On April 22 we lost one of the most underrated rappers in the history of hip-hop, Oakland’s own Shock G.
I’m not shy about the fact that Digital Underground is my all-time favorite rap group, and Shock G’s wit, creative talent and versatility are the major reasons why. Despite the heat I’ve taken for putting them ahead of NWA and Wu-Tang, I will absolutely stand by it.
So far I’ve done the history of the Beach Boys and the Monkees, and both went over remarkably well, so I’ve been keeping a list of other musicians and bands I love that need more exposure. Digital Underground has been on that list for quite a while but I never got around to writing it. Now, unfortunately, seems like a good time to remedy that. So let’s celebrate the career of a musician that deserves your respect.
Digital Underground — “Doowutchyalike”
Born Greg Jacobs in Brooklyn, Shock G moved around the East Coast, stopping in Tampa and then coming back to the Bronx just as hip-hop was taking hold. His early mentors were Jacobs’ cousin, DJ Stretch, and his friend MC Shaw-T. The latter suggested he take the name Shaw-G, which he heard as Shock G, and kept it.
Eventually Shock G came to the West Coast and landed in Oakland, where he formed Digital Underground with Jimi “Chopmaster J” Dright and Kenneth “Kenny-K” Waters. They released a couple singles, got signed, and released their first single on a label. You may have guessed it was “Doowutchyalike.” It became an underground hit.
Digital Underground — “The Humpty Dance”
But that’s not the Digital Underground song you know. Their breakthrough hit, and the song that maintains its popularity after all this time, is obviously “The Humpty Dance.” It’s a great song.
Digital Underground’s first album, Sex Packets, was a bold showcase not just of the group’s talent but of Shock G’s boundless creativity. For example, Sex Packets is a concept album, which is still unthinkable as a debut for any group, let alone in hip-hop. It’s set in a hypothetical world where there are pills, the titular sex packets, that make you hallucinate sex. Within the mythology of the album, it was developed for astronauts on deep space voyages but obviously found their way to the streets.
Again, this is for their very first album.
Also, obviously, he played the role of Humpty Hump in this and other songs. While most rappers have one signature style, he not only raps as himself but in a totally different style as Humpty. And he’s obviously good at it.
Digital Underground — “Underwater Rimes”
One more from Sex Packets just to make a point about Shock G: When I said it was a showcase for his boundless talent and creativity, you don’t know the half of it.
Greg Jacobs was Shock G, obviously. We already said he was Humpty. He also had other personas with distinct voices. For example, he rapped as MC Blowfish on “Underwater Rimes” in a Jimmy Cagney accent, and he was even good at that.
But that’s not all. The cover was designed by Rackadelic, who was the alias of one Greg Jacobs. There’s also a Piano Man who plays piano interludes, who is also Jacobs.
I explained that the album’s concept had a backstory, but also Jacobs wrote a backstory for everything. Humpty, for example? Born Edward Ellington Humphrey III, he was lead singer of Smooth Eddie and the Humpers until tragically burning his nose in a deep fryer accident, adopting the name Humpty Hump and turning to hip-hop.
2Pac — “I Get Around”
As great as he was at writing and performing, don’t sleep on his abilities as a producer or as a talent scout.
After the first album, Digital Underground brought on board a backup dancer named Tupac Shakur. Turns out the guy had some talent, so Shock G produced and performed on his breakthrough single, “I Get Around.” When Shakur was recording his first album, Shock G produced “Words of Wisdom,” cowrote and produced “Tha’ Lunatic” and performed background vocals on “Trapped” and “Rebel of the Underground.” Oh, and Piano Man played keyboards on “Crooked Ass Nigga.”
Prince — “Love Sign”
Shock G was a lot more accomplished as a producer than you might think. He produced a Prince song, for example. Once you know Shock G was involved you can definitely hear it. There’s a definite Digital Underground feel to the beat.
In his career he also produced Dr. Dre’s “Tellin’ Time,” the B-side of the supergroup PSA’s “We’re All in the Same Gang.” He produced a remix of Bobby Brown’s “Get Away.” He produced KRS-One’s “Smilin’ Faces.”
He didn’t direct that Prince music video, though. That was Ice Cube. Prince could pretty much get whoever he wanted.
Shock G — “Keep It Beautiful”
I know I usually do five songs, but this time I’m going to six.
In 2004, Shock G released his first and only solo album, Fear of a Mixed Planet. It flew under the radar but it really, really shouldn’t have. After a career of anchoring a legendary and influential group, then helping other artists shine, he finally did an album for himself, and it’s a work of genius.
Do yourself a favor and listen to it. He may be gone, but you can keep his legacy alive by listening to his music and appreciating his genius. He was truly one of the great ones.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.