Speakin’ From The Underground: A Tribute To Shock G

By: Kevin Crandall     

        On the day of Shock G’s passing, producer J.PERIOD shared a story via twitter that captures the hip hop eccentric’s legacy. He recalls the story of a young Shock G gifting the legendary emcee Rakim a cartoon poster he had drawn of him after a concert—a poster that Rakim still has hanging on his studio wall to this day as motivation. This small moment from the early years of Shock G’s life foreshadows the impact that he would have on hip hop in the years to followan impact that would touch great artists such as 2Pac, Rakim, and Prince, and would cement the multidimensional legacy of funk within hip hop forever.

        The original super-producer, Shock G was a savant with production and a fiend on the mic. He was known most notably as the founder and leader of the hip hop group Digital Underground out of Oakland, where he brought raw funk energy to music, the likes of which had not been seen since the Prime Minister of Funk himself: George Clinton. Shock G was funky hip hop incarnate—blending the intoxicating sounds of Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic with his own masterful flow and rhymes to create a hip hop sound unlike anything else. Digital Underground’s first hit, Doowutchyalikea club anthem that threw them into the public’s eyeslides down into your bones from the opening Parliament sample and never lets up as the crew urges you to, well, doowutchyalike. Shock G wore his influences on his sleeves and praised His Funkiness George Clinton whenever he got the chance, both on the mic and through his extensive sampling of the funk master’s bands.

        Digital Underground established themselves as a premier hip hop group with their classic debut album Sex Packets. The funk-filled concept album introduced the world to sex packets, “a pill, wrapped in a little piece of paper” that you can cop, three for $10.99, in exchange for an artificial sexual experience. If you watch their early music videos, you’ll see why Sex Packets is such a fitting metaphor for their music. Littered with Parliament/Funkadelic samples, Shock G’s incredible production propels the tape into the upper echelon of musical prowess and pioneered the sound of funky hip hop, debuting two years before Dr. Dre’s G-funk staple The Chronic. Sex Packets cemented Shock G and Digital Underground’s place in golden age hip hop history, and showed that even during the height of gangsta rap’s popularity, party funk could still rock a crowd and connect with the culture.

        With the artistic arsenal that he possessed, Shock G dispelled the idiom “jack of all trades, master of none.” Not only could he make your head spin with rhymes and your booty bounce with funky rhythms, but Shock G was also an incredible pianist and visual artist. He rocked the keys under the alias “Piano Man,” effortlessly blending production with live instrumentation he played himself. The groovy keyboard solo on Doowutchyalike and the jazzy playing on Packet Prelude are small tastes of Shock G’s instrumental prowess and his ear for mixing styles. Visually, he assumed the alias “Rackadelic” (a play off of the funk band he loved dearly), creating album covers and pushing Digital Underground’s artistic vision forward to new heights. Look no further than Rakim’s studio wall to see the impact his visual art had in the game and among his peers, as it continues to motivate legendary emcees to push the boundaries of their art.

        Shock G was known for the characters he created outside of himself, at times convincing fans and industry folk alike that they were completely different people. None of these characters were more famous or more beloved than the cracker-stealing, biscuits-grabbing entertainer and rhyme spitter Humpty, pronounced with an “umpty.” The Humpty Dance rocked crowds and spit game, introducing the world to the braggadocious, large nose tycoon himself (see cover photo). Humpty’s freaky wordcraft and nasally baritone had your mind spinning and rump shaking as you could not help but laugh at his antics and do his dance. Oatmeal should always be lumpy and Burger King bathrooms will never be the same; Humpty was a larger-than-life being whose success came without the sacrifice of culture or quality. To create a character with such spunk and moxie without being gimmicky seems impossible, yet Shock G made it happen.

        Outside of Humpty, Shock G is most well known for being the person who propelled Tupac Shakur’s career in hip hop. Bringing on a young Tupac as a stagehand for Digital Underground, Shock G realized that the kid had major talent and eventually had him spit guest verses on Digital Underground tracks. The Underground was always a temporary gig, but Shock G would continue to support Tupac in his pursuits as a solo artistco-producing his debut album 2Pacalypse Now and producing his hit single So Many Tears. Without the genius of Shock G and the mentorship that he gave a young Tupac, one of the greatest musicians and minds in history would not have come to fruition.

        Though not as well known as a solo artist, Shock G released his debut solo tape Fear of a Mixed Planet in 2004, playing off the title of the legendary Public Enemy record. Within the album, he invokes a psychedelic atmosphere, incorporating his ever-present Parliament sample groove as he engages topics such as multiracial culture, hate, and sexual and racial tensions. Shock G shows his skills as a lyrically dense and rhythmically versatile emcee, switching cadences and dropping intricate rhyme schemes throughout the tape. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the track The Rime in the Mochanut, where he dazzles with a disjointed cadence that record scratches into and out of every bar, setting up the next beautifully. While he may be most notable for his work as Humpty and production with Digital Underground, Shock G held his own as a solo artist and put out one of the most underrated records of the 21st century.

        A funk maestro who revolutionized the game in countless ways, Shock G was an artist whose forward-thinking mentality and creativity cultivated a style that still reverberates within hip hop today. Groups such as clipping. point to Digital Underground and the production work of Shock G as heavy inspiration in the experimental music they create, and his works have been sampled by the likes of Gorillaz, Tech N9ne, The Spice Girls, and more. He has also produced for KRS-One, Prince, and 2Pac, bringing his own style into the work of these legendary artists. 

        Shock G gave weirdness, spontaneity and fun-loving humor a home within hip hop, while pioneering and exploring the funk and psychedelic side of the culture. Shock G was funky hip hop through and through, and the world is less funky with his passing.

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