Shock G

Shock G Interview : Not Just Knee Deep (Part 4)

March 5, 2014

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

 

I saw that you were working on two books, one about Tupac and one on tour stories, is this correct?

Well, the two books have merged into one. It was impossible to keep the best stories out of either book, so one big book now. I have Alexis Wolfe [author of Emerald City Hip-Hop] helping me as an editor and writer.

Do you have a Tupac memory that you’ve not shared before?

Oh, there’s way too many. Here’s a funny one my friend Shep and I call “Rainbow of Garbage.”

At Tupac’s first apartment (MacArthur Blvd., Oakland), the stack of dirty dishes in the sink was so high it would lean against the refrigerator, while the pile of pizza boxes and take-out containers towering from his big outdoor-style garbage can would do the same on the opposite side. Sometimes it would get so tall that it met the loose junk on top (cereal boxes, magazines, baskets of snacks, papers) and formed a rainbow of garbage. For real too. Ask Man Man or Mopreme, or especially Mouse or Saafir, they both lived there with him at different times. Like any of the truly prolific geniuses throughout history, Pac’s weirdo traits were just as extreme.

Do you still find new inspiration in Tupac’s music?

With almost every listen, I discover a new enlightenment, even the songs I already wore out.

Tupac & Fuze in 1990

Tupac & Fuze in 1990

Could you tell me any tour stories?

Tour story? Here’s one called “The Batman Shirt.”

The Batman Shirt was a tour game in which whoever got caught with the ugliest girl leaving their room in the morning had to wear the filthy Batman shirt. It was a simple Batman T-shirt, but it was dirty and musty. The rule was this: it never got washed (the entire two-month tour), and if you lost, you had to spend the entire day in it, from hotel check out, on your tour bus, during sound check, through dinnertime, and you had to do your show in it as well. Twenty-four hours, no exception. If you didn’t wear it, you got a beat-down from all the people who previously had to wear it, and trust me, this became a huge angry click of people in the first two weeks. The more people wore it, the dirtier and mustier it became, so three weeks into the tour, you could imagine how rancid that muthafucka was. Fools were personally offended if it was your turn and you didn’t complete the day in it. Towards the end of the tour, it literally would ruin your tour to have to wear it.

Pac never lost that particular competition, but the stories of the people who did are hilarious. It was during the Heavy-D, Big Daddy Kane, Digital Underground, Queen Latifah, 3rd Base, MC Lyte, Kwame tour. Seven separate full tour buses involved in the game, all the young males, from dancers and roadies to stars and bodyguards. The shame of people smelling you and avoiding you before you even walk up for a full day. The beatings from the angry former-wearer mobs on those fools who thought they could sneak it off before their “term” was over.

I myself got falsely accused for a girl who was dumped in my room by someone else. I didn’t even sleep with her! But nonetheless, they convicted me. I was framed, so I swore my innocence, and I refused to wear the Batman shirt. I took my chances getting caught by the mob and figured I’d just avoid them the rest of the tour. After all, the entire tour wasn’t in on the game, just the overly wild and promiscuous cats, which was maybe a quarter of the six-bus, sixty-person entourage.

But they eventually caught me. It went down in Houston, a terrible beat-down in which I was stripped and whipped in front of dozens of fans in the lobby of a Hyatt. The full story is funny as fuck, how they stalked me and dragged me out of an elevator; twenty people tearing my clothes off in a frenzy as they pummelled me and left me naked in the mezzanine lobby.

Afterwards, fans were leaning over to check and make sure it was me, and then asking for my autograph as I lay there out of breath naked in a foetal position with hand and fist prints all over my body.

“Oh shit, that is the guy from Digital Underground! Can I have your autograph?” In a broken, out-of-breath whisper, I mumbled: “Can you…help me…find my pants please?”

Big Daddy Kane & Tupac

Big Daddy Kane & Tupac

Or another is “The Digital Underground and 3rd Bass vs. Flavor Unit Water Fight.”

It lasted over a month, and escalated city after city until Albany, New York, in which they held Pac upside down, stripped his pants off, and soaked him and beat him with water guns in front of hundreds of fans outside the coliseum we had just played. Earlier that night, after we had drenched them and their entire dressing room at the venue, Tupac missed the ride back to the hotel with us, so he was exposed and they attacked him in our absence.

Later that night, a group meeting ensued when Pac came storming back into the hotel all tore up and pissed. “Look what they did to me!!” He had a golf ball size knot on his forehead. “We have to hit ’em back now!!! C’mon, we have to attack!!” He was foaming at the mouth. “Not right now, they’re expecting us right now,” I said. We calmed him down and assured him. We’d hit back, but a tactical plan was best.

