Shock G: Riding Off Into The Sunset
Digital Underground frontman Shock G is a living legend in his own right with well over twenty years of experience in the game. The East Coast based native/Florida transplant, by way of Oakland, California, started his professional career in the late '80s with the eclectic, platinum-plus San Francisco Bay Area funk/rap pioneers, Digital Underground (DU).
Following the release of the group's sixth studio effort of all brand new material, Who Got The Gravy?, D.U. all but disappeared from the industry's radar. In 2004, the self-proclaimed "Piano Man" re-surfaced with his little heard, but still groundbreaking solo debut, Fear of a Mixed Planet.
However, throughout the stretch of their career, Digital Underground was also solely responsible for introducing a slew of talent, most notably the late, great Tupac Shakur to the masses. Sadly, it is unfortunate to announce, but the D.U. collective have permanently parted ways. They are finished. Kaput. However, not without, at least, one last hurrah.
(Check out D.U.'s discography at Wikipedia)
BallerStatus.com: What's up, Shock? Welcome back. What exactly have you been up to since the release of your first, and only, solo LP, Fear of a Mixed Planet, in 2004?
Shock G: Um... in '04 I toured with Murs and Living Legends on the '04 Definitive Jux States & Canada tour... Over two months of straight dates, rarely a day off per week, five separate groups on one tour bus. [There was] one hotel room per city for showers. It was brutal. I went as Murs' music conductor/DJ/live keyboardist. Most fun I've had on the road in years. At the end of the tour, we went in the studio with the Perceptionists and recorded "Career Finders" for their Black Dialogue album. Later that same year, I went in the studio with Pac's adopted little brother's group, The Havenotz, and we recorded "And 2morrow" for the Tupac poetry album, The Rose Volume 2. Though they included the song, our version with our production and mix, didn't get used. It's a beast of a recording though, and I'm hopefully gonna include it on my next compilation/best-of-as-producer album entitled Shockwaves, up next for release with Jake Records. In '05, I visited Australia for the first time, on a three-week tour with Digital Underground. Bloody awesome experience. Recorded a song with Brisbane Australian artist, Soma Rasa, while there I played a huge outdoor festival with Kool Keith in Sydney, [and] attended the '05 Grand Prix in Melbourne.
In '06, I began collecting ideas and fragments for this latest [Digital Undergound] album. It began with the live recording of the Frisco DNA show from a year earlier. With Digital Underground, I've spent at least four months of each year touring. Every year since 1996, over a thousand shows. In between all that touring, I've been studying yoga, world history, and vegetarianism, and have been enjoying a beautiful home life in the hills of Topanga, California, in a place that Afeni Shakur lent me the money to move into. The "Cherry Flava'd Email" I speak of on Fear of a Mixed Planet was the reply letter from her letting me know "Yes, I will help you." Thank you Afeni. I just don't know how I would have kept my sanity through all this if it wasn't for this little place in the mountains you made possible for me. Topanga's good energy helped me get my focus, and re-connect to who I was before Digital Underground. I grew up in the country mostly. I was the type of kid who swam in rivers and lakes, and who caught snakes and alligators with my bare hands. My dad's got pictures of all that stuff, like me holding up six feet rattlesnakes that I had just caught minutes before...
BallerStatus.com: Fear of a Mixed Planet was a very good CD. However, commercially it seemed very much overlooked. Did it do as well as you'd hoped for or expected?
Shock G: It did better than I expected (laughs) I didn't think people were gonna get it at all. I was just letting off steam, and expressing myself beyond the party-mentality of the average [Digital Undergound] record. I do love the Digital Underground scene. I always say we're like the "Porky's" (a 1982 comedy) of hip-hop, like a non-stop musical college dorm party. But, I had other things I wanted to share and ... Mixed Planet let me get some of that off my chest.
I was shocked by some of the responses to it. DJ Quik ran up to Money-B in L.A. somewhere and said, "Shock's album is the sh**. I bought two copies. I had to give one to my cousin for his birthday." Every review has been generous so far. And, we always hear it on the college stations and KPFA's (indie stations) of the world. And, London and France are all over it. Friends occasionally hit me from Paris to say they just heard "Cinnamon Waves" again on the air or at a party somewhere.
It wasn't really a commercial album. What song could've possibly been marketed as a "commercial" single? Its purpose, for me anyways, was to restore some balance in my musical output, and to do some songs for those friends and fans who know me beyond the Humpty and Digital Underground personas. Humpty, and Shock G, too, really, are just two of many characters and roles I play in the studio. [Digital Underground] is just one project in a long life of jazz, blues, funk, rock, hi-energy, party pap, and political hip-hop, through 'Pac, P-Funk, and other artists. There's so much more to life for a musician than just one band, one genre, (and/or) one radio station.
