Remembering the underappreciated genius of Shock G
Like a lot of geniuses, Shock G was never fully understood or appreciated by the masses while he walked among us. His unique way of flipping well-known samples and making them his own, his infusion of funk into hip-hop, and his character development influenced a litany of your favorite rappers and producers, evidenced by the outpouring of love and admiration on social media in the wake of his passing on Thursday.
Shock was the embodiment of the popular #IYKYK hashtag. From producing the bulk of Digital Underground’s platinum and gold records, to lacing some of the most important records of 2Pac’s recording career like “Trapped,” “I Get Around” and “So Many Tears,” to helping develop the Luniz, Shock G’s imprint on hip-hop is undeniable. And yet, his name was rarely brought up in conversations about top producers who ruled the “golden era” of hip-hop.
Although Shock is rightfully associated with Oakland, California, he was born Gregory Jacobs in New York and raised in the Tampa Bay Area. He would eventually relocate to California in 1985 as a young adult and begin the journey that was Digital Underground.
DU was founded by Shock G and his partner Chopmaster J in the 1980s with a vision of creating a crew that was ever evolving and changing, hence the incredible roster of talent past and present (2Pac, Mystic, DJ Fuze, and many more) that can claim Digital Underground membership.
A child of the funk, Shock saw the future of a hip-hop band that was all about the music. So much so that early on he asked all members to wear only black with black shades when in public — take a look at the Sex Packets album cover — to keep an air of mystery around the group.
Despite the fact that Shock wanted the group member’s identities to be veiled, superstardom was on the horizon. He would release a few underground singles (“Hip-Hop Doll,” “Your Life’s a Cartoon” and “Underwater Rimes”) in the late 1980s before inking a single deal with Tommy Boy Records and eventually blowing up off of the strength of "Doowutchyalike." The song’s fun, party vibe and the accompanying video put Digital Underground on the map, but it was the group’s 1990 classic “The Humpty Dance” that pushed Shock and his alter ego Humpty to legend status. That song alone has been sampled in nearly 150 songs since it dropped 30 years ago.
On Thursday, Grammy-winning, multi-platinum producer Just Blaze shared the song’s impact on Jay-Z’s “Interlude” from The Black Album, better known as “Public Service Announcement.” “Without the Humpty Dance, you don’t get PSA’s opening bar. which is one of the key elements that really makes the song ultimately.”
Shock would go on to use Humpty throughout his career for DU projects, guest spots, and solo work. Many MC’s have used alter-egos, but not to the level that Shock G did.
His genius extended beyond music and into marketing and branding as well. Take for instance the rollout for the debut DU album Sex Packets. Shock and DU member Schmoovy-Schmoov came up with an idea for a fake pill that simulates sex at a level so intense it feels real. They typed up literature that explained what sex packets were, and the group distributed the pamphlets throughout the Bay Area before the album hit the streets.
It worked perfectly. People were genuinely unsure whether or not sex packets actually existed. In a 2014 interview with bandmate Money B, he shared that later, Schmoovy-Schmoov and Shock actually tried to make the concept a reality. Who knows how close they actually got to bringing the crazy idea to fruition?
When they dropped in the late 1980s, Digital Underground was unlike any other group or contemporary artist. Not nearly as serious as NWA or Public Enemy, not as safe as Kid N Play or Salt-N-Pepa. They existed in a space all their own. And with Shock’s vision, Humpty’s antics, Money B’s pen, and a killer stage show, they won big.
During a time when hip-hop is the dominant culture and tons of artists stream/sell big records, Shock’s commercial accomplishments may seem unimpressive. But keep in mind: in 1990, rap music was still underground. At that time, it was rare for a hip-hop record to be in regular rotation on MTV, crossover to the pop charts or sell a million records. Digital Underground did all of that and more.
Shock was a creator who thrived off of feel more than anything else. His production skills were unmatched. From his Stevie Wonder flip on Pac’s “So Many Tears” to being one of the first to flip Bollywood samples on DU’s criminally slept on “We Got More,” Shock was always original and ahead of his time.
The last time I saw Shock was in the fall of 2018. It wasn’t on stage or in a studio, it was of all places at a BART train station in San Francisco. As we waited for our respective trains, we spoke about his reclusiveness (really me asking “where TF have you been”) and how his fans desperately need a full-fledged Digital Underground tour for the upcoming 30th anniversary of Sex Packets. Shock smiled and nodded in agreement, telling me that he hears us, and they have something coming.
Unfortunately, that “something” never came.
Shock was so much more than “the one who put the satin on your panties,” as he famously said on 2Pac’s hit “I Get Around.” He was more than the rapper/producer who is credited for introducing the late Tupac Shakur to the world. Shock G was a musical genius whose art influenced creators in the past and present, and will continue to do so in the future.
Rest in Peace Greg, Shock G, MC Blowfish and Humpty Hump. You and your amazing creations will be missed.