Later that night, we ambushed the entire Flavor Unit with liters of scorching hot water as they were walking back to the hotel with their take-out dinners from a nearby restaurant. Out of nowhere, from behind trees, fences, and parked cars, we jumped out, circling them like Indians at war, lashing them in a whipping motion as we swung and squeezed the burning water out of the huge plastic two-liter bottles, smacking them with cupfuls of water in each swing, and causing Queen Latifah, Amanda her road manager, Treach from Naughty by Nature, Latifah’s DJ AD, and Apache to all sling their to-go plates of Jamaican food into the air while screaming… “Aaaaaaaahhhhhh!!! That shit’s hot!!! Aaaaahhhhh!!!!” and they fell to the ground and rolled and squirmed like they were on fire. [laughs]

We circled until we drenched them, and ran off yelling, “That was for Tupac!!” Pac was smiling and laughing as we ran off. “That’s what you get!! Ha ha ha, that’s what you get!!” Their food was all over the street.

Apache, who was an intimidating tough and grimy thug type—his popular song was “I Need a Gangsta Bitch”—was the one I sprayed. He yelled at me from the ground: “Fuck that, Shock!! It’s on!! From now on, I’m throwing coffee! Soup! Airythang!!!”

I remember having goose-bumps of excitement and surprise as I was lashing him, we didn’t know if the water would stay hot all that time, or how hot it actually was to begin with. When they screamed and tossed their food into the air, a rush of fear and concern shot through my mind: “Oh shit, it must be really hot! Hotter than we anticipated, did we take this too far??! Oh shit, that’s Apache! He’s gonna kill me!”

As I ran away, his threats made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. But it felt good inside, we had avenged their jumping of Tupac.

The full story is amazing with all the key water victories and defeats that led up to this, and the grand finale war that included Amanda being kidnapped, tied up, and forced to take a freezing cold shower, people getting washed down the hallway with the emergency fire hoses, the entire tour (all six groups) being evicted from the Hartford Connecticut hotel (we slept on the tour buses), and Big Daddy Kane’s body guard “Minister” breaking his leg as he slipped attempting to avoid an ice-tray full of water being dumped on him backstage in Hartford. When we all saw him return from the hospital in pain and on crutches, that ended the feud. That was the final reality check.

T-Roy, Humpty, & Tupac

T-Roy, Humpty, and Tupac

Similar horse-play on the previous tour was how T-Roy [Heavy-D's dancer, and close tour pal of Tupac] died after being flipped off a three-story loading-dock tier, attempting to avoid getting hit by a rolling dumpster someone was chasing him with backstage. It was the first time I saw Pac cry, openly and shamelessly, after he was one of the first of us to look over the rail and see T-Roy’s twisted body fifty feet below on the concrete. Pac ran from door to door backstage with tears flowing from his eyes crying out, “He’s dead! He’s dead!”

Later, the entire fifty-person tour congregated at the hospital as we all waited outside T-Roy’s room until they pronounced him dead a few hours later.

But outside of that one rare tragedy, it was all in good clean fun. It was a time when hip-hop tours were the most fun places to be in the world. The end of those late-’80s/early  ’90s big arena and stadium rap tours was the end of an era. It was the end of the wild and crazy summer-camp-styled games. A few years later, the mid-’90s came, which was a whole different vibe. The mid-’90s marked the beginning of the even more dangerous and more tense gangster games, in which the water guns were replaced with real ones, the smiles replaced with frowns, and the occasional accidental injury was replaced by cold and calculated murder.

Shock G Interview : Not Just Knee Deep (Part 3)

February 19, 2014

IMG_0160

George Clinton, Shock G, and Gary “Mudbone” Cooper

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

George Clinton has had a considerable influence on your work. When did you first hear his music?

First song I noticed was “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker).” When it came on the radio in ’76, I thought it was some weird and twisted gospel group, because the vocals were layered so densely. It was actually kind of haunting; it scared me and seduced me at the same time. [laughs] The music had an exaggeratedly dark, urgent and aggressive quality to it, while also comical, and while also somehow warm and kind-hearted, like I had never heard before. It gave me a vision of a choir performing in a church somewhere way out in space. Kool and the Gang made funk music. Slave made funk music. But “Tear the Roof” sounded like funk on steroids.

Then a year or two later, “Flashlight” came out, and my soul recognized that same feeling that “Tear the Roof Off” gave me. That’s when I bought my first Parliament album: Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome.

Later that same year I was enjoying another song on the radio, “One Nation Under a Groove,” when my best friend Cush said, “You know that’s your boy George from ‘Flashlight.’ ”  I said “Nah, the DJ said this is a different group called Funkadelic.” He said “Yeah, that’s them, Parliament, it’s the same group.”

I was blown away. From that moment on, they became my favorite band and still are to this day. I began clicking up with other Funkateers, back-learning their catalog and discovering Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Brides of Funkenstein, and so on. I soon discovered that in order to get that particular great feeling, it had to be P-Funk.

What’s your favorite Clinton record?

Probably “(Not Just) Knee Deep” or “Aqua Boogie.” What’s your favorite P-Funk song? You like George and them?

My favorite Parliament song? It would be “(You’re a Fish and I’m a) Water Sign.” I love that song.

