As hip hop continues to be hit hard by untimely deaths to its most promising stars and decorated legends, the latest tragedy to rock the culture is the passing of Shock G, a lauded music man and one of the more influential figures in the history of west coast hip hop. Born in New York and raised in Tampa, Florida; he would bounce around the country before settling in Oakland during the ‘80s, where he became entrenched in the local music community as a musician-for-hire. Forming the Oakland-based group Digital Underground during the latter half of that decade, they achieved crossover success with their groundbreaking debut album, Sex Packets, and its lead single, “The Humpty Dance.”
Earning the group a platinum plaque, the song shot Shock G and company to mainstream notoriety and cemented him as one of the leading vanguards in the explosion of west coast hip hop. From there, he and Digital Underground continued to achieve commercial success before disbanding following the release of their sixth studio album.
In addition to his work the group, Shock G was a frequent collaborator with numerous artists, rhyming and producing on albums from a list of artists ranging from 2Pac to Prince, as well as spearheading the careers of Money B, Saafir, Mystic, and others throughout the years. Highly regarded as a creative and a forward-thinker, Shock G is a revolutionary and a true original whose contributions to hip hop have proved immeasurable.
As hip hop continues to celebrate Shock G’s illustrious life and career, here are seven notable ways he’s impacted the culture. Check them out below. Rest in power, king.
1. Helped Put Oakland On the Map
Forming the influential rap group, Digital Underground, with cofounders Jimi “Chopmaster J” Dright and Kenneth “Kenny-K” Waters in 1987, Shock G’s presence in Oakland’s hip hop community played a major part in putting the city on the national rap radar. While homegrown talents like Too Short and MC Hammer laid the groundwork with their respective releases throughout the late ‘80s, it was Digital Underground who became the first rap act from Oakland to score a Top 20 hit on the pop charts. Releasing their seminal debut album, Sex Packets, in 1990, it achieved platinum certification and critical acclaim. Sex Packets was followed by five additional studio albums (Sons of the P, The Body-Hat Syndrome, Future Rhythm, Who Got the Gravy?, ..Cuz a D.U. Party Don’t Stop!) as well as two EPs (This Is An EP Release, The Greenlight EP) prior to the group disbanding in 2008. Placing a spotlight on the city and opening the door aspiring artists and other figures out of the Bay Area, Digital Underground stands as a pillar within its rap community, with Shock G as the chief orchestrator of it all.
2. Invented One of the Greatest Alter-Egos In Rap History
Rap acts getting into character, either musically or stylistically, for the sake of their artistry or live performance has been common practice dating back to the genre’s cultural roots. However, in 1990, Shock G broke the mold with the release of “The Humpty Dance,” a smash hit on which he introduced his alter-ego Edward Ellington Humphrey III a.k.a. “Humpty.” In addition to switching from his regular voice to a more nasally tone for the song, the musician went above and beyond, appearing as “Humpty” in its accompanying video, as well as various other occasions. The alter-ego was a runaway sensation in light of the song’s success, with Shock G crossing over into the mainstream on account of its popularity. Making cameos as “Humpty” in an episode of the sitcom “Drexell’s Class” and in the Dan Aykroyd directed comedy Nothing but Trouble, Shock G amassed several aliases prior to his death, but “Humpty” is his most enduring.
3. Introduced 2Pac To The World
Prior to growing into one of the most deified icons in modern pop culture, Tupac Shakur was an aspiring entertainer looking to break into the business. Partnering with Atron Gregory, the manager of Digital Underground, Tupac was paired with fellow New York native Shock G, who took him under his wing as a roadie and backup dancer during the group’s initial run of success. However, taking notice of Pac’s untapped talent and promise as a potential star, the Digital Underground star gave Pac the ultimate cosign by featuring him on “Same Song,” the lead-single from Digital Underground’s sophomore effort, This Is An EP Release. Tupac’s standout appearance, which garnered rave reviews, is credited with helping jumpstart his musical career.
4. Helped Set The Template For The Rapping Producer
During hip hop’s formative years, there was a stark distinction between a rapper and a producer, with each playing their respective roles and leaving the rest to the other. However, in time, a few vanguards would flip this line of thinking on its head. Shock G was among the first to fully embrace both roles and perform each impressively, as he helmed the majority of the production on Digital Underground’s Sex Packets album, including “The Humpty Dance,” which peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. Preceding musical switch-hitters like Kanye West, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, Mannie Fresh, Diddy and others, the artist helped set the template for the rapping producer.
5. His Role As A Cultural Commentator
Originally molding Digital Underground’s image to reflect that of the Oakland-based Black Panthers, Shock G’s brand of activism may not have been as overt like Tupac Shakur’s. However, his dedication to culture and community enrichment was conveyed in its own way throughout his career. In addition to the positive and uplifting undertones of his music, Shock G has always presented himself as an open thinker with a wealth of wisdom. With an extensive background in the arts and close relationships with a number of musical legends, he was called upon to share his knowledge on various occasions, and even appeared in the documentaries Parliament Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove, Thug Angel: Life of an Outlaw, Tupac Resurrection, and Copyright Criminals.
6. Incorporated Musicianship Into Hip Hop
One of the main gripes detractors of rap have held against the genre is the perceived lack of musicianship is needed to create a song. While hip hop producers’ initial reliance on samples to craft the backdrops to their music gave that theory some legs, it was figures like Shock G, who were also trained musicians, who challenged that thinking. Presenting layered soundscapes incorporating live instrumentation as early as 1989, he and Digital Underground, staunch disciples of the Parliament-Funkadelic movement, infused that vintage sound into their music, which served as a precursor to the G-Funk phenomenon of the early-mid ‘90s. Also known for their jazzy compositions, the group’s willingness to push the envelope is a direct reflection of Shock G’s penchant for testing the limits of traditional instrumentation.
7. Helped Create Some of Tupac’s Biggest Hits
In addition to giving Tupac his big break, Shock G helped oversee and lay the foundation of his musical career with his work on Pac’s 1991 debut, 2Pacalypse Now, producing and appearing on multiple songs on the album — most noticeably the breakout hit single, “Trapped.” From there, the two would continue to work closely together on Pac’s 1993 single, “I Get Around,” and “So Many Tears,” both of which would become signature records in Pac’s extensive discography. Collaborating up until Pac’s death in 1996, Shock G’s role as a musical mentor to the late legend is often understated, but adds to his own legacy.