Digital Underground found fame in 1990 with “The Humpty Dance,” which topped the Billboard rap chart and featured a music video in which Shock G performed as his goofy alter ego Humpty Hump, complete with a nasal voice and Groucho Marx-style fake nose and glasses. He initially maintained that Humpty was a separate person, doing in-character interviews and sometimes having his brother Kent Racker play the part.
A year later, the Digital Underground track “Same Song” introduced music fans to Tupac Shakur, who rapped the final verse. Shock G handed the baton to the future megastar, who had been working as a roadie for Digital Underground: “You can’t stop this / Tupac, go ahead and rock this.”
By many accounts, Gregory Edward Jacobs was born in New York City on Aug. 25, 1963. His mother was a television producer, his father an executive at a computer management company; they divorced when he was a child, leading him to move frequently across the country. He was playing in bands by age 11 and living in New York when rap music emerged in the late 1970s. “All of my friends and I sold our instruments to buy mixers and turntables,” he later told the New York Times.
Shock G was an introverted “technical wizard” adept at arranging samples, said Digital Underground co-founder Jimi Dright, known as Chopmaster J. The two met when Dright was buying equipment at a music store in San Leandro, Calif., where Shock G was working, and they formed their hip-hip group in 1987.
“Digital Underground is an umbrella organization — probably a brightly colored one covered with polka dots and stripes, given the band’s playful personality — under which an ever-changing cast of characters, both fictional and real, congregate to make the kind of music that would make Scrooge laugh, if he were not too busy dancing,” James Bernard wrote in a 1991 article for the Times. “This sense of humor, and of the absurd, makes hip-hop — the most urgent music of the times — into something irresistibly fun as well.”
The group’s million-selling debut album, “Sex Packets” (1990), was titled after an imagined “sex in a pill” product that Dright said was a response to the AIDS crisis. The record included the swinging single “Doowutchyalike” as well as “The Humpty Dance,” which invited an audience of awkward youth into hip-hop with its embrace of misfits and outcasts.
“Stop whatcha doin’ / ’Cause I’m about to ruin / The image and the style that ya used to,” Shock G rapped with lighthearted bravado. “. . . I’m crazy / Allow me to amaze thee / They say I’m ugly but it just don’t faze me.”
Shock G, whose partner-in-rhyme was the smooth-voiced Money-B, was most comfortable performing in disguise and often struggled privately with the spotlight. “He got to be the star of a production that we had assembled, and it ate him up. He didn’t want to be that guy,” Dright said.
Malonga said Shock G had lived with him in the Los Angeles area for several years to get sober in the early 2000s, but had relapsed and was recently living with family in Florida. He gave away much of his wealth and worked on many unfinished side projects, struggling to find validation from those around him.
Information on survivors was not immediately available.
“He had hundreds of things he could create. He could draw, he could write music, play piano, he could score things, he could write stories and scripts,” Malonga said. “But unless someone was telling him he was okay, he would never present that.”
“I was very disappointed that he didn’t really see his own talent,” he added. “He was far more humble and insecure than people thought.”