[Sings] “Can we go down…” I like the lyrics where he says, “Let’s go mating, the water’s fine.” That was the B-side to the single “Aqua Boogie” on 45. That’s your favorite? See, I like the dance music. [plays and sings to “(Not Just) Knee Deep” melody] “Feeling so serious, she was on her period, when she tried to freak with meeeeeee.” That’s my Humpty version.

I love it. Can you play “Sons of the P” on piano?

Hmm. I can’t remember it! [sings] “The things we bring, will scatter sunshine in those times of rain. When we’re near, have no fear…we’ll set free…the pain.”

My favorite line in that song is “…pulling down the pants to your mind.” 

Working with George and doing that song was so fun. That was a great time because it was our first time really being around him for more than just a few backstage handshakes. We did about two songs for him, and he did that one for us. Then we played each other’s albums. I think he was working on [1993's] Hey Man, Smell My Finger. We played him “Kiss You Back” and “Heartbeat Props,” and he liked them. Then we rhymed over [“Rhythm and Rhyme”] with him. That was an amazing time.

How was it working in the studio with him?

George is one of those people, when you meet him and he’s exactly who you knew he was. Because of his music and he feels a certain way. You meet him and, “Yup.”

Wooo! He puts the threshold so low as far as what’s acceptable. He takes the bar down to level everybody, and just loosens everybody up. He’s real comfortable in his skin; not embarrassed or ashamed about one thing about his life. It transforms the room.

When you spend time with George, it’s not like you’re on a regular in the United States; you’re in P-Funk land. It just has that air to it. None of the usual laws and social norms apply. It’s just total freedom. He was a little bit rough around the edges back then, but he was the anchor, and you forgot about that. The conversation takes over and it’s always so enlightening, brilliant, fun, and rich. You don’t see yourself or anyone else. You see the fantasy of the vision of the things you talk about. That’s all you see.

When people are like, “What color was his shirt?” or “Where did he get all the coke from?” I don’t remember. It just seemed like every time he ran out, he’d pull another sack magically out. There wasn’t even a pocket; he would just pull at his leg.

I remember he listened to “Sons of the P” once. We sent him a tape with some of it on there, but most of the vocals we laid while waiting for him to show up. We sent him a tape with the music, with no extra keyboards on it, and a basic chorus. The “yes we are the…” and all of that other stuff wasn’t on there. So we put that on there and then he shows up and listens to all of that once, and was like, “Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah, all right.” He went in the booth and he did what he did in one take. All his adlib stuff he did from just listening to it once. He was amazing. He nailed what we were doing with the third, fourth, fifth harmony. He was going up and down, shorts, stops, breaks, breath, speak again, breath, speak again—and he captured all that “and the doctor said you don’t need a thing…” He was amazing to work with.

It was funny too. He walked in with a big crumpled piece of like postal wrapping paper; it was just something from around the house you could tell. And on top of that he had the lyrics he wanted to sing scribbled on sideways, in colored ink. He’s just organic. From the moment I spent those hours with George, life got better for me in all fashions. I was just like, “What is everybody tripping about? Why does the notebook have to be neat? Why does my hair have to be fixed to record? Why does…blah blah blah?”

Did that stay with you?

Oh yeah, because I was already that kind of person. People teach you “First impressions are everlasting” and “If you don’t look like you want to get paid, you won’t get paid.” So I still had some of that. And hip-hop was different to funk. Part of the funk code was the lovechild hippy thing. But hip-hop had a code, and being funky and un-groomed wasn’t part of the code.

“Want It All” is one of the Digital Underground songs I relate to most. What inspired the song for you? Do you still relate to it?

I absolutely do still relate. I struggle with those types of choices even more now that I’m older and have more self-discipline and awareness. Only slightly more though. [laughs] But “Want It All” was always about the feeling of course, not the action. Everyone knows that nobody has it all, it’s not possible. If you’re rich or famous, you’re also locked in a cage and drenched in responsibility.

Shock G Interview : Not Just Knee Deep (Part 2)

February 8, 2014

Read Part 1 here.
carz

So when you were young, Shock, what did you imagine yourself doing or being when you were grown up?

I wanted to own a big, huge underground car ring that would specialise in Ferraris and Porsches. And like on TV if you were running from the cops, you could hit a switch in your car and a piece of the mountain would flap open. You drive in and it flaps back, and the cops go right by because it doesn’t look like anything. Then down there would be all high-tech, people working on the cars, blue and candy apple green Lamborghinis everywhere. My imagination was a little crazy.

Until I went to jail for the final time. I got six months once for grand theft auto, and I’d been in jail for stealing cars enough. This time it had built up and I almost went to prison when I was nineteen years old.

