Digital Underground - Biography
Most known for their platinum-selling single “The Humpty Dance,” Oakland, California’s Digital Underground formed in 1987 and brought a whole new sound to the Yo! MTV Raps generation with their delirious, George Clinton-inspired debut Sex Packets (1990 Tommy Boy). Centered around Gregory Jacobs (A.K.A. Shock-G, Humpty Hump), the goofy yet hard core troupe focused on sexual humor rather than violence, marking them as a counterpoint to the rise of gangsta rap. The Digital Underground’s ferocious ecstasy- and cocaine-fueled live shows catapulted them to worldwide notoriety, which was maintained through six charting albums until they officially disbanded in 2008.
Jacobs was born in 1963. He moved around the East Coast and ended up in the Bay Area by 1980. He would later attribute Digital Underground’s success to its bicoastal sound. Jacobs dropped out of high school and reportedly lived a life of crime until he returned to school to study music theory. Funk legend George Clinton was extremely influential to Jacobs during these years and he refers to his hero as the combined Tupac, Dr. Dre, and Talib Kweli of his generation.
In 1987, Jacobs met Chopmaster-J and formed Digital Underground. The duo released the early rap single “Underwater Rimes” on TNT Records. The single was produced by Jacobs (as Shock-G) with writing help from MC Stik. The song contains a sample of Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” and an interpolation of Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon.” To this day, the single is a true artifact of early rap with a clear, whimsical narrative later seen in conscious backpacker rappers like Blackalicious. Oddly, the single went to number one in Holland and the group expanded to include DJ Fuze, Money-B, and Schmoovy-Schmoov. In 1989, D.U. signed with major label Tommy Boy records and released the single “Doowutchyalike,” which was again produced by Shock-G with scratches by DJ Goldfingers from J. Jam Studios of Oakland and Starlight Sound of Richmond. The B-side to “Doowutchyalike,” “Hip Hop Doll,” also joined instrumental, radio, and a cappella mixes for maximum remixing at clubs.
Jacobs has said that he sought to create a rap group inspired by the Black Panther movement like Public Enemy, but that Public Enemy had beaten them to the punch. Where N.W.A. would try to out-shout Public Enemy, Digital Underground served to out-raunch both of them. By 1990, “Doowutchyalike” hit 19 on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart and had set the stage for the scandalous debut album Sex Packets. Released in 1990, their debut hit number 24 on the Billboard 200. Sex Packets’ breakout hit single “The Humpty Dance” — with its infectious mix of P-funk riffing, jazzy interludes, scratching, and live instrumentation — went to number 11 on the Billboard 200, soared to number one on the Hot Dance and Hot Rap charts, and then went platinum. All the production was but a pedestal for Shock-G alter-persona Humpty Hump, who was essentially Jacobs’ fantasy rapper. Humpty Hump wore a large Groucho nose and glasses, and drawled every line with a relaxed, nasal delivery. Shock G brought Humpty to life for a few songs and videos, but the world demanded more. The Humpty character became a pop icon. Four different Humptys played the part over the years, including Jacobs’ brother Kent Racker and friend Michael Webster. Racker played the role in Nothing but Trouble, Dan Aykroyd’s 1991 horror comedy.
Despite the popularity of “The Humpty Dance,” the showiest number on Sex Packets is the title song, which is an ode to sex and drugs. Fans thought the tales of selling illegal substances and having interracial sex with virgins were real, and Jacobs later had to deny accusations in interviews. The D.U. mystique of raunch had already taken on a life of its own, helped by the song “Gutfest '89” — a deranged fantasy featuring girls in cages. Jacobs says “Gutfest '89” was a real account of the pre-hyphy hyphy scene in Oakland where cars would spin donuts in parking lots as crowds drank, smoked, danced, and listened to music. During a notorious D.U. tour with Public Enemy, Heavy D & The Boys, Chill Rob G, Kid & Play, Queen Latifah, and Tupac Shakur (then a D.U. member), the band once had to escape through the audience to evade Bible Belt police. Authorities were trying to arrest D.U. for lewd acts, but only Tupac got arrested.
D.U. kept the party going in 1991 with the first record to feature Tupac Shakur, This is an EP Release (1991 Tommy Boy). The EP hit number 29 on the Billboard 200, seven on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, and then went gold. Jacobs’ career favorite “Same Song” calls for unity, with vocals by 2Pac.
That same year, the single “Kiss You Back” whetted appetites with a vinyl, twelve-inch that went gold, but the album Sons of the P (1991 Tommy Boy) ushered in a slow commercial decline for the band in the face of gangsta rap, boy bands, and pop princesses. While D.U. ritually indulged in ecstasy, cocaine, and other drugs, the nation indulged in a spike of crime, crack, and violence. “Cop Killer” by Body Count came out in 1992, sparking another front in the culture war just as race riots erupted in Los Angeles. It seemed like N.W.A.’s approach to inequality was proving more apt for such extreme timesThe Sons of the P single “No Nose Job” comments on black celebrities for changing their face to make money and made it to number twenty-seven on the Hot Rap singles chart. “Heartbeat Props” celebrates living black heroes, while “Good Thing We're Rapping” stays as bawdy as Too Short. Sons of the P also went gold with more of the same Clinton-inspired zaniness, which was now fully acknowledged on the album; Clinton appears on the title track and D.U. is depicted as clones of Dr. Funkenstein on the back cover art. By 1992, “Kiss You Back” had peaked at number five on the Hot Rap Singles chart.
To continue the theme, 1993's The Body-Hat Syndrome (1993 Tommy Boy) was equally as political. Toxic forces in the media and the world where just as bad as sexually transmitted diseases, said Jacobs, creating the need for a “body-hat,” or mental condom, to protect oneself. The single “The Return of the Crazy One” peaked at ten on the rap charts with the help of a notorious, X-rated video. Other highlights from the album include “Jerkit Circus” (an ode to masturbation) and “Do Ya Like It Dirty?” (an ode to natural hair and food, and kinky sex). “Wassup Wit the Love” addresses racism and offers more proof that Jacobs had mellowed, even if he still referenced peanut butter-flavored analingus.
1996’s Future Rhythm (1996 Radikal) spent a brief period on the charts and is also the same year of Tupac’s passing. Two years later, D.U. released Who Got the Gravy? (1998 Interscope), which is considered by many to be an artistic triumph thanks to its inclusions of KRS-One and Biz Markie. However, the album did not crack the Top 50 rap charts. 1999’s Lost Files (1999 Lil Butta) released previously unreleased tracks. No Nose Job: The Legend of Digital Underground (2001 Tommy Boy) and Playwhatchalike (2003 Rhino) are both best of compilations.
In 2008, ten years after the release of their last album of new material, ..Cuz A D.U. Party Don't Stop! (2008 Jake) was released but did not chart. In March of 2008, Jacobs announced that the group would go on an indefinite hiatus, and that he is writing two books. One book is to be on producing Tupac and the other is a collection of crazy tour stories. Jacobs states the large amounts of ecstasy he did in the '90s has virtually erased his memory and he is now a vegetarian who abstains from hard drugs. He currently produces from the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2010 the band released a collection of tracks called The Greenlight E.P. In 2012 the band played a surprise show in San Diego.