Saturday, December 18, 2010
Shock G Breaks Down Digital Underground's Entire Catalogue, 2Pac & More
Gregory “Shock G” Jacobs is having a moment.
During the interview, the musical mastermind behind
the Oakland-based rap-funk outfit Digital Underground
literally breaks down in tears.
“I’m sorry,” he says with a quiver in his voice.
“But I just get so emotional thinking about the past.
I’m so happy that people are finally paying attention to my work.”
By all accounts, Shock G should be a broken man.
This decade has seen the gifted producer and
musician battle drug addiction and money woes.
Yet, the New York-born musical visionary,
who first found platinum success with Digital Underground’s
genre-challenging 1990 classic debut
Sex Packets, has risen above it all.
He is again clean, focused and musing over
the origin of his Humpty Hump alias—a genius concoction
that propelled D.U.’s massive crossover hit “The Humpty Dance.”
Shock G is still a fan and student of music who gets
audibly excited when he speaks of working with his hero
Parliament Funkadelic bandleader George Clinton.
When the subject turns to his late friend and
brother-in-spirit 2Pac, he talks with pride of producing
some of the larger-than-life icon’s most seminal work.
There is even an infectious optimism expressed
when he discusses his own recording future.
Indeed, Shock G is more than a survivor.
He is triumphant.
And he is alive to tell the tale.
"Your Life's A Cartoon"--Digital Underground (1988)
“I’m from New York, but I grew up in Tampa Bay, Florida.
The difference is New York moved with the times.
As a city, it embraced disco more than the south did.
By the time hip-hop started becoming popular,
they abandoned that old funk sound.
Meanwhile in Tampa, the top records every year on
the radio were always Parliament Funkadelic.
They loved other funk bands too, but especially P-Funk.
New York pretty much went all the way up to
‘Flash Light’ and that was it.
Stuff like ‘Aqua Boogie’ and ‘(Not Just) Knee Deep’ and even
‘Atomic Dog’ were not as huge in New York as [Chic’s] ‘Good Times.’
P-Funk was everything to us.
All it took for me was someone telling me,
‘Did you know ‘Flash Light’ and
‘One Nation Under A Groove’ were made by the same group?’
By 1980, I started really getting into P-Funk.
I was 16. At the same time,
I had already lived in New York when Hip Hop was starting.
I left NYC in ’78, so I was in that younger crowd of Hip Hop fans.
I was there for the DJ’s in the park at the jams,
so when I moved to Florida we kept that Hip Hop connection going.
I had my own crew in Tampa Bay…an MC from Brooklyn,
and another cat from New York.
We would send my cousins the tapes of what we were
doing and they would send us tapes back like,
‘You missed Fantastic 5 MC’s vs.
Grandmaster Flash and Busy B was hosting!’
I had one foot in hip-hop being a DJ
and the other foot in P-Funk.
I was a self-taught musician on piano,
but a lot of older cats and blues dudes
would give a me a tip here and there.
At around 23, I started to do less MCing and more playing.
I learned from copying records for my bands.
Playing instruments was something you didn’t see in hip-hop.
And on top of that, I was a huge Prince fan.
I loved that he did it all in the studio by himself.
When we first started Digital Underground,
we were trying to be like what Public Enemy would later become.
But P.E. was way better than us [laughs].
Me and my partner Kenny K were Stokely Carmichael fanatics.
I used to be that cat that walked around in berets.
We just wanted to do something heavy.
The way we were thinking was,
‘We are going to have to bomb a courthouse one day…[laughs]’
So in hindsight, I’m glad music saved me from being
that hardcore revolutionary because Funkadelic’s message was always,
‘Free your mind and your ass will follow.’
I adapted that philosophy for Digital Underground
from (P-Funk band leader) George [Clinton].
Kenny and I had gone through two or three different
group names and had been on Battle of the Jams
together on the radio station…we had history.
Jimmy (Chopmaster J) on the other hand was
somebody I just met when I moved to Oakland
right before Digital Underground started.
He was the guy with a lot of connects.
I was a salesman at a music store and in 1987
I recorded a couple of demos,
just shit I wanted to do to send to my homies.
I left the masters in Jimmy’s 4-track cassette.
He sent those tracks behind my back to his
high school buddy Darryl who was in LA working at Mocola Records.
He just wanted to see what the songs would do.
Their response was,
‘This is great…this is the new sound that’s on the radio…
we can do something with this…we want to bring you to LA to record.’
That’s how Jimmy became a member of the group.
And that was the beginning of how Digital Underground’s first single
‘Your Life’s a Cartoon.’
Funny thing is when they told me about the
trip to LA I quit my job.
I even made a big announcement to my family like,
‘Yeah…I have record coming out!’ But it didn’t go down.
I had to go beg for my job back [laughs].
There were some other label deals that fell through.
So by the time I met Antron Gregory,
who was NWA’s road manager and
went on to become 2Pac’s manager,
I was no longer making any big announcements
to my family that I had a record coming out.
I was looking like an idiot.
So Antron was the one who really made it happen for us;
we ended up with [a deal with TNT/Macola Records].
As for the ‘Your Life’s a Cartoon’ album cover,
like most of our albums I did the artwork.
P-Funk might have gave me the
courage to use drawings instead of photos,
but the style of my drawings came much more from
humorist stuff like Mad Magazine and also the Pink Panther cartoon.
P-Funk’s art was much more serious.
At the time of ‘Your Life’s a Cartoon’
I didn’t really have a pride thing yet going with music.
