Digital Underground’s Shock-G Talks Death Row Era Tupac and Digital with Stop Being Famous
The career of Digital Underground leader and west coast Hip-Hop pioneer, Shock G, is a testament to longevity through versatility. Shock has produced and played instruments on countless legendary Hip-Hop songs, including tracks for former D.U. band-mate and friend, Tupac Shakur. Producing such hits as “Humpty Dance,” “Doowutchyalike,” “Same Song,” 2pac’s ” I Get Around,” and ” So Many Tears,” it’s apparent Shock G is deserving of the title bestowed upon him- Hip-Hop Legend.
I caught up with Shock to ask a few questions, and this is what was said:
StopBeingFamous: You are probably best known for your on-stage alter-ego, Humpty Hump. How did you come up with the character Humpty?
Shock G: He evolved over the making of three songs; the first was “Hip Hop Doll” in which I was throwing my voice to sound like the Warner Bros frog, “Hello my baby, Hello my honey, you are my hip hop doll…”
The second was “Doowutchyalike,” which became our first Tommy Boy/Warner release in 1989, in which I tried the silly voice again. It still wasn’t a separate character yet, we just considered it Shock-G on mushrooms. It wasn’t until we shot the video, the day-of, that I happened to try the Groucho nose-n-glasses on in a few shots. In fact there were shots of the whole group with them on, popping up into frame saying, “and doowutchyalike!”
We were editing the video and realized it worked best with the frog-voice. We scrapped all of the original footage and used only the “new” voice and nose footage.
Although the “Doowutchyalike” video did well with BET & MTV, we didn’t consider it (Humpty) a different person. It wasn’t until Laura Hines, from Tommy Boy’s publicity department, informed us that people: “think the guy with the nose is a whole ‘nother person! You got a name for him?” The first name to come to my mind was “Humpty Hump.” At the time, saying Humpty Hump was like saying Crunkiddy Crunk, it was a musical term. Headz (people) used to use it like, “that new X-Clan song is Humpin!”
When I told this to Laura over the phone, she laughed out loud and said, “Humpty Hump?! That’s great! I’ll get a bio started” and at that very second, Humpty became a separate person. A few days later, Monica Lynch, the president of Tommy Boy, called and said, “What if Humpty had his own song, Shock?” and I said, “Hmm, I’ll try it.”
This experiment became the “Humpty Dance”, which was added to our first album, “Sex Packets” as an after-thought, which is why Humpty didn’t appear on the album cover. We had already shot the cover photo and finished the layout. I purposely tried to make the bass-line sound like it had a hump in it.
SBF: How have you changed since the beginning of your career?
Shock: In many ways, but it’s hard to tell which changes are from being in the industry and touring for the last twenty years (thousands of shows, all around the world) and which changes occurred simply because I’m in my 40’s and would’ve evolved anyway like any normal person.
For instance, I’m vegetarian now. I prefer being at home to going out at night. I drive a gas-saver rather than a loud hot-rod guzzler. I prefer playing the acoustic piano over programming beats on computers. Yuck, I’m an ol’ man! ha ha ha…
SBF: Other than music, what art inspires you?
Shock: I’m a big fan of Gary Larson’s “Far Side” comic strip and of Saturday Night Live TV episodes. I love comedy. I’m actually doing comedy when I do music. Many of my songs are actually skits put over music.
SBF: Take us back to when Digital Underground first emerged. What was life like for you?
Shock: It was exciting of course, but more than anything… busy. We were doing three tours a year and I was wearing so many hats, I barely knew which person was the real me. As “Rackadelic,” I was the in-house visual artist for the TNT label, drawing all the album covers and designing logos for Digital and Raw Fusion. I was the storyboard artist for most of the videos and provided the sketch-frames for directors to follow. (Here’s the “Same Song” storyboards. I’m proud of how they look just like the video even though they were drawn prior to the shoot) As “Piano Man”, I laced D.U.’s various group’s with live keys, including Luniz and 2pac. As “Shock-G” and “Humpty Hump”, ” I did most of the lead rapping for Digital Underground. As “The Computer Woman”, I did the female voice announcements on “Underwater Rhymes”, “Doowutchyalike”, and “Sex Packets.” As “Staying Busy Productions” or “D-Flow Production Squad”, I produced D.U. albums and singles for Pac, Raw Fusion, Saafir, and No Face. This is probably why we put out albums slower (half as fast) than the other groups we toured with. When Chuck-D came home from tour, the Bomb Squad, had beats for the next album ready to go. The only thing Chuck and Flav (Flavor Flav) had to do were add their vocals. But when we came home, I’d have to switch from my fast and crazy, lead-rapper, stage-persona back to my more calm and thoughtful producer-persona, beginning again the pre-production process for the next album. Whew, I’m gettin’ exhausted again just thinking about those days!
