In the era of Biz Markie, Monie Love, and De La Soul’s “Buddy” remix, Digital Underground distinguished themselves as the most serious of jokesters: they were committed jesters. When “The Humpty Dance” crossed over pop in 1990, it wasn’t out of the question to consider whether they had careers beyond Yo! MTV Raps. Greg Jacobs had a timbre unusual for period hip-hop, a rich musky cartoonish thing that grabbed’em by the biscuit. Streaming has brutalized the work of so much early hip-hop; here’s my readers’ chance to (re-)acquaint themselves with “Underwater Rimes,” “Kiss You Back,” and the entirety of Sons of the P, whose bounties lay undiscovered until 2019 by yours truly. The fusion of musicians and samples, like A Tribe Called Quest did with Ron Carter’s bass work on The Low End Theory (1991), opened a few ears (Shock G, whether under his own name or pseudonymously, played quite capable keyboards). So did the length of the tracks: “Good Thing We’re Rappin’” unfolds at an amiable eleven minutes and could keep going, though its obsession with cocksmanship tires.
Essential to understanding Shock G was his generosity. He co-produced several tracks on Tupac’s first two albums, including the epochal “I Get Around.” George Clinton transformed into a profitable sample industry thanks to Digital Underground. Whenever he and his fellow freaks of the industry threatened to get too smutty his charisma won me over. He loved rapping, he loved performing, he loved mimicry for its own sake. He never stopped performing as if he knew he had hopped into the ride of his life. “Hypothetical, political, lyrical, miracle whip/Just like butter, my rhymes are legit,” he said in “Same Song.” Too kind– rhymes and images as fresh as Shock G’s should be illegit.