It was just a fun thing to do.
My whole thinking was, ‘This is bugged out…
I know P-Funk fans are going to like this!’”
"Doowutchyalike"--Digital Underground (1989)
“We were at 18,000 copies with ‘Your Life’s a Cartoon.’ The rule at that time was if you did close to 20,000 copies independently that transferred to gold or platinum with major label promotion. So Antron is shopping us and at one point he’s like, ‘I have three companies interested in y’all. Virgin, Warners and Tommy Boy.’ And we all went, ‘Tommy Boy?!!!’ Being a New York-based hip-hop label, we thought that was an honor being a group from California. We thought they knew what the fuck to do with rap records…De La Soul was there, so was Stetsasonic and Queen Latifah…they had great acts.
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.
By this time Digital Underground was coming together. Kenny K was our DJ when we first signed to Tommy Boy, but the label was like, ‘We like the demo, but we want to see you live.’ Unfortunately, Kenny was in Tampa dealing with some family shit when we had to do the showcase. This was happening all the time ‘til the other cats in the group were getting pissed at Kenny. That’s why he ended up out of the group. So I was like, ‘Damn, I need a DJ and Tommy Boy is giving us three days to do a show.’ Again Jimmy, who was good for hooking us up with shit, was messing with this girl who said she knew a DJ that was pretty good. It was DJ Fuze, but back then he was known as DJ Goldfinger.
So Fuze showed up on the strength of liking ‘Life’s a Cartoon’ and my rhyming, which he thought was good. He showed up with a couple of crates of records and tapes and put on this whole display for us. He was totally about it…he was completely hip-hop. He had all the underground shit that you only know if you were from the East Coast. He had the original records to the break beats, not that compilation stuff. He does this showcase for us and Tommy Boy are like, ‘Hey, you guys want to open up for EPMD and Queen Latifah in Germany?’ We were like, ‘Hell yeah!’ I went to Fuze and was like, ‘Man, I have these shows to do and my boy Kenny is still out of town. Can you go out with us again?’ Fuze is like, ‘Sure, but if I leave town with you, you have to put my man Money B. on because we’re a group.’
That’s how Money joined Digital Underground. Before those two were Raw Fusion, they were known as MGM. Money B was there to do the extra vocals with me on ‘Doowutchyalike’ and he was great. Fuze put the scratches on it. Once we went on tour together that bonded us all. Here we are thinking that we are supposed to do everything live onstage…we are traveling with all our samplers, keyboards, midi cables…I’m talking about 17 cases! Everything we usually set up in the studio we set up onstage [laughs]. We didn’t know that we should have been utilizing tapes for some of the musical parts just yet. It was a grueling tour. We had DJ Fuze do the shots for ‘Doowutchyalike’ and we had another DJ there to just play music in between shots. The ‘Doowutchyalike’ video was also Humpty Hump’s first appearance.
He was a slow, piece-by-piece evolution. It started with me imitating that cartoon singing Warner Bros. frog. That bit was funny to me. There was also some Bootsy, Rodney Dangerfield, Morris Day and Slick Rick thrown in. But it was mainly based on my uncle Tony Red. He really talks like Humpty. He didn’t know how to dress, but he was the coolest nigga in the world. He would walk up to girls and say the most stupid shit [laughs]. They would look at him crazy, but he would be like, [in the Humpty Hump voice], ‘There must be something wrong with y’all, man…I’m Tony Red.’ It wasn’t until the day we shot the video and we were picking up party supplies that the whole idea for Humpty’s nose came about. This store in Berkley had some bargain bin noses that were 99 cents each. One was a sharp nose, one was a pig nose and the others were some odd, brown Groucho Marx noses. I put it on and it was just so fucking hilarious to me. That was the birth of Humpy Hump. Once ‘Doowutchyalike’ sold about 90,000 copies, Tommy Boy told us to get an album together. We signed with them for about $60 grand which was cool to us because we finished what would become Sex Packets in two weeks for about $20 grand.”
Sex Packets--Digital Underground (1990)
“Sex Packets didn’t feel like 100 percent hip-hop. It felt like some psychedelic, space funk. It felt like we were doing what P-Funk or Prince would be doing had they used samplers. Smooth, one of the singers in the group, he was into P-Funk and Prince just like me. He had a 30 to 40 Parliament albums just like me. We would be on some P-Funk shit together. Smooth was the cat singing the line on ‘Sex Packets’, ‘I'm just feeling what you love/And I'm givin’ til’ you need…’ He kind of sings like Curtis Mayfield, but he was a suit and tie guy working at MCI making a lot of money. Smooth would come to the studio and be down and help us out, but he didn’t really take us seriously because we were doing that rap fad he heard about.
Meanwhile, in his briefcase he has an actual plan to create sex packets. The nigga was nuts [laughs]. Smooth really believed he was going to get a grant from the United States government to develop this technology to help astronauts have sex when they traveled. I thought it was a brilliant idea, but I didn’t think technology reached a point to where we could induce a dream and allow someone to see who they wanted and have sex with them. Acid and ecstasy were close, but it wasn’t quite that. As we were putting together the concept of the album I told him, ‘You know what? Sex packets would make a cold concept for a song. Let me try to flip it.’
At the time, I was living on Smooth’s couch because my girl had thrown me out. We would sit there recording shit all day and night. He came home from work one day and I had it all figured out. I told him, ’Listen to this.’ [Shock G sings and plays the chords to ‘Sex Pocket’ on the keyboards during the interview]. I had the hook all the way. He added a line or two to it. About five Long Island Iced Teas later, we had the song finished melody wise.