BallerStatus.com: You just dropped D.U.'s long overdue eighth, and last studio set, ...Cuz A D.U. Party Don't Stop!! Why did you decide on titling the record this?
Shock G: I got that from the live shows. Money-B gets the crowd to shout that back at us, "Cuz A D.U. Party Don't Stop!" Plus, that phrase kinda reflects our reality over the past 20 years -- a non-stop party, mayne!
BallerStatus.com: What are some of your favorite things about the new album?
Shock G: It's like a reunion album. You gotta hear it to appreciate it. We even brought back Ted Casey and Bill Thompson from Sex Packets. They were the TV hosts on "Gutfest '89." And, it also showcases all the new rappers and producers we've recruited from the last few years of our travels. The most hilarious performance on the album is a verse from newcomer MC, B.I.N.C., which is an acronym for B.est I.n N.orthern C.ali. (laughs) He ain't short on ego. And, my cousin ButtaFly said some outrageous sh**, too. We used it as the intro.
BallerStatus.com: What prompted you to incorporate "live" tracks on the CD?
Shock G: Um... many reasons, but it just seemed like [the right] time. One reason is, we finally came across a good, stereophonic, sound board recording of a show, rather than the usual camcorder versions we have so many of. This Bay Area show, you can hear the hometown love in the air, and both the audience and the band were in rare form. We didn't bother to include the songs in which we simply rapped over the records. I figured we all know how those records sound already. No, instead we put the "unplugged" sections on the album, in which Eric "Kenya" Baker (reference "So Many Tears") is on guitar, DJ-NuStylez is on the turns, Juan Carlos (from Sons of the P) is on percussion, and I'm at my favorite place -- on piano, while the entire D.U. roster blesses the mic.
All the spin-off acts were in the building, too, that night -- The Luniz, Saafir, Element, Choice Cutz, even Strictly Dope, Tupac's original group before he joined Digital Underground. That's reason one. Reason two is because these last 10 years I speak of, since the ...Gravy album, we've been touring constantly, worldwide, and that time on the road, it sort of seasoned us. Our live show has evolved much tighter. We finally got the years of dues that we weren't able to get before blowing up, so quickly and getting thrown out there before Public Enemy. Plus, we recruited a lot of good MCs along the way, too. This album reflects that growth and showcases those MCs.
And, there's a third reason. Reason three, for all the live show inclusions is because few 'Pac fans know that our click wrote the music to practically all of Tupac's singles during his first three albums. For instance, "So Many Tears" was Eric Baker and I musically. "I Get Around" was myself. "If My Homie Calls" and "Brenda's Got a Baby" was our homie, Deon Evans, a.k.a. Big-D The Impossible. In a sense, we were Tupac's in-house band, and I was even appointed by him to be his music director on his up and coming overseas tour in the fall of 1996. Of course the tour never happened. But, you could say this album is a taste of what it might've been like musically, because these are the cats that would've been there with us. And though 'Pac passed on, we at least have Ray Luv of Strictly Dope and early ghostwriter for Tupac, and Pac's protégé, Mac Mall, representing in Pac's honor. Plus, they supplied me a 77-key Fender Rhodes electric piano that night. So, I was in heaven.
BallerStatus.com: Aside from it including completely "live" recordings, what makes this project different from other Underground efforts?
Shock G: It's more raw, because it's mostly a "live" album. Can't have re-dos and second takes when it's live. So, it is what it is. Mistakes and all.
BallerStatus.com: Is this really Digital Underground's final, final record? If this deems true, tell me how come?
Shock G: What better time than our 20 year anniversary? We signed our first recording contract as D.U. in 1988. Can't do it forever. I gave it 20 loyal years. I'm done with it. We simply have outgrown it -- myself, Money-B, and even Humpty. (laughs)
BallerStatus.com: What exactly are your post D.U. plans?
Shock G: I'm writing my Tupac book, finally. [It's] the real story about all his firsts. I've spent more time with Pac than anyone else in the industry, besides his best friend Big Stretch (Randy Walker, R.I.P.). I introduced those two to each other. Pac used to sleep on my couch when he was 19, and did four major States and overseas tours with us, including the Japan D.U./Queen Latifah tour. I produced him through over 20 studio sessions. To give you an example of how much I have to share, he was on Death Row Records for nine months. He was on our label, TNT, for five years! And, he was in Digital Underground for three of those years. I was with Pac for many of his "first-time ever" experiences. We got him his first apartment, helped him buy his first car, tag-teamed with him on many of his first groupie experiences, etcetera. I got all the juicy stories.
BallerStatus.com: Besides you and Chopmaster J, how did the rest of D.U. come together, and eventually obtain your deal with Tommy Boy?
