:
“Erase racism, give Timberland the boot
I got dreams of power, takin’ over Trump Towers
Me and my niggas, pushin’ white powder
If police wants to stop me, let ’em smell the gun powder”
For a moment, it looks like Shorty Long is bent on having it both ways in almost any situation. It’s “Fuck the mafiosos and the Pablo Escobars”, but he wouldn’t mind taking their place. He has his “boo on the side” and his “wifey at home”. He “ain’t a player” but “knows all the rules”. He gets his “jewels laced up by the Legendary Blue at the blackman’s jeweler on 1-2-5th” but admits, “Diamonds shinin’ in my face got my third eye blind”. In his songs he wasn’t ready yet to renounce his drug dealing ways (“I only sleep four hours a night / cause dreams of the good life keep me dancin’ with the devil in the pale moonlight”), but he fully knew that a better life for all would involve “no more slingin’ cracks, no more black-on-black”.
On “My Peoplez”, he wonders:
“So tell me, people – how can I be righteous and still be doin’ evil?
Usin’ my sisters and killin’ my people?
So many brothers out there live a life of destruction
Poisonin’ the children, so what’s the repercussion?
Like Teddy and the Winans ‘It’s Time’ for a change
And not for spare change
It’s time to get dollars
Cause money is power
When the clock strikes 12 it’s the Africans’ hour
The red, the black, the gold, the green
Throw your fist in the air if you mean what I mean”
Despite having one leg knee-deep in the crack game, Shorty Long might have been the closest D.I.T.C. ever came to Brand Nubian. And not just because he references them three times.
Rappers often prentend to be serious about whatever it is they rap about. With Shorty Long, it’s the persistence with which he brings up his greater concerns that makes you believe that this guy really meant what he said. If the synthesis of being pessimistic and optimistic at the same time is being realistic, then the South Bronx MC would have been more realistic than some of his more successful successors representing the New York streets (Terror Squad, G Unit). He doesn’t deviate from the standard rap machismo, but he’s not being an asshole about it.
Shorty Long could have taken on a relevant role in D.I.T.C. – had they been able to prolong their roll into the second half of the ’90s. (He mentions an entity called Born Lords several times, to the extent that Born Lords would have been more than just the never fully realized production team that successively paired Showbiz with Lord Finesse, Amed and E-Blaze.) Instead he wound up recording material that lacked the panache of his productive ’94-’96 period. “Let’s Get at It” is as disorganized as posse cuts can get. “Bronx Whop” picks up the slick vibe and verbiage of fellow Bronx representatives Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz as Mike Smooth needs only a bassline to demonstrate how easily gritty can turn to jiggy. And Buckwild pushes things even futher into clubbish-rubbish territory with “Why You Wanna”.
Nevertheless, bristling with noteworthy details, such as the fact that “What’s Criminal” insists on bringing up the unequal distribution of wealth, surprisingly clever lines like “I give you respect upfront like your name was Rosa Parks”, or being considerate enough to make a nod to Prince in “Purple Rain” (plus that ill Cameo interpolation), “South Boogie”, despite essentially being a collection of tunes that were destined to reach only a very limited audience, is a period piece from the golden age of street-smart New York rap – with a few interesting twists.