Then we started going over the Sex Packet concept to make sure people couldn’t poke holes in it. We started studying the properties of ecstasy and LSD and what all the jargon was. We created a story where there was a professor at Stanford University who designed sex packets for astronaut travel so they could be sexually satisfied. The name of it was GSRA which stood for Genetic Suppression Release Antidote. We created this story that a powerful drug leaked into the streets of San Francisco and it was called sex packets on the street. Then on top of that, we went to Kinko’s and made a serious looking pamphlet on how to use sex packets because it was dangerous and fucking people up [laughs]. We made thousands of those pamphlets and left them on the back of buses and at hospitals. After all that, it was Tommy Boy’s idea to name the entire album after the ‘Sex Packets’ song.
The label was all about numbers. They told us, ‘Statistics show that the word sex attracts the eye 10 times more in records stores.’ To them, it was just that shit, but to us we were like, ‘Yeah…that makes it a great concept album!’ That’s what made me write another song called ‘Packet Man’ to help explain the concept of sex packets to people so they wouldn’t have to read so much into it. The moment when we knew Sex Packets was a hit was after we dropped ‘The Humpty Dance.’ We experienced it when we got off the plane coming from our first tour in Europe. We left as frogs but we came back as princes. It was a two-month tour and over there they loved ‘Doowutchyalike’ but they like ‘The Humpty Dance’ too much.
We had just finished the album and the final song was a remix for ‘Freaks of the Industry’ because that’s not how we originally recorded the song. It kept getting knocked down because of sample clearances. Diana Ross did not want us using the original beat for [‘Love Hangover’] because her people didn’t want to associate their client with the lyrics on ‘Freaks of the Industry.’ The second to last song we got done was ‘The Humpty Dance,’ which was sent out and leaked to radio stations, DJ’s and TV channels. At that time, we were still on tour in Europe not knowing that the song was blowing up in the States.
We didn’t even think it was going to be a hit. Some people in Digital Underground was like, ‘I don’t know Shock…it’s kind of funky sounding, but is that hip-hop?’ We left October and came back in January and shit went crazy. When we got off that plane, soon as we walked through the terminal, the employees at the airport were like, ‘Oh, that’s Digital Underground,’ running up to us! New York was on ‘The Humpty Dance’ because the bass coming out of the cars were killing people on the streets.
Suddenly, ‘The Humpty Dance’ was all you heard when cars went by; the bass was just crazy. It was also one of the biggest dance songs of that year. When we performed ‘The Humpty Dance’ onstage at the Coliseum on tour with Public Enemy and LL Cool J, the whole dome would stand up and rap the entire song with us for all three verses! They knew all the lyrics and everybody would do the Humpty dance. People actually thought Humpty was a real person. We even had a Humpty double, which fooled a lot [of our own peers]. That Humpty dance is so goofy [laughs]. It wasn’t even a real dance; it really came from Money B’s little brother. All I added was the wobbly, ‘throw-your-hands-up-there’s-an-earthquake’ part. When we saw people on Arsenio and other rap groups doing the Humpty dance from Scoop, Scraps and Big Daddy Kane to Tone Loc’s dancers at awards shows, we were like, ‘Wow…people are treating this like a real dance.’ I was just trying to imitate my uncle Tony Red.
We ended up going platinum with Sex Packets. It was all in the life. Queen Latifah would tell me that ‘Sex Packets’ was one of her favorite songs and that she had it on her lovemaking R&B tape next to Al B Sure. That’s why I don’t take credit for it today. But back then I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is the reaction to the first album we put together in two weeks?!!! I was just joking with this shit.’ It was easy to get caught up with all the success. Monica Lynch (then President of Tommy Boy) said to me, ‘I hope you don’t go down that path of some of the other artists on the label.’ They got really big headed after blowing up. I just told her that would never happen to me. But after Sex Packets, I started to go down that same path that Monica Lynch warned me about. I was gassed into thinking that I was the sole reason for Digital Underground’s success. We just thought ‘The Humpty Dance’ was how songs go when you have a huge pop hit. Then you realize that’s not how it happens. We didn’t have many more of those. I needed to go back to being humble and following my ears.”
This Is An EP Release--Digital Underground (1991)
“Tommy Boy wanted another album right after the tour, but I told them I couldn’t have an album out that fast…We wasn’t Public Enemy…we didn’t have a Bomb Squad in the studio making our beats. We made all our own shit so we had to start on it when got home. Tommy Boy heard me freaking out, so they said, ‘Okay…just put an EP out to hold people over.’ It was their idea to include ‘Same Song’ on the EP as well as a couple of remixes. That’s why the EP didn’t have a concept, which to me was a sin. ‘Same Song’ was originally featured in this Dan Aykroyd movie called Nothing But Trouble.
This was also 2Pac’s introduction to the public. There’s one misconception that I want to clear up. Pac was never a Digital Underground dancer. He was our roadie. And out of all the roadies we ever had, he was the best. You never lost anything on his watch. The only thing you could say about Pac was how wild he was. It was later that he started performing onstage with us. Pac would probably get us arrested in every other city because he would pop shit at the police quick [laughs].
