Remembering the life of rapper, producer, musician and character kingpin Greg Jacobs of The Digital Underground
In the early early 00s, there used to be a little music club on Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown on Long Island called Metasin, I think.
It was literally around the corner from where I grew up, and located a few doors down from the Carvel we used to go to as kids. I offer this much context because its still hard for me to believe I got to see Shock G play piano in this little club. He was there with Murs, who at the time was on the road in support of his super slept-on Def Jux album The Beginning of the End. C-Rayz Walz was on the bill as well.
But I will never forget how pleasantly surprised I was to see Shock G up there playing keyboard on that small stage with Murs to a half-empty club. I still wonder if maybe I imagined it in my mind but I have friends who were there with me. It was a moment you only read about in music magazines–walking into a hip-hop show in a tiny club on Long Island to find Shock G of the Digital Underground moonlighting in a touring band.
As someone who has been fascinated by the way these cats redefined the concept of the hip-hop band in 1990 with their classic debut Sex Packets, the awareness of Shock G’s genius was immediate, especially when he donned his trademark nose glasses and transformed into Humpty Hump–an alter ego as quixotic as Don Van Vliet’s Captain Beefheart and George Clinton’s Dr. Funkenstein.
VIDEO: The Digital Underground perform “Same Song” in the 1991 comedy Nothing But Trouble
But when you go back to their classic Tommy Boy trilogy of titles in 1990’s Sex Packets, 1991’s Sons of the P and 1993’s The Body-Hat Syndrome and recognize the genius of Greg Jacobs the producer and the musician. What makes hits like “Doowutchyalike” and the 2Pac debuting “Same Song” so resonant in 2021 is not only the rhymes but the sheer virtuosity Shock G displays on the extended outros to these songs as a musician. His Renaissance Man trip as a rapper, producer and musician coupled with the vision of The Digital Underground as a band not a crew was key in securing their place in Bay Area music history as well.
“We in the ToP family are saddened to hear of the passing of Shock G from Digital Underground,” Tower of Power bandleader Emilio Castillo tells Rock & Roll Globe. “I remember him as ‘Humpty Hump’ back in the days of MTV. We were always so proud that they were from our home town of Oakland and they always truly had the ‘Oakland’ flavor in their music. Oakland hip-hop royalty at it’s best to be sure!!! Our sincere condolences to all his family and friends.”
Castillo was joined by countless figures in pop, hip-hop, R&B and beyond who took to social media to express their condolences over this sudden loss to the community.
One last thing I didn’t realize until I read Rob Sheffield’s recent eulogy in Rolling Stone was that Shock G was on stage with P-Funk at Woodstock ’99, one of the full performances I was front and center for that grueling weekend. But I’ll never forget seeing this genius of hip-hop music playing down the street from my old family home at a club in a strip mall I’ve known my entire life.
RIP, Piano Man.