Gregory Jacobs, the charismatic, affable Digital Underground rapper-producer who performed as Shock G and Humpty Hump, died Thursday at the age of 57. Jacobs’ father confirmed the musician’s death to TMZ, though a cause of death remains unknown.
“34 years ago almost to the day we had a wild idea we can be a hip-hop band and take on the world through it all the dream became a reality and the reality became a nightmare for some,” Digital Underground’s Chopmaster J wrote on Instagram. “And now he’s awaken from the fame long live shock G Aka Humpty Hump and Rest In Peace my Brotha Greg Jacobs!!! #digitalunderground.”
Over the course of six albums — most notably 1990’s Sex Packets and 1991’s Sons of the P — Digital Underground expanded on Parliament-Funkadelic’s bouncy, elastic funk and outlandish, occasionally goofy stage personas and costumes to become a singular hip-hop group. “A Digital Underground show was like a vaudevillian variety show,” Chopmaster J told Rolling Stone in 2017. While the group went through numerous lineup changes over the years, Jacobs, who co-founded the collective, always remained at the center before disbanding the group in 2008. He assumed various identities, but none more famous than Humpty Hump, the fur-wearing braggadocious rapper whose “Humpty Dance” remains a paragon of classic hip-hop more than 30 years later.
A hip-hop renaissance man, Jacobs designed the artwork for many of Digital Underground’s albums (as Rackadelic) and played drums and piano (the latter credited on albums as “The Piano Man”). He was just as instrumental behind the scenes, producing (and appearing on) Tupac Shakur’s breakthrough song “I Get Around” and 1995’s “So Many Tears,” among others, and bringing a young Shakur into Digital Underground. Months before the release of his debut album 2pacalypse Now, Shakur made his mesmerizing debut on Digital Underground’s “Same Song.”
As detailed in a 2017 Rolling Stone article, Shakur worked as a roadie for the group while Jacobs and his manager shopped the rapper’s demo. Digital Underground would give Tupac his first tour (alongside Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte and Heavy D in 1990), his first released verse with “Same Song” and his first movie role in 1991’s Nothing but Trouble. “He was on TNT Records [with us] for four years,” Jacobs told Rolling Stone. “He was with Death Row for nine months. So do the math.”
“I remember when NWA’s road manager Atron [Gregory] said he had a group called Digital Underground,” Ice Cube wrote on Twitter. “He played DOWHATCHALIKE video & I went crazy. I had to sample [Digital Underground] on JACKIN FOR BEATS and WHO’S THE MACK. And nobody had a better stage show. A true Bay Area original.”
Born on August 25th, 1963, Jacobs spent his formative years moving around with his family. He began his musical pursuits early on as a drummer, before hip-hop became his mainstay while the nascent art form was still underground in the Seventies. He dropped out of high school and formed a DJ crew that performed around town, which led to a job as a part-time on-air DJ as a teenager. After he was let go from that gig, he backpacked around the country. During his explorations, he expanded his musical interests into playing the keyboard and piano. He eventually settled down to get his diploma and went to college to study music.
In 1987, Jacobs and Chopmaster J (real name Jimi Dright Jr.) formed Digital Underground and dropped the single “Underwater Rimes.” Two years later, they signed to Tommy Boy and had expanded to include DJ Fuze, Money-B, and Shmoovy-Shmoov. The group’s 1990 debut album, Sex Packets, housed their biggest song to date, “The Humpty Dance,” which reached Number 11 on the Billboard 200. A perennial classic in its own right, the song — including Jacobs’ distinctive, nasally voice as Humpty Hump — would go on to be sampled by dozens of subsequent rappers and producers.
“Each individual has his own set of influences, from Jimi Hendrix to Erroll Garner via George Clinton, from hip-hop to doo-wop, from Jazz and R&B to funk and rock,” Jacobs said in 1989. “Sometimes we’ll combine any two, three or more styles and sometimes we’ll stick to just one. It depends on whoever is getting involved in the track. There’s often plenty of different things happening in our songs, but that doesn’t mean we’re not into the idea of doing a simple rap over a basic beat. We like doing real straight stuff, real hardcore stuff too.”
“I didn’t want just bubblegum, fun and games with Humpty to just be Digital’s only legacy,” Jacobs told Rolling Stone in 2017.
Digital Underground’s 1991 This Is an E.P. Release featured Shakur, and they followed it up with their sophomore album, Sons of the P later that year. The album went gold, along with its single “Kiss You Back.” They released four more albums — 1993’s The Body-Hat Syndrome, 1996’s Future Rhythm and 1998’s Who Got the Gravy? and 2008’s ..Cuz A D.U. Party Don’t Stop! Jacobs released his only solo album, Fear of a Mixed Planet, in 2004.
In addition to his Digital Underground output, Jacobs also made many TV and film appearances, appearing in the film Nothing But Trouble with Dan Aykroyd, providing a voiceover for his character in the 2017 Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me and appearing in several music documentaries. Beyond his helming of Shakur’s “I Get Around,” “So Many Tears” and co-producing 2Pacalypse Now, he produced Luniz’s 1995 Operation Stackola, mixed Prince’s 1998 “Love Sign” from Crystal Ball and featured on Murs’ 2003 single “Risky Business.” He also toured and performed with George Clinton and P Funk, including a set at Woodstock 1999.
“Oh No, Not Shock G (and his alter ego Humpty Hump),” Bootsy Collins tweeted. “He helped keep P Funk Alive! He is responsible for Digital Underground’s ‘The Humpty Dance’, 2Pac’s breakthrough single ‘I Get Around,’ and co-producer of 2Pac’s debut album 2Pacalypse Now. Prayers to family & friends. Dang.”
Additional reporting by Jason Newman