Sometimes he would get us in unnecessary fights. He would never back down even if he were in the wrong. But if they were fucking with us and we were innocent, which happened most of the time, we would support 2Pac 100 percent. But a lot of times he was just wrong [laughs]. Our first meeting with 2Pac was set up through Antron. He wanted me to be the ears for him and tell him whether or not he should sign Pac. From there, 2Pac became our label mate. He had presence when he rhymed. But Pac began to become restless so Antron called me in a panic and asked if we could take him on tour with us because he had a feeling that he was losing him. He just got offered a position with the Black Liberation Army at this college in Atlanta.
Pac was ready to take that job and say fuck it because the music was taking too long. So, Pac took Money B’s brother place on our tour with Public Enemy and Big Daddy Kane. He did some dancing onstage, but he was mainly our roadie. At first I didn’t want to disrespect him because I knew Pac was a serious MC. I didn’t want to ask him to dance or be our roadie. I thought it was beneath him, but 2Pac calls me back and he’s like, ‘Hell yeah, nigga…I’ll do that!’ He never acted like he was a member of Digital Underground. We all felt like D.U. was a humorist band and Pac’s message was very serious. But we had already been around the world with Pac on tour and he was ripping up the after parties when we passed the mic around. So we asked him to be on ‘Same Song.’ Even my mother saw that there was something special inside Pac. She walked over to me during the ‘Same Song’ video shoot and asked, ‘Gregory, who is that right there?’ She hadn’t even heard of Pac yet. I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s 2Pac.’ And she said, ‘Watch him…he has that quality. I don’t know what he sounds like. But he looks like he’s a star.’
For me, it was one step closer to that super group I envisioned in the mold of P-Funk. I figured the more MC’s you would see in Digital Underground the less the fans would figure out that I was the piano man and Humpty Hump and Shock G. At that time, if you seemed like you knew a lot about playing music you were considered less hip-hop. So I didn’t want to appear like I was Prince—like I was above it all or this God, which is how I looked at him. Some people criticized the This Is A EP Release because it had two or three songs that people had already heard and it came out in a plain white wrapper. Whatever. I tried to make it as interesting as I could.”
Sons Of The P--Digital Underground (1991)
“When we get to the second album, me, Marlon (D.U. member and vocalist) and Smooth were playing with the possibility that George Clinton was down to work with us! We actually heard that George said ‘The Humpty Dance’ was hot, which was just crazy to us! Originally, we asked him to appear in ‘The Humpty Hump Dance’ video, but he couldn’t fly out. I felt like P-Funk was this Beatles like group that was being slept on. George never got a Grammy…he never got mentioned…they only speak of George as a great producer and bandleader today. I’m so happy that he finally got his due. After we received the phone call that George was down, we came up with the Sons of The P concept, which wasn’t my original concept. It was Marlon who came up with it…he’s also a huge Parliament fan just like me and Smooth. I told him that I liked the name and thought it would make a dope song title.
[The tradeoff was] that Marlon would be featured on the song. And he was with it. But we had to get George to certify ‘Sons of The P.’ So we sent George some of the stuff we were working on. We go to meet him in Detroit…this is our God, our guru. George walks in the studio in the middle of the summer looking like a vagrant homeless person that crawled out from under a bridge [laughs]. His fatigues looked like they had been balled up and pulled out of the laundry; his shirt was dirty. And he smelled like he had been in those clothes for two or three days. And his hair…it was coming out of his ears, his nose; his beard was lopsided…it was all over the place. He had coke boogers in his beard!
The crazy part is, during that day, Digital Underground was having our little issues and problems. But when George walked in and said, ‘What’s up, man?’ you could just see the room transform. We were in the Mothership! We were all at ease. There’s something about how down to earth George is. George is the bottom cat…His vibe is so good and he brings the best out of people. He is so informative…he can talk to you about government law and space…George was even telling me about what happened with Rakim in his settlement with Eric B. and I didn’t even know they had beef! When we heard his voice on our record it was just surreal. It’s not a gimmick with George. Just how he came off on record that is how he is in person.
When we were in the booth with him he just leveled the playing field. Fuck going to the bathroom and hitting your armpits with a towel…he made everyone feel so comfortable because how could you be anything worst them him? We would do little coke bumps in the studio with him because we thought it was cool thinking we are doing coke with George Clinton! We trying to keep up with him. When George would run out of coke he would be like, ‘I guess that’s it.’ But then while we were listening to the playback of a track we would catch George digging in his sock and on accident finding another sack of coke like, ‘Oh yeah…this is a good one here. [laughs].’ You could tell the bag wasn’t new…the texture looked like it was beat to death, like it was liquid.
George never ran out of coke! But I kept my mind on what we were there to do. We didn’t have to ask George to do much on ‘Sons of The P.’ He gave us way more stuff than we needed. He would hear a song once and learn it instantly. He never had to re-do vocals. He was amazing. We did gold on Sons of the P, which wasn’t bad. But I started to calculate that Humpty formula on such songs as ‘No Nose Job,’ ‘Kiss You Back’ and on the next album with ‘The Return of The Crazy One.’ Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good. You could hear it. That’s when I realized that I didn’t know what I did on Sex Packets that made it connect with people on such a huge level. But we already started to see some things from Tommy Boy. When we picked ‘Kiss You Back’ as the first single they asked us, ‘How come Humpty isn’t on it? Can he just be on the song?’ So the compromise was that I put him on the song somehow. Then we wanted to do a video for ‘Sons of The P’ with George in it and Tommy Boy was like, ‘Well, that’s not really hip-hop.’ And I’m telling them, ‘Since when have we’ve only been hip-hop???’ It was becoming a struggle.”
