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Arts + CultureMusicRIP, Shock G: Local musicians share their memories

RIP, Shock G: Local musicians share their memories

DJ Cutso, Nick Andre, Pursuit Grooves, DJ Amir, and more on why the Bay Area rap legend means so much

Read Tamara Palmer’s intimate obituary for Shock G here.

With the playful, anarchic, zany ensemble energy of (peak) ’70s-era “Muppet Show” and the musical chops of Parliament-Funkadelic weaving tales with that Bay Area tongue, Shock G aka Gregory Edward Jacobs and his group, Digital Underground, projected a contact high that reached the senses through your MTV. 

DU, giving listeners that head-nod bump, operating like young funkateers on acid—like that giant ball rolling out at the beginning of the first Indiana Jones flick—they were a hip-hop band with rock and roll bite. 

Stage show? They hit crowds, from jump, with that Godzilla tripping on James Brown quaaludes type energy. Songs, skits and interviews all rolled up in the context. Everybody had access: young, old, black, white, rock or not. They were undeniable.

Jacobs created the alter ego Humpty Hump, fake nose and frames intact, that combined Rodney Dangerfield with Fozzie Bear and added inappropriate, sweaty charisma. The Frankensteined character traveled the spectrum. Boisterous right into crowd-inducing hypnotic. Vivid to funky beige. Rapping, while hitting you with bad TV host etiquette.

All of this Vaudeville exhibition to conceal polymath faculty. Jacobs was a multi-instrumentalist, exquisite graphic designer (he crafted all the early 12-inch cover art himself), and an autodidact when it came to producing tracks. “I Get Around,” the forever 2Pac hit, was a personal favorite of Shakur because it was made by Shock G. Simply put, Jacobs was a musical genius. But that reality “wasn’t hip-hop at that time” according to him. 

So on with the jokey jokes he went.

Jacobs was found dead last Thursday at a hotel in Tampa, Fla. He was 57. His death was confirmed by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which did not provide a cause.

According to his New York Times obituary, Shock G’s musical instincts were forged by a childhood spent moving around the country. His mother Shirley Kraft was a television producer; his father Edward Racker worked as an executive in computer management. After the couple divorced, “I spent my biggest chunk of time in Tampa but I also lived in New York, Philly, and California,” Shock G had told The Times. “I have always been into music and played in bands starting when I was 10 or 11.”

His grandmother, Gloria Ali, was a pianist and cabaret singer in Harlem in the 1950s. She taught him how to play Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” on the piano. Then, as hip-hop began to gain traction in New York in the late 1970s, Shock G, who was living there at the time, recalled, “All of my friends and I sold our instruments to buy mixers and turntables.”

Shock G explained to Vibe Magazine in 2010 about the video shoot for the groundbreaking  “Doowutchyalike”—toward the end of the song you hear that piano brilliance, via a medley documenting soul and hip-hop hits from that particular era. All over the top of this “funk getting ready to roll” beat you could hear coming five blocks down the street. This monster jam sounded like nothing else on the radio at that time. When it came on, fish stopped swimming.

Understand. Digital Underground came before Wu-Tang, The Roots, BadBadNotGood, El Michels Affair, and so on. To call them “fresh” would be a gross miscalculation. As Shock G saw it from the beginning, it is your calling to do things so different, because repeating is just wasting an opportunity.

“You have to understand where a song like “Doowutchyalike” came from. I grew up in a household where my parents threw big parties. The whole neighborhood would always come over. I had everybody in the projects coming to the ‘burbs [laughs]. So when it was time to record ‘Doowutchyalike’ I just felt like the song was all about having a good time and breaking all the rules in hip-hop. You are not allowed to bite, so let’s bite on purpose. Let’s talk about stuff that no one talks about.

“So with the video, it was my idea to say let’s not shoot a traditional clip. Let’s film an actual party and get the shots where we are mouthing the words to the song when needed. It was a three-day party at a hotel in downtown Oakland. Between us and our friends promoting the party with flyers we ended up with over 100 people there. The scenes where everybody is knocked out in the bed, that’s really going on.”

48hills reached out to artists, DJ’s, producers and fans from The Bay Area and all over the world to get a wide-ranging take on the legacy Shock G leaves behind. While other platforms skim through his talents and vision in a thirst to proclaim, YES, he did put Tupac on. But Pac had his day for a while now.

We need to celebrate Shock G. Rest easy, you will be sorely missed.

Pursuit Grooves
The saddest thing about Shock G’s passing is that I don’t think anyone had a chance to have a big introspective/retrospective interview with him. We didn’t get a Drink Champs, SWAY, etc. No Verzuz performance or cameo. I think the thing about DMX is we got left some final words and a revisit of his catalog. Shock G will probably never get his full due. Perhaps knowing him more as Humpty and the dance that came with it, more so than the creativity and genius behind the man or his influence on the Bay and his early support of Tupac. He offered a balance of perspective in the hip hop game, some diversity in performance. Something much needed today. RIP.

Nick Andre of Slept On Records
Shock G was inspiring to say the least. As a kid hearing “The Humpty Dance” for the first time, and then seeing the man behind it with his fake nose and large glasses instantly intrigued my friends and I, making us all immediate fans of the group. It was definitely different than anything I had ever heard. Super funky, fun and cool as hell. He had an amazing talent for storytelling lyrics that you could literally see playing out in your head as you listen to the song. I’ve never been able to look at Burger King since hearing the Humpty Dance without the lyrics “I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom” playing in my head. The music world lost a one of a kind true original. My thoughts are with his friends and family.