SBF: Before producing “So Many Tears” for Tupac’s third album, “Me Against the World”, you were known for producing fun, up-beat tracks. What inspired you to produce the deep, introspective song “So Many Tears”?
Shock: The weird thing about that is, it didn’t really sound deep or introspective until Pac, rhymed on it. Imagine Beyonce, singing a pop-song over that same track…it wouldn’t be as dark. Or imagine Tupac rhyming a revolutionary rap over the Humpty beat; suddenly the bassline would be like a call to arms, ya know?
I actually didn’t make that track with Pac in mind, it was just one of many tracks on a beat-tape I sent to him and he picked that one. I’m so glad he did, he took it to another level!
SBF: 2pac played a major roll in the East Coast/ West Coast beef. As one of Pac’s closest friends, what was your take on the situation?
Shock: That beef was silly, stupid, unnecessary, petty bullshit and took up way too much space in the media in my opinion. Focusing on that so much, we weren’t able to focus on many of the more righteous, intelligent, beautiful and fun things going on in hip-hop at the time. Pac, wasn’t trying to set-off a national war like that, he was just in shock of being shot and incarcerated in New York after putting in so much heart-filled work on behalf of the struggle. Pac took on the United States government, the media, and the national police force, all in defense of us, the common people. So for us to turn around and let him down like that, and allow him to be shot, robbed and persecuted, without any answers; it not only broke his heart but it left him bitter and disillusioned. Notice the change in his lyrics, his laugh, the innocence in his eyes, and most of all, his attitude in interviews after the New York shooting, sentencing, and prison term.
Naturally, he abandoned the east coast afterwards, and who could blame him? From 1989 to 1994, Pac’s “I don’t give a fuck” thing, was just a slogan, an anthem to represent the many lost oppressed souls of America and the world. After 1995, he really didn’t give a fuck. I knew 2pac the human being, who wrote “2Pacalypse Now” and “Me Against the World”, not the tortured broken beast who wrote “Makavelli”. I don’t recognize my friend Tupac Shakur on “Makavelli”, that’s someone else.
SBF: Describe what it was like shooting the video for “The Humtpy Dance”. It looked like you guys were having a lot of fun.
Shock: Yes, it was a great time. That was shot at Club Townsend, a hot-spot in San Francisco in those days. We picked that club specifically for the racial unity. It always had a thick mixed crowd, with everybody gettin’ crump together! But hands down, the most fun on a video set ever, even more than “Humpty Dance” or “I Get Around,” was “Doowutchyalike”; a real-life, three day long, pool party at a motel downtown Oakland. It was pure D.U. chaos!
SBF: Everyone knows what happened to MC HAMMER. He hired the “hood” and lost a lot of money in the process. Are you challenged with being a celebrity and answering expectations of everyday people who expect you to spread the wealth?
Shock: Yes, I welcomed and met that challenge. I’m so glad you asked that question, here’s a fact I’m very proud of: All of the key people in my organization, were able to purchase houses as a result of the D.U. experience. Money-B, DJ-Fuze, our manager Atron Gregory, 2Pac, and myself, ended up owning property. Many groups and organizations out there, don’t really set their members up for life. Instead, one or two CEO’s, reap the benefit, while a bunch of salaried employees are left out of the pie-slicing. I went out of my way, sometimes against the advice of the record companies and outside management, to ensure that all the cats who contributed anything substantial, got a fair slice of the net profits over the years. Industry people used to pull me aside and say, “Shock, you’re crazy. You know you don’t have to pay people like that.” And I would reply, “No, you do have to pay people like that.”
That’s my momma right there, Shirley Jacobs Kraft, she raised my brother and I right.
SBF: This question may seem a bit off the wall, but is intriguing to say the least. Do you believe a utopia can exist on earth?
Shock: “YES!!!” But before we can ever expect harmony between humans, we have to stop ruthlessly murdering the rest of God’s animals, which are our fellow brothers and cousins if u go back far enough. Here, check out what these famous, wise people had to say about it:
“One is dearest to god who has no enemies among the living beings, who is nonviolent to all the creatures.” (Bhagavad-Gita) “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. (Mahatma Gandhi) “Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.” (Thomas Edison) “In their behavior toward creatures, all men are Nazis. Human beings see oppression vividly when they’re the victims. Otherwise they victimize blindly and without a thought.” (Isaac B.Singer) “For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.” (Pythagoras) “While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth?” (George Bernard Shaw) “As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace” (Pythagoras) “The question is not, Can they reason? Nor Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?” (Jeremy Bentham)
SBF: What would you like to be remembered for?
Shock: Being a peaceful dude who respects and sympathizes with all other forms of life, including my enemies.