Music wasn’t a reality to us. Those people were magic; they came from magic land. But I always did music and always had a music job. We always had a gig, whether it was my band or my DJ crew. Then we would get into talent shows, just because it was fun at school, and I started racking up first place trophies: “Most Talented,” “Winner of Art Competition.” But I always felt like you go to school to learn somebody else’s style. If I was born with it, why would I go to school to learn it? I thought that the dopest people who I liked never went to school. When I was a kid my favourites were George Clinton, Sly Stone, Herbie Hancock, and they just did it. Speaking of Herbie – oooohhhh [plays Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon”] – “Chameleon” when that came out? How did he make that sound? Some of the keyboards in that record were so ahead of its time. And everybody credits “Flashlight,” including me. I was one of those people running around promoting “Flashlight” as the first song where people use synthesisers instead of a bass guitar. Nope. Come to think of it, Herbie Hancock, that shit right there. “Chameleon,” 1974. Bow, Bow, Bow. [Plays piano] Same sound that producers are using now, he was using in ’74. Hoo, hoo, hoo! Herbie’s an alien. An extra-terrestrial.

Are you a fan of Sun Ra at all?

I don’t really know him. But I like the fact that he looks like George Clinton and has the big mob of homeless people with him. For most of the groups I like, the artists I love actually, a song spoke to me first. I loved it and found out who it was. I’ve never discovered that something I love is Sun Ra, but I like his personality. I read about him and I like his whole nutcase approach.

I like that. Being led by the music rather than the person.

I saw pictures of him and documentaries and people making a big deal, and he looks all spaced out. But I went and listened to the music, and the music wasn’t psychedelic like his image was.

No.

It wasn’t like Bitches Brew; it was like show-time jazz. [Breaks into a little jazz ditty] Just like that. It was real disciplined, it wasn’t loose. As loose as he claims he is. I guess the same could be said about Digital Underground. I consider myself an open minded person, but, I’m a shy person, my whole life. “Gregory come sing for the adults!” My mom would make me come into the living room and sing for everybody [sings Stevie Wonder “Uptight”] when I was four or five. I didn’t want to, she just interrupted me. I wanted to finish whatever I was doing, building something with paper or whatever.

So it was the same when I made a song and Chopmaster J sent it to someone he knew. He called me at work one day and was like “Greg check this out, my friend Darryl he produces Barry White and Cherelle and Alexander O’Neil and he wants to put you in the studio and put a record out, but you got to put me in the group.” I worked in a music store selling keyboards, and was like “yeah sure I gotta go…I got someone on the line.” I was just doing my job. I’d done music all of my life and had never got close to anyone in the industry. I could never get to that stage, never won a deal for sending in tapes to those shows like Polygram. Even when people cheered for us most at the end, it was like: “How many people like Master Blasters?” “Haaaaaa!” We got a roar. “Jesus Saviours and the Gospel Men?” “huuuhhhuh…” And then they would win. The gospel group. I knew it was all rigged. I didn’t understand it.

Then as well my father is very business oriented, he climbed from the bottom to the top just by studying and working hard. So that’s what he believed in and was always saying “what are you going to do? You can’t just sit around.” I was like “maybe I’ll draw a cartoon for a newspaper or play in a band or something.” “Music? You don’t want to get into that. There’s no money in it. All those guys are strung out and nothing but drugs.” I was like “no money in it?” This made the hair on the back of his neck stand up, I said “Rick James makes more in one show that you do all year, what do you mean there’s no money in it?” “Rick James? Rick James??! Gregory, Rick James and Michael Jackson, those people you see on TV? Those are special, blessed people. If you had that kind of talent, we’d know about it by now. Now go clean your room!” And I knew I couldn’t say anything when he’s in that zone, you can’t even say “but, but.” I just had to walk away, but I knew better. I knew that it was just people who did that instead. I mean maybe Michael Jackson, but the rest of it…

But back to the store that I worked at. So Jimi [Chopmaster J] was one of my customers. I was tutoring him and teaching him how to do things. I sold him a $5,000 home recording studio, and it was my dream set up that I could never afford. I only used to use it at work in between customers, so I got like four bars of a song done at work in two years. But tutoring him I was able to record “Underwater Rimes” and “Your Life’s A Cartoon.” Just to send to my little brother and hip-hoppers back east, not to enter in any contest or for the public. I was fifteen years tired of that, and I’d started to believe my father a little bit. So when Jimi said “you got to put me in the group and split everything 50/50” and “they wanna put us in the studio in L.A.” I was like “ah yeah sure whatever, I gotta go.” Two weeks later we went to L.A., and the dude was serious.

You see what happened is I was making my music at his house, and then leaving the master tapes and the four tracks. He took it, made his own mix down, and sent it to his friend in L.A., with dreams of being big. That’s how Jimi is; he’s just real status and material. Which is cool, we needed that, he was the one who would introduce us to managers and stuff like that.

