Fifty years into hip-hop’s evolution, you’d be hard-pressed to name another artist with more influence and longevity than the man born Todd Shaw—or less attention from outside the culture. Tom Breihan doesn’t just give Too Short his flowers; he showers him with endless bouquets, making sure that New York Times readers know what the rest of us have known for decades. Life is Too Short.

This is an attitude that has continued to resonate in most rap subgenres, whether mainstream or underground. Too Short was among the first to articulate this worldview on record. He was among the first to prove you could present it to a large record-buying public without radio or marketing. He was among the first to demonstrate that rap could capture the imagination with grit rather than flash; among the first to tap into its vast audiences outside New York and Los Angeles; among the first to understand the winning combination of street talk and seismic slow-crawl bass lines. This is the “second billing” career Too Short has led: He may not always appear in people’s simple, canonical narratives of rap, but there is so, so much in the genre that, traced back to its origins, finds him somewhere remarkably near the source.