2Pacalypse Now Sessions--2Pac ("Words Of Wisdom" and "Rebel Of The Underground," 1991)
“We were working on 2Pac’s [debut] album a whole year before he even went on tour with us. Everybody in Digital Underground was producing songs for 2Pacalypse Now. His album took some time to put together. So after we finished it we started shopping Pac to the labels. We played it to for Tommy Boy a couple of times but they wanted to hear more music. They would tell us, ‘Well, we are looking at the charts and conscious stuff like Public Enemy and X-Clan is on the decline.
Stuff that’s street and pimpish is on the upswing.’ To Tommy Boy if it was thuggish or outlaw, it was in. We were like fuck it…we just kept shopping Pac to other labels. But soon as ‘Same Song’ came out he got a few calls from the labels. When I was doing those beats on 2Pacalypse Now, I was kind of [giving a nod] to Public Enemy. I was going for a really hard sound. [But as we later found out], Pac was capable of so much more.”
The Body-Hat Syndrome--Digital Underground (1993)
“We were being warned by everybody. Every time we would see Stetsasonic and other artists on Tommy Boy they would tell us, ‘Man, Tom (Tom Silverman, the founder of Tommy Boy) is shady…watch him.’ But we were having success, so we wasn’t listening to any of that. We were getting paid. But by the time we did Sons of The P, Tommy Boy was sending songs back to us because there wasn’t enough Humpty on the album. We kept telling them that we didn’t want to tell the same joke over and over. But Tommy Boy felt it was our bread and butter. At one point they interrupted me while I was talking and said, ‘Shock, listen…We want some funny Humpty songs or you and Money B on some sex shit…that’s what Digital Underground is and that’s what you are good at…write some songs about female body parts like Sir Mix-a-Lot.’
They were telling us to make songs like ‘Baby Got Back’ and ‘Put ‘Em On The Glass.’ That’s when we knew we had to go [laughs]. We told the label we were doing a political song with Pac ("Wussup Wit The Luv"), but they wasn’t trying to hear none of that. When we were making The Body-Hat Syndrome we felt like we were this group of all these different varieties and MC’s, faces, sounds and abilities. We felt like we were getting squeezed into just being the Humpty band. Tommy Boy made it seem like Humpty was Digital Underground’s lead rapper…they wanted all our singles to feature him.
They were really starting to piss us off. We were fighting for our lives. You have a guy in your group who doubles as three people who are believed to be real. How about promoting that? Or how about the fact that we were the first rap group to go get George Clinton and work with him and the fact that we were influential in giving Dr. Dre the confidence to do the funk thing hard. Because while he loved P-Funk in his heart, Dre didn’t think it was hip-hop yet. EPMD sampled a P-Funk song or two, but they got off of it. We were the first people to say, ‘George is the next James Brown catalogue…just watch!’
We felt like all of these things were being overlooked by Tommy Boy. We knew we were more than just Humpty Hump. I liked ‘Return of The Crazy One,’ but the fact that it was the first song on The Body-Hat Syndrome and that it was the first singe—that was all Tommy Boy. What we were doing is an anti-radio, anti-commercial album on purpose. We knew we were going to be out of there as a pop group, so we sat down and thought, ‘How can we make a record that our fans would still like, but Tommy Boy would hate?’ [laughs] ‘Return of The Crazy One’ was too nasty to be a big hit.
The video was in the top 10 on the Playboy Channel, but it didn’t do that well on the other video channels because they wanted us to edit it. BET told us there was too much ass and titties. When The Body-Hat Syndrome didn’t do so well, Tommy Boy released us out of our seven-album contract. But that was okay because we wanted out. It wasn’t just us. Queen Latifah wanted out so bad. She got on Motown and finally did well. Tommy Boy, bless their hearts, was always a singles label. They really didn’t develop artists. They were just trying to streamline us down to the gimmick of Humpty Hump. That was never what Digital Underground was about.”
"I Get Around"--2Pac (1993)
“I never knew that 2Pac wanted that Digital Underground sound. I was surprised when he told me because I always thought of Pac as more aggressive. That’s how ‘I Get Around’ came about. Meanwhile, Pac had become a star. He’s down in LA shooting Poetic Justice with Janet Jackson. He’s doing his next album (Strictly 4 My NIGGAZ) with all of these other producers. He’s recording a song with Ice Cube and Ice T (‘Last Wordz’). He was doing his thizzle. Before we recorded ‘I Get Around,’ it was a four-track beat that was going around our camp. People would just freestyle over it. Every time we would play it people would say, ‘Damn, that shit sounds good!’
Meanwhile, I was working on Saafir’s album and when he heard the song he walked up to me and said, ‘Man, I would murder this track…I know you ain’t going to give this to Pac…I know you are going to keep it for Digital Underground.’ At the time, I was also set to be the person who scored this reality show about living on the streets. One of the songs I played for them was ‘I Get Around’ and we were going to use Saafir on the song. I was excited, but after I played them the beat in the reality show people were like, ‘We don’t know…it’s kind of pretty.’ In fact, there were other people who turned that song down! So right now I’m thinking it’s not even that big of a deal. Then Pac calls and tells me to send him some tracks for [Strictly 4 My NIGGAZ].