So we went to L.A. and recorded some stuff for Capitol records, and that fell apart. Then we were recording for Car City Records about a year later and that fell apart. Every time we were about to press the records up something else happened. Bad luck shit, like the owner of the studio got arrested for crack or Reggie Jackson’s car collection burnt down. The baseball player’s brother was like the black sheep and had a start-up label, just trying to do something with his life, like “how do you start this so called record company?” And his famous brother was funding him. When Reggie Jackson went through some crises and his car collection burnt down, he just abandoned his brother. So that was the second time. Too many times I came back to Thanksgiving in New York or Christmas in Tampa like “I got a record coming out!” After a while my family would just go “mmm” and smile or look down. “Well, your fathers got work at IBM…” It was so embarrassing when I had to go beg for my job back at the record store. By the time we got to TNT records, I was like “I’m going to wait this time before I start making these announcements…”

“Underwater Rimes” came out, and it was number one in Amsterdam, and like number eleven in London on the rap charts or some kind of dance or underground chart. We were doing okay in the States. In the ’80s and ’90s if you could sell 20,000 records in your local city independent, not the trunk of your car or whatever, that translated to growing and a big record company would support you. We sold 18,000. We were shy a couple thousand, but it was enough that Tommy Boy signed us. We did the first video, and I still didn’t say anything. So one Christmas I call home and I’m talking to my cousin, and he’s like “such and such, yeah he’s doing okay and da-da-da … Greg – I want to ask you something … are you Humpty??” “Yeah, that’s me.” “God damn!!! Greg, Greg! It’s Greg!!!!! He’s Humpty, oh god!! I knew it was you cos of the teeth – I knew it was your teeth boy!”

How did that feel?

Oh it felt good. It felt good, but, you know, it also…

Bittersweet?

Yeah, it was bittersweet. I saw it coming before that. We had N.W.A.’s road manager managing us, and we had a record out doing a little independent stuff, we were distributing “Underwater Rimes.” It was real before that. But the record wasn’t a hit in New York or Florida. So to my family I was fooling myself or just in a fantasy world that I’m in the music industry, even though I said I had a record and had sent them copies of it. But that was fun when they discovered that.

Humpty with Fab Five Freddy, Rod Houston (Tommy Boy video rep who doubled as SHKG in the "Humpty Dance" video, and friends in 1991

Humpty with Fab Five Freddy, Rod Houston (Tommy Boy video rep who doubled as SHKG in the “Humpty Dance” video, and friends in 1991

You mention Humpty. How seriously did you take it back then? Keeping the mystery of whether it was you, Shock or Humpty?

That was fun. George Clinton used to use his anonymousness to keep paparazzi and record company people off of him when he didn’t want to answer to them. People used to wonder like “which one is George Clinton? He’s either Starchild or Sir Nose…” You never really got a good look at him. So I had that game as well. I was really entertained by Andy Kaufman having two or three characters too, I always thought that was funny. My mom used to tell me about all the Saturday Night Live cast, how they would fool the president and sometimes come in dressed a certain way to scare NBC. I liked the practical joke thing. I didn’t plan it. I get a lot of credit, people are like “Shock is genius – he got Humpty for this, and Shock G for the…” But it just evolved.

There was a point when the whole group were like “wait, wait, wait – you don’t look all the way Humpty yet – let me see – the pants! The pants aint Humpty. Better pants, better pants. Yeah, alright. I think he should go in with two girls, you need another girl.” I’m like “I don’t know if I should. I don’t know anybody… Cassandra’s mad at me…” And they’d be like “Okay, fuck it, take La’Tonya. La’Tonya, go with him.” And La’Tonya would be his wife. But Humpty had to look right because that was the image, and everybody was in on it. It was so fun to do that I just would do it. Not so much for business purpose, and not so much for artistic purpose, but it was just so much fun. It was like having the joker in my pocket.

Then I started realising how lucky I was to have this band member who doesn’t complain, who I don’t get the extra plane ticket for, and is always in the studio anytime I need him. Who I can pay, but keep his money… So on paper: “We got to split this four ways – T. Shakur, Money B, G. Jacobs, E. Humphrey,” because Humpty’s verse counted, it mattered.

Did you?

Nobody in the group had a problem with that. It was just me being stupid splitting the money up, my share was the same.

I hear that. Are your various alter-egos different sides to your personality? Or just characters you created?

They’re just characters, usually patterned behind real people I know in regular life. Just like Woody Harrelson’s not a natural born killer, or Jim Carrey’s not the Mask, I’m not Humpty. My home life is really quiet and simple. And boring probably.

To be continued in Part 3 …

Shock G Interview : Not Just Knee Deep (Part 1)

January 29, 2014

Gregory Jacobs, aged six

 

“Be peaceful and enjoy your time on Earth as much and as often as you can. The more you do, the more it becomes you.”

-Shock G

Some people in this world are true originals. And though we may all possess the potential to carve out beautifully unique identities, there are a few who manage to channel their inner beings to distinctly magnified proportions.

From the way he writes, raps and plays piano to the tips of however he styles his ‘fro, Gregory Jacobs, aka Shock G, is a class A original. Whether clowning around under the guise of one of his many personas, or just going about his day-to-day business, Jacob’s radiates creative flair and good-humour: “You can ask any girl who’s spent the night at my place; I make the bed up a different way every time I do it.” Oh, Shock-tart!