DJ Amir aka Amir Abdullah
Wow I am just hearing this now! I’ve been in the studio (in Berlin) with Jazzanova this whole week, 10 hours a day. I’m just coming up for air now. What a tremendous loss for hip-hop. I cannot even believe it. 

I am so tired of waking up to news like this. Like a lot of people I was a huge fan of Digital Underground, and Shock G.  I will never forget when their first album dropped. I went to buy the first A Tribe Called Quest album and the Digital Underground at the same time at Strawberries Records in Boston. My college roommates and I sat there for hours listening to both. Honestly, I had never heard such hilarious self-deprecating lyrics before in hip-hop. I will never forget how hard I laughed when I heard the line ‘Hey fat girl, yeah I called you fat. Look at me, I’m skinny.’ 

You could tell Shock G was about all things funk. There will never be another Shock G. Rest easy brother!

Dave Aju
Maaan, this one hurts. RIP to a true genius, musical legend, and one of my personal greatest inspirations of all time, Greg Jacobs aka Shock G of Digital Underground fame.

When Sex Packets first dropped, it completely blew my mind – even my hardcore jazz-head dad gave it rare props for the combo of Jimi Hendrix, Headhunters, and P-Funk sampled productions along with live jazz piano motifs referencing greats like Chick Corea. But from the overall concept: a wildly-inventive sensual sci-fi would-be solution to the ongoing AIDS epidemic, to the humorously entertaining side-character building from Humpty Hump to MC Blowfish, the freaky wordplay and back-and-forth EPMD-esque line swapping with Money B, and their effortlessly fun adventures and idiosyncratic deliveries, it was pure gold, or make that certified platinum in fact.

And that’s just for starters. While much of hip-hop got darker and more bleak from that point, Shock G stuck to his deep-belief guns and rode his neo-psychedelic P-funkateer training into even brighter West Coast sunsets, from introducing the world to Tupac and Saafir, to even roping in his own hero/mentor George Clinton for the sublime literal homage title cut of thee Sons Of The P record. Along with all the playful surrealism, echoes of his grand predecessor, he always maintained a calm and cool honesty in both his production and rhymes—prioritizing a layered vibe over boom-bap basics more like Dre. 

Shock G finessed the keys the way Herbie or McCoy might, while lyrically going from party rock mastery to always telling the truth on real topics, unpopular or not—standing up for women, for peace over violence, for critical thinking, knowledge of self, the community, and even somewhat ironically in this very moment as one of his many slept-on magnum opus’ said, for giving “Heartbeat Props,” ie. love and respect to those that contribute so much to our lives while they’re still living. (That piece finishes with an inspired roll call that may only be rivaled on tape ever by Samuel L Jackson’s Mr Señor Love Daddy character in Spike Lee’s masterwork Do The Right Thing).

Each of the subsequent albums branched off into another direction and era, and I found myself musically expanding alongside them. By the time Future Rhythm dropped, I was well into more electronic music styles and it still felt like it fit my soul like a glove – there are even two tracks “Can I Lean In My Dream” and “I Want It All” from the white label promo copies and tapes that contain some of the wisest, bravest, and most genuine lines I’ve ever heard in any rap context. Shock could be found peddling these off at Leopold’s, Amoeba, or Rasputin’s on Telegraph before the final set list and official distro for the release was locked in. Getting more Moog-ed up and even further out there, I would gladly follow this true pioneer wherever he chose to go.

He also taught many of us Bay artists that lesson as well: to stay in your own creative lane and not be afraid or ashamed if your work doesn’t fit categories or molds, goes over heads or is misunderstood. This bold approach to life often made me feel like he was one of the most criminally underrated artists of our entire generation, but now I see it much clearer—he wouldn’t have it any other way; a test and testament to true creative prowess and the gross limitations of the mainstream marketing machine that wanted him to just repeat the formulas of early successes.

To top that all off, just in case the fools that thought he was too outside for posing existential questions, or too wacky for rocking the Nose, or referencing The Clash and Billie Holiday meant he wasn’t real hip-hop, he’d casually pop on in to Davey D’s Ultimate hip-hop quizzes and school heads, repeatedly. The final lesson from the ultimate master teacher: learn your field and craft so well that you can comfortably travel light years beyond it, even if most won’t recognize when you rock it your own way.

RIP and big Love to Shock G, Thank you for the immense musical guidance and ongoing inspiration. It was a longtime dream of mine to make a collaboration happen here on Earth somehow, but we’ll catch you on that D-flo train in the stars again one day, forever keep swinging King.

DJ Cutso
The first time I met him was in ‘93 at a WWF match at the newly-opened San Jose Arena. He was with Money B. I was 12 years old. By this time, Digital Underground were already bonafide rap stars. They were the first famous rappers I had ever met in person. I was super geeked because I was a huge DU fan. They were the nicest dudes ever! Shock especially. He could see I was kinda shy to approach him, so he looked at me and pointed at my shirt and said, “Yo Speed Racer. I like your shirt!”

Him and Money B signed my ticket stub, and I totally did the whole, “GEE, THANKS!” like a geeked out kid my age would. Apparently, we had missed 2Pac and K-Ci by a couple minutes, according to another kid. I’d met him a few times out in the wild at shows I DJ’ed or attended. He was always a humble, gracious person. But meeting him as a young fan is a moment in my life I’ll always cherish. 

John-Paul Shiverhttps://www.clippings.me/channelsubtext
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to 48 Hills since 2019. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in the Wire, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK, and Drowned In Sound.

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