I put the beat to ‘I Get Around’ on the tape first because I thought it was the best of all the songs on there. But I didn’t think Pac would like it. I had some more rougher beats that I thought would fit him better. Later, I got a voice message from Pac saying, ‘Yes nigga…yes! I like the first beat…that’s what I’m talking about…that’s the one!’ We knew ‘I Get Around’ was going to be a hit just from the video shoot. We had done four years worth of videos by then, but everyone on the set was going crazy when they heard the song for the first time. Every musician on the set was walking up to me, ‘Dog, what did you use on this song? Is that a sample?’ I started it off by sampling Roger’s [‘Computer Love’]…that whole part where it goes, ‘You know I get around….’ That was the one to me because it had that fucking harmony. I just looped up that sample, added the transformer, and touched a few piano chords over it.
This was all before I added the drums. I always do my drums the same way. I finish everything else but the drums to see how everything moves…that’s how I figure out where to put the kick and the snare. During the ‘I Get Around’ session Pac laid down his verses first. He left a hole on the track and told Money B and me to write our verse while he was finishing up his vocals. I was drained, so I told Pac I was going to come back tomorrow and lay down my verse. But Pac was like, ‘I can’t wait…they are mastering my album tomorrow…it has to be done tonight.’
A messenger was in town to take the tape back on a plane to Interscope when we finished it, so Pac picks up a pad, walks away from me and he looks up in the air and writes some lines and looks up and writes a few more lines. I swear, less than two minutes he had my part on ‘I Get Around’ written. And it was dope! I was a little hesitant because back then you didn’t say other people’s rhymes…you wrote your own rhymes. And at the time I was engaged to this girl Melissa who I later married.
So how was I going to be the freak of the industry on this one? All that sex shit I was talking on the first two or three records was because I was single. I was chasing pussy. Now I’m in love and I have a wife on the way. I’m listening to Pac’s own verse and I’m like, ‘Damn, I don’t want to disrespect Melissa.’ Pac knew that. He had already thought about Melissa for me with that line, ‘Because I’m a freak doesn’t mean we can hit the sheets…’ Pac respected my relationship. When people come up to me they always say the satin in the panties line. I had one of the best in the business writing for me. If you had to have a ghostwriter why not 2Pac? And he would always hit me off with $30 grand per track. It was lovely. I wasn’t in the bathrooms when all the sex was jumping off during the shooting of ‘I Get Around.
Yeah, I did my thing at previous concerts and studio sessions. But Pac was on another level [laughs]. When we were on tour in Europe everyone would bring used condoms to the road managers’ room. Whoever had the most at the end of the tour got a pot of money. Everybody who didn’t fuck for that night had to put $100 in the pot. So over the course of the tour that pot was getting big. It was $4 grand by the end of the tour. And Pac and Money B would always win it [laughs]. Tommy Boy was pissed when they heard ‘I Get Around.’
They were like, ‘Shock…how could you give that track away?’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean? It’s coming out on Pac’s album. He’s in our group.’ We sent that song to Tommy Boy just to say, ‘See…we can do songs without Humpty.’ I was so glad that it went down like that. Pac would always act like we were doing him a favor by producing ‘I Get Around’ because he was still a new artist. Even the label thanked us. But you never know when some little thing that you do for somebody is going to turn into something big.”
"I Got 5 On It"--The Luniz feat. Dru Down, E-40, Richie Rich, Shock G, and Spice 1 (1994)
“The Luniz, based on us doing ‘I Get Around’ with ‘Pac, called me to produce a few songs on their album [Operation Stackola]. But one of the coolest things was appearing on [the remix to ‘I Got 5 On It’]. Truthfully, I didn’t know what to do because my confidence was very slim as an MC. I felt good as a producer…but I didn’t know what to talk about. I played out Humpty Hump, so I was looking for an identity as an artist. But my skills were still there. And the way the Luniz asked me was humbling: ‘We need you on this one Shock…We need all the Bay Area ballers, man.’
That gave me the confidence to write something. I’m in studio writing and the Luniz are in there with me and I’m bouncing ideas off of Knumskull. I knew I was going to get ripped a new asshole when it came to that speed rapping like E-40 and Spice-1 was doing [laughs]. So I was like, ‘Yo, I’m going to sound like I’m in slow motion…so let me give my shit a melody.’ That’s why I incorporated the ‘I Get Around’ line. It was a cool contrast and it fit in there and I had a lot of people saying, ‘Ah Shock…I love your part!’ But I don’t think the Luniz would have came and got me if I didn’t have that 2Pac association.”
Me Against The World Sessions--2Pac ('So Many Tears,' 'Fuck The World,' 1995)
“I sent three good songs to Pac for the Me Against The World album. The first one was what turned out to be Digital Underground’s ‘Oregano Flow,’ the second was ‘So Many Tears’ and the third one was a beat I can’t remember. So Pac calls me back in Oakland and he’s like, ‘I like the first one and the fourth one.’ And I’m puzzled because I only sent three tracks. I thought he was fucking with me. I flew up to LA to meet with Pac about the songs. I’m like, ‘There is no fourth beat…I searched and searched.’ He played the tape for me and when the third beat ran out some old, dusty shit that I had taped over and didn’t want no one to hear came on.
He’s like, ‘This one, nigga!’ It was that ‘Fuck The World’ beat, which was really a Prince remake. We had all that Minneapolis shit in it. But we ended up not doing it because nobody felt the beat but me. But Pac loved it. The original line was: ‘Something Minneapolis said…’ Pac let us keep some of those background vocals on there. We later changed the line to ‘They try to say that I don’t care…’ ‘So Many Tears’ is another one that wasn’t made with Pac in mind. Stevie Wonder’s ‘That Girl’ was one of my favorite songs, so I knew at some point I was going to sample it. You can hear Stevie’s texture on ‘So Many Tears. I didn’t jack the bassline…I wrote my own chords. But I used that metallic texture of ‘That Girl.’