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Jacobs’ early years were spent on the East Coast.  He lived for most of his childhood in Tampa, Florida, but aged twelve moved back to New York with his mother. “Life got funky” again for him being in New York at a time when early movements in hip-hop were being made. But, after causing too much mischief in Manhattan when he should have been in school in Queens, he was shipped back to Tampa to live with his father just two years later in ’78. 

Though Jacobs had a tendency to get into trouble growing up, he was always musically active, whether entering talent contests, playing shows, making tapes to share with friends, or playing jazz standards to busk on the streets. Notably influenced by free-thinking innovators such as George Clinton and Herbie Hancock, Jacobs’ approach to making his own music became similarly creative, playful, and experimental. For a time he even used the moniker “MC Starchild,” a nod towards Parliament’s “Mothership Connection.” This was until he was named “Shah-G” at thirteen by his cousin Shah-T of the Queens group No-Face. “Shah-G” became “Shock G,” which Jacobs kept when he relocated back to Tampa and founded the Master Blasters crew.

Years later Jacobs decided to settle in the Bay Area, moving to Oakland and making the West Coast his home. He found work in a local music equipment store, regularly serving customers such as Too Short, and it was during this time that he established Digital Underground with Chopmaster J and Kenny-K.

After several disappointments trying to make it in the music industry, they finally had success distributing “Your Life’s A Cartoon/ Underwater Rimes” independently in ’88. And as a result, Digital Underground landed a deal with Tommy Boy Records. Their now-classic 1990 debut Sex Packets reached platinum sales, and featured singles such as “Doowutchyalike” and “The Humpty Dance.”

Surprisingly, “The Humpty Dance” was a last minute addition to Sex Packets, only coming into the picture after another song, “Underground System,” was pulled for sample clearing difficulties. Nevertheless, the song was a hit and made a household name of Shock’s most notorious alter-ego, the nasal-toned, prosthetic-nosed, and wildly attired Humpty Hump.

In fact, Shock states that “both Humpty and Tupac came along after we recorded that album. That’s why neither appear in the cover photo.” For as well as for the outlandish antics of Humpty Hump, Digital Underground are well-known for launching the meteoric career of Tupac Shakur.

After Sex Packets, Digital Underground went on to release both This is an EP Release and Sons of the P in ’91, working with George Clinton for part of the latter. In ’93 came The Body-Hat Syndrome, followed by Future Rhythm in ’96, Who Got the Gravy? In ’98, The Lost Files in ’99, and the final Digital Underground recording ..Cuz a D.U. Party Don’t Stop! in ’08.  These days Shock continues to work on music and play shows, “that never stops” he says, though has spent recent years high above the City of Angels up at the top of Topanga Canyon.

*

It was George Clinton who turned me on to Digital Underground. The original Starchild himself citing their use of P-Funk samples as one of his personal favourites was what led me to dig into the Digital Underground discography. Similar to P-Funk in their balance of funk rhythms, food for thought, and just the right amount of filthy, I was converted as I learned first-hand how listening to the Digital Underground oeuvre can mess up your mind (in the right way.)

So, I caught up with Shock from his Mount Olympus-like retreat, hearing stories from his childhood, music career and musings on life, as he scored our conversation with piano at hand. Within minutes of getting on the line I could hear the recognisable lead-in to a song that introduced a certain West-Coast icon to the world…

 

Shock: So by the time I got to “I Get Around,” I’m the lowest voice on there, and I mixed it! I was so afraid that I was cheating myself loud, that I cheated myself quieter than Money B or Tupac. Crazy, huh? It goes [raps quietly] “You can tell from my everyday fits, I ain’t rich/ So cease and desist with them tricks/ I’m just another black man … the one who put the satin on your panties.” Then it comes in strong from Money B with “What’s up Love? How you doing?”

I love your verse on that song though.

Thank you. I mean, I like my tone. It was a nice ride in there and I think I wasn’t too cocky or not confident enough. But to play no volume, my voice was low and you had to strain to hear it when you listened. Tupac’s verse: “Fingertips on her hips as I get a tight grip/ I love the way she lick her lips/ See me watching…” I like the chasing the chick all around the tennis court, because you don’t see Pac clown like that. Especially from that point on…life got him.

I read your open letter in defence of George Clinton, and I think it is very astute how you link the “free your mind and your ass will follow” message to your discussion of Tupac and Puff Daddy and their backgrounds.

I thought that was a good one too, like I snuck and got one in for the team. Usually you can’t talk about death in any other way than “Tupac was honourable and didn’t do anything wrong.” Fuck that. If Pac had the same parents and upbringing, the same settled house hold, and the same support and consistency that Diddy had, then he wouldn’t have felt the way he did. It’s not what we’re born with even; it’s what you’re born with.

It seems the ones who do in this world are the ones whose parents said “come on, you can do it,” with a pat on the back. I think Jay-Z’s and Diddy’s moms were like “you can do it baby, you’re so talented.” Afeni [Shakur]’s the same way, she’s a beautiful woman. She’s so supportive but she wasn’t around; she was in jail for freedom fighting.