Pac was just weird and special that way. He was not a businessman out to get rich. He was trying to change the world through music. I’m spoiled when I get demos now. People telling me, ‘I’ve been shot more than Pac and been to jail…I’m a real thug…you should fuck with me.’ I just tell them that’s not why we fucked with Pac. ‘ All that later shit that later happened was just Suge Knight’s influence. That wasn’t the Pac I knew. I still tear up when I think about him.”
Future Rhythm--Digital Underground (1996)
“I was going through all types of weird shit during this album. I didn’t know who I was that year [laughs]. Still, it was fun because D.U. had that creative freedom of no longer being on Tommy Boy. I could experiment again and I was back to having fun recording like I was before the music industry. Digital Underground was becoming boring to me because when we were on Tommy Boy we were expected to crank out the same song. So it was fun to get from under that. But by then my wife and I were having problems. If you notice, Future Rhythm is very asexual. Like I said, this was just a weird time for me. But I loved the freedom we had.”
"Love Sign Remix"--Prince feat. Nona Gaye (1998)
“At the time I did [the ‘Love Sign’ remix] for Prince I had yet to meet him. That came later. But I have to tell this story. While I’m in New York working on D.U.’s Who Got The Gravy people are coming up to me going, ‘Yo, good to see you on that song with Prince.’ So I would turn around and look at whoever I was with and say, ‘I ain’t never did no song with Prince…’ Then I get to the studio and the engineer is like, ‘I like the work you did on that Crystal Ball album with Prince.’ I’m like, ‘Why does everybody keep saying that? I never did a song with Prince.’ So I went to the store and sure enough a remix for ‘Love Sign’ produced by Shock G was on there. I thought I took too much ecstasy and acid because I couldn’t remember doing that song [laughs].
How did I meet Prince and not remember that session??? I thought I was losing my mind. But you know what it was? It was a remix that Prince’s Paisley Park label hired us to do with Nona Gaye. This was in 1993 and it was a song that Prince wrote for her. We muted Prince’s lead vocal tracks and added our tracks on there and that was it. But when we sent the track back to Prince it never came out. At that time, we just thought it was the closest we would ever get to Prince like, ‘Wow, we touched the same tape that Prince touched.’ After six years, I forgot about that shit. Prince left the track exactly how we sent it to him. I missed the release party for that album, but while I was in New York we got sent an invite to go to another Prince album release party in Soho.
He had Q-Tip on the turntables…everybody was in the house. They thought because I had this new Digital Underground single called ‘Wind Me Up’ that I should go to the party as Humpty. I bought a couple of girls with me and had a limo…it was a big publicity thing. I’m in the VIP area late into the party and Prince comes walking through. He’s wearing the high heels and this crazy red suit that the Joker would have on! You can tell he was in the room because everybody’s eyes were lighting up.
Back then the thinking was if you wanted to talk to Prince you had to wait for him to talk to you because you might run him away, so you knew not to fuck with him. I’m standing there as Humpty, so I have to talk like Humpty. I got Stevie Wonder cracking up [laughs]. And Prince walks up and he speaks to me! He asked me how I liked the album and I was like, ‘Man, I loved that song ‘Don’t Play Me’ and ‘Dream Factory’ swings hard…it’s some of the hardest shit ever made.’ He was like, ‘Yeah…that was cool how the groove fit right in there.’ I talked to Prince in the flesh!”
Who Got The Gravy?--Digital Underground (1998)
“Jake Records reached out to us for a deal. They told us, ‘All those other labels didn’t know what to do with you. We do.’ Afeni Shakur (2Pac’s mother) introduced me to Gary Katz [one of the founders of Jake Records]. He had produced Steely Dan and had his hand in a few rock things. Katz told me, ‘Just do your thing…I know how to bring a record in.’ He supposedly knew what he was doing and just wanted to oversee the project. We became friends. So, I’m in New York mixing Who Got The Gravy working with KRS-One, Biz Markie…even Big Pun was fucking with us. I just remember everyone telling me, ‘Yo fuck that, Shock…We are going to help you get back on!’ The way KRS showed up to the studio was so mind blowing…with so much love and support.
Just like George, he gave us way more songs than we needed. We had a big budget…he didn’t ask for a lot of money, but we were going to give him $10,000 just to appear on a song. I didn’t even think KRS would show up. I didn’t think he would mess with silly ass Digital Underground. This is the mighty KRS-One. And he was like, ‘What??? I work with anything conscious. When you said ‘Yo fat girl, come here are you ticklish on ‘The Humpty Dance,’ that was telling everybody to join the party!’ I never thought of it that way, but he was right. KRS goes into the booth and proceeds to lay so many things. When it got to three songs I was like, ‘Kris…I don’t know if I can afford much more than $10 grand…’ And he goes, ‘What? Shock, I’m not here for that…I’m here to make your album tight.