So, Pac had those eyes, and my mother described it best. On the set of the “Same Song” video in ’90, she was like “who’s that guy right there?” “Oh right there in the shirt? That’s Tupac, he’s new.” She said “watch him Gregory, he has that look. He has that look like a star, like he wants it.”

But, then she used to say “is he crazy? Is your friend crazy? I don’t want you hanging out with him anymore Gregory!” This was in ’94, when he was out and away from Digital Underground. I remember I was getting married and told my mother and father about it, and she said “is you friend going to be there?” So I was like “who? Tupac? I hope so. He’s very busy, but I invited him.” She said “are you going to have a metal detector there?” I was like “Ma, he’s not like that around us.” So Pac turned up and surprised us, he didn’t give me a heads up he was coming. He showed up with about eleven or twelve cats and my family members just loved him. My mother came to me afterward and said “he’s a beautiful man, Gregory. I see what you mean, he’s decent.”

So it switched over the years to “is your friend crazy??” and then it switched back to her loving him. In the middle I was fed up and like “Ma, he had a rough time.” She said “I know Gregory. You know how I know? He has those eyes that little kids give you in the grocery store when they’re not getting love at home and they’re like “will you save me? Will you take me home? Will you feed me?” But they’re not allowed to say anything, and they look at you a little too long.” She said Pac had those eyes when she first was around him.

That’s very deep and perceptive. 

He kinda did, like “will you believe in me?” It wasn’t that Pac’s family didn’t love him of course, but he was born into a warzone.

In that article you depict Tupac and Puff Daddy’s worlds – how would you describe the world that Shock G came from?

My preferred, comfortable state of mind is confident, trust and happy. But it’s not my only state. I also have that stern Virgo side; I’m anxious to be accepted and for people to know what I’m about. More than is necessary I hang on other peoples’ thoughts of me. That hurts or slows me sometimes.

Gregory and Kent Jacobs, 1969

Growing up? Dad’s family: Huxtables, Bill Cosby. Mom’s family: Good Times, Thelma Evans. So that’s why I say “Daddy from the Burbs, Mommy from the Hood – growing up I wasn’t sure if I’m supposed to speak well or dance good…” But that’s how it was. The majority of my years were spent with my mom and dad at home, but they divorced when I was about twelve years old. Up until twelve I had a pretty normal, American phase, with a little back and forth. My mother wasn’t the type of person to let us be middle class. She always said “I don’t like him going to the school where there aren’t other black kids; he’s not going to that school.” She made sure I went to mixed schools, even when we were in a neighbourhood where I would have gone to a predominantly white school. She also made sure that we stayed in touch with people who didn’t live in the neighbourhoods we lived in. I see in hindsight that a lot of times the babysitters she picked for us were so we didn’t lose touch relating to the hood. My mom was from Brooklyn, and she was a tough woman. She could walk down Broadway or Fifth Avenue in Manhattan at two in the morning, coming home from some place…

What did your Mum do? What was her thing?

First she was happily a housewife. My dad made enough money and didn’t want her to work. That was what was going around in the fifties and sixties, and that’s when she grew up. She took a lot of pride in being a homemaker, but her dream was television. She liked music but she’s not musically inclined, it jumped over her somehow. My grandmother’s the singer and the jazzy person, and she taught me “Round Midnight” [plays “Round Midnight” interlude].  But my mother really had a passion for the arts, and said “maybe I wasn’t cut out to be in front of the camera, I would like to be a camera operator.”

So she was going to school, and my dad tried to talk her out of it all of the time, but she didn’t let him. Eventually when we were all old enough to take care of ourselves, she started working. She worked here and there, and my Dad hated it. He just talked her out of her love of behind the scenes cameras and all of that. So when she divorced his ass, and bounced with the kids to New York, she followed through on her dreams and took the courses that she wanted to take.  It took her two or three years, but eventually she got a job at ABC.

We were living with my grandmother and life got funky again, I’m twelve/thirteen years old and loving it. But by the end of those years my grades had slumped so bad, because in New York you can’t really pay attention to the class without being picked on.

There are usually three kids at the front of the class with their desks facing the teacher. Everybody else as soon as the bell rings would re-arrange the desks so we could get our card game going, or over here they’re playing bounce the ball. There were about four white kids in our class, and those were usually the ones that were sitting up front. The rest of us? The Puerto Rocks and the brothers, we were all broken into our usual groups of whatever we were doing. I was at a table of cartoon drawers. Sometimes I would sit at the bounce the ball table or the cards table, but I was usually in the comic book huddle. That’s how school was, and if you were in those three people up front you got shit thrown at the back of your head all day.

School in New York back then in the 70s, the teacher was afraid to talk to us. Some of the kids would talk to the teachers like “Bitch what you say to me? I’ll beat your ass.” I was raised and old enough to know not to do that, but I was young enough to be entertained by it, so I got sucked into that. We would check into homeroom and get the credit for being there, and then take our train passes and spend the whole day in Manhattan just running around and looking at stuff. From record spots to going to 42nd street to fuck with the hoes. We were real young.