That’s what hip-hop is about.’ I was just baffled by that. I was so used to so many Cali cats hustling money for sessions. But I should have known. It was the same thing with Big Pun…he was more thugged out than we were. So I didn’t think he was going to come, but he was like, ‘Come on man…you were one of the first persons to give props to Puerto Ricans.’ Pun’s food showed up to the studio first [laughs]. Nothing but big plates of Spanish food. It was a trip. But to tell you the truth, I thought Who Got The Gravy would be the last D.U. album. When that one really didn’t happen the way I envisioned it I was done with it. I’m telling my manager and everybody, ‘Stop making me do Digital Underground albums.’ It was a different time in hip-hop. The music wasn’t bad. It was actually good. It was just that people wanted Jay-Z right now. And I wasn’t mad at that. So I just left it alone.”
Fear of a Mixed Planet--Shock G (2004)
“My mom would ask me, ‘How come you don’t own any property?…you are going to wind up like one of those broke musicians!’ After she told me that, I would give my mom money to save up for me and she would put it in a CD account for me. A few years later, Michael Concepcion, who was the dude who put together the ‘All In The Same Gang’ song and is in a wheel chair because of gang violence, called me to his house. I thought I should go because I never picked up my plaque from appearing on it. Meanwhile, my neighbor was noticing me getting high a lot in the late ‘90s and early ‘2000’s. I was doing a lot of ecstasy and acid. I had a serious problem. I was getting away from the old me. And yes, I was a bit down and out because I owed so much in back taxes.
So Mike sits me down and says, ‘You are having too much fun. We want you back in the studio. We want you back doing what you do.’ I’m like, ‘Man, I’m not a gangsta…I can’t talk about the stuff that rappers are talking about today. That’s all people want to hear.’ I’m feeling like there was no place for us. Even De La Soul and Public Enemy were struggling. And those groups had way more respect than us. That’s the philosophy I gave Mike. But Mike was like, ‘Shock, everybody can’t be Snoop and Dre. The kids need to hear something else. They need it now more than ever, man.’ He looked at me like, ‘I’m not just trying to get you off of drugs. I’m telling you we need you.’
And he was saying all this from a wheelchair! He knew how that street life could affect you. He made me see things in a different way. Ever since then, I started valuing who I am and what I do. A few years later in 2002, I started forgetting that the money was coming out of my checks. So one day my mom tells me, ‘You have $70,000.’ I told her, ‘Mom, I want my money.’ She asked me if I was ready to buy a house yet and ’m like, ‘Nah…I don’t want to buy a house. I want to make an album.’ Michael gave me that spark. I didn’t have any record industry ties.
But I felt confident and I had something to say again. My mom didn’t even get mad at me. She understood. If you listen to Fear Of A Mixed Planet it doesn’t sound like anything you are supposed to be talking about in ’04 if you wanted a hit record. Once my solo album existed suddenly the pressure from Digital Underground was lifted off me. When my mother heard the album, she said, ‘You sound more vibrant than I’ve heard you in years. I knew this album is what you needed.'"
Cuz A D.U. Party Don't Stop!--Digital Underground (2008)
“People would always tell me they missed Digital Underground. There would even be these D.U. compilations of shit that wasn’t even supposed to come out. Finally this one dude Scott Thomas calls. He is now the CEO of Jake Records. He says, ‘I read online that you are broke and that you are not having fun in the studio anymore. I think that’s crazy. If you want to do something I will invest in you.’ We ended up putting together some D.U. live material from one of our shows. The deal was if I gave him a few new songs, he would put the live songs out, which became Cuz A D.U. Party Don’t Stop. Scott really loves Digital Underground and thinks that we should have never ever stopped. We announced that it was going to be the last D.U. album.”
The Greenlight EP--Digital Underground (2010)
“A couple of years later, Scott Thomas calls me up and says, ‘I have to tell you something. I was buying the masters off of the guy who owned the label that released Who Got The Gravy. Man, you didn’t tell me about these outtakes!’ These were just songs that we didn’t use. He was like, ‘Man, you gotta let me put these out. People want to hear this! We can say that this is an EP…the last Digital Underground release.’ But I didn’t want people thinking we just came into the studio and did this. So I decided to let him release it with the agreement that we would place the dates on which each song was recorded on the production notes.
Today, Money B is still doing his solo records. And I just got finished working in Minneapolis with Dr. Fink (Prince’s former longtime keyboardist in the Revolution band) on a Prince tribute album. I did the artwork on it, which was kind of in the vain of the 1999 album cover. We talked to Tommy Boy about releasing it. We negotiated it and they gave us money mix the last track, but they stopped because they didn’t want to pay for all the song clearances. They were scared that Prince was going to sue them [laughs]. So, it’s become this tug of war. Now we have this little label in Minneapolis called Orphan Records that just doesn’t give a fuck. They are going to release it.
The album features Eric Leeds, Matt Fink, who helped produce it, Lollipop, an electro artists from Minneapolis, Toni Christian, the former lead singer and guitarist from Mazarati and some other people. It should be out sometime next year. I can die happy today. I used to have nightmares that I would have a heart attack with the Humpty nose on and they were going to bury me and put Humpty Hump on my tombstone [laughs]. Because shit like that happens. Maybe that’s my legacy. But the touring is still fun. Interpreting our songs in different ways is always cool. I can pop up on a Prince album. Life doesn’t suck. But everyone who sees me on the street or when my name comes up on TMZ or VH1 thinks that my life sucks…like I’m dying [laughs]. But I’m out on tour with P-Funk. I’m producing and Djing for Murs who is letting me use the keys and drum machine to interpret his songs how I want. I finally feel like I’m out of the box. Now it’s easier for me to put that Humpty nose on.”