What age were you by then?

Twelve and thirteen. And the prostitutes were weird to us, we weren’t looking for them. We were looking at sneakers. Hanging downtown was just a pit-stop, but it was enough that pretty soon I got charged for failure to appears, and eventually mom shipped me back to my daddy.

But while she was in camera school, she got a job as a receptionist at NBC. She was working towards being a camera operator, but she was at least up in the building.

When we went back to live with my dad I remember one night she called and said “Greg, stay up late tonight and watch this new show, you’re going to love it. It’s called Saturday Night Live. It’s this new show I’m working on.” So at the audition she was the one sitting there like “okay, they’ll see you now.” She tells me all these stories about Bill Murray, John Belushi and all them and how “they’re crazy.” She said they were throwing spit balls on the wall and cracking her up, all the comedians that came in to try out for the show that later became that first cast.

So she saw her dream, and then after about four or five years of living in New York she bounced to L.A. for a job opportunity. She left NBC and went to ABC, and she became a part of the televised Olympic committee. That’s when she got her “happily ever after” story. The president of ABC used to stop by her desk and ask her out almost every day, and she used to look at him like he was crazy. She dated a couple of cool cats after my father, and they always let her down. Musicians too, and that’s when she learned all she taught me about the business. “Do not leave your wife in the room alone with anybody, even if you trust them, Gregory.” I wouldn’t believe her. “A female sheep in the room with any of them!” And she was right about that.

So this square white dude comes along. My mother is a Cancer, Cancers are very material and safety oriented so she was like “you like me? You want to take me out? I don’t see nothing, what?” So the next time Herb stopped by her desk, he stopped by with a ring and he said “I like you, I want to take you out.” Just from watching my mother interact with people in the office. My mother said “well, that’s a sweet gesture, I couldn’t accept this.” But she said that he got the point. She didn’t take the ring but they went out on a few dates, and a year or two later they were married. She’s still married to him. They live on a golf course in San Diego, and they’re retired finally so they’re not running around. That’s her happily ever after story.

We hated it when she first married him, because we were seventeen year old hip-hop African Americans, so we were like “Ma? Him? Ugh, if you’re going to marry someone white, can’t you marry like a cool white boy??” We would rather her have been with an Eminem or a Justin Timberlake.

That’s funny!

At basketball and birthday parties and everything, in comes her walking up with him and we’re all embarrassed in front of our other Black friends or whatever. But as it turns out, we grew to love Herb. It only took a couple of Christmas’ visiting. After a while you can’t help but love him. He’s like an Obama, except a white version.

So that washed racism clear out of my blood. I never was a racist, but I used to play the game of play your sides. I thought I had a side. There’s only one side: a good side. It’s the good people versus the assholes, period. That’s how I feel. It’s not nationality. Animals as well, the ones who come and pee in the bush are assholes.

Back to Florida though. Mom shipped us back to live with Dad, but it was too late. I already had that bug in me; I already was the kid who skipped school. When I got to Tampa I just fell right in with those kids again. I wasn’t stupid; I passed the tests and got an A or a B whatever the class. Whether I studied or not, because most of what they taught in school I caught at home or on TV or in life somewhere. I always paid attention. And my grandfather was very verbal about informing us, just about fun stuff all through the day, wherever we were. Driving through Manhattan or Brooklyn, anywhere, “you see that Greg and Kent right there? That’s the Kosciuszko Bridge, built in 1920. It was to connect the Jewish workforce on one side of the Queens Bay River.” And he’d tell us the history of why it was built. “You see that guy walking right there? That’s called a Hasidic Jew, orthodox Jewish, the reason he wears those clothes …” My grandfather was such a cool dude that it didn’t bother us, and he made it sound interesting. “You see that right there Greg and Kent? It’s funny, in the 1950’s that didn’t exist.” My grandfather was just like that, he loved us to death.

My dad was nothing special growing up, no college, he was just a hard worker who read the books, went by the code and did what you’re supposed to do. He worked real hard and a job opportunity is what bounced us to Florida from New York when I was about six years old. And he became one of them brothers. My dad was like a Colin Powell.

His father was a Bed-Stuy Brooklyn Black Mason, and used to work laying the tracks. He said the electric trail blew him twelve feet once when he touched it by accident and he woke up on the other side of the platform.  He had to be there at seven and he would get up at five to drive to the Bronx from Brooklyn anytime the weather was bad to take my grandmother’s friend to work, an older lady who had hurt her leg and had to walk with a cane. He didn’t really know her, but back then all the girls played bridge on Fridays and she was one of my grandmother’s bridge buddies, and that’s all it took. Every morning until he died actually, if it was raining or snowing or cold, he would drive all the way to the Bronx to drive her to work so she didn’t have to walk with her cane in the snow.

That’s so decent.

That’s the kind of dude he was. So growing up, I feel like I got twenty-five per cent of the Shawn Carter/ Diddy New York hood in me, but then the other seventy-five per cent is more like Bill Cosby/ Huxtable.

To be continued in Part 2…

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