Shock G: D.U. was just a concept band, a project. We had the idea before we actually had the full cast. I met Money-B through DJ-Fuze, who we asked to DJ for us at our first live show as D.U. -- a showcase show for Tommy Boy. They had us opening up for Tone Loc, whose "Wild Thing" single was huge that year. We had a 12 inch single, "Underwater Rimes," out doing pretty well, and one day the buyer at the big Berkeley (in California) record store, Rasputin's -- Darcia Dabney I think her name was -- gave the Tommy Boy rep a copy of our record. She said to him, "You guys have De La Soul, so you'll probably like this, too," and gave him the record. Later, they contacted us and said they wanna hear more stuff. The next demo consisted of "Doowutchyalike," and "The Way We Swing," which both later made it onto Sex Packets, and two other songs that didn't make the album.
BallerStatus.com: How did the moniker, Digital Underground, even come to fruition?
Shock G: We wanted something modern, but deliberately vague because we didn't know what our sound or style was gonna be yet. We tried being Black Panther rappers, but Public Enemy and X-Clan beat us to it. Then Jimi had an idea for us to be hippie rappers, and rep the Bay's flower-child/peace and love history. But, then De La Soul dropped 3 Feet High and Rising.
So then, we were like, "F*** it, let's just do like P-Funk, and do a little bit of everything." We needed a name that represented the way the music was being made at the time, on all the new digital sequencing machines and samplers. As well as, something that reflected the underground street nature of hip-hop at the time. It was still considered a fad that the industry was going through, like disco or something. Most people thought rap wouldn't last, even still in 1988. So, we added "Underground" to it.
BallerStatus.com: You are also a multi-instrumentalist. What all do, and can, you play?
Shock G: These days, only keys well enough to say I play it. I gave up drums and turntables long ago. I leave it to the specialists now, like DJ NuStyles. He's a wild dragon on the turns.
BallerStatus.com: 20 years is definitely a long time for anything. How has Digital Underground remained not only around, but still relevant after, really more than, two decades?
Shock G: As a musician, to simply make your living through music is the true blessing, even if you're just playing the bar or hotel down the street. Record deals and videos and budgets to make albums with, are all icing on the cake. The Top 40 people we see on TV and radio, they're less than 1 percent of the artists surviving in the industry. You may see any of us sit in with any other of us. I saw George Clinton do Blues on stage with Bonnie Raitt, the country singer, at Slim's in San Francisco once. I caught Sly Stone, with Billy Preston on piano, in a tiny 75-seat theater in Hollywood, back in '87. At a D.U. show in Austin, Texas, recently, RZA walked out and grabbed the mic while I was on keys. Throughout D.U.'s heyday in the early 90s, you may have spotted me sitting in on organ with Eric Baker and his Blues band at the 5th Amendment, a tiny Jazz dive in Oakland. Erykah Badu jumped on drum machine while me and Money-B improvised "I Get Around" during the grand finale at a Tupac birthday celebration in L.A. a few years back. She's MURDER on the drums and percussion. She could've made it as just a drum programmer had she preferred to.
Speaking of Tupac, he can be seen playing congas on stage with us during our "Yo! MTV Raps" performance of "No Nose Job," way after "Juice" and after his own album was out. He's also featured in the "Gold Money" video, on saxophone, acting out the horn parts in the song.
The singer L. Dubois, who we featured on "And 2morrow" from the Tupac The Rose Volume 2 album, we had just met in the street on our way to the studio two days earlier. He was singing for spare change in the Santa Monica Promenade. My favorite story of this kind happened at Woodstock '99. I was enjoying P-Funk's performance from backstage, when this little kid rips the most amazing trumpet solo in the middle of "Flashlight." By the end of the solo, he was just screaming notes out of it, the crowd was going insane. Afterwards he came backstage and I said, "Wow that was ridiculous. How long have you been on tour with them?" And, he said, "I just met George [Clinton] last night in the hotel lobby. I told him I play for my school, and he told me to bring my horn." The kid was like 14 years old.
BallerStatus.com: You spoke about the new forthcoming Tupac book, Producing a Young Genius, but is there anything else that you have going on?
Shock G: I paint. I draw cartoons and comics. I'm in the process of writing a book. I like wildlife, too. There's so much to be learned from the wild animals -- the in-excessiveness of their nature, or their eating habits. Ever notice that wild animals -- squirrels, horses, giraffes, deer, monkeys, zebras, etcetera -- don't get sick like we do? They run like the wind, even as senior citizens, but no high-blood pressure, no diabetes, no stroke, no heart disease, no arthritis, no cellulite, no obesity, no doctors, and no dentists. Humans on the other hand are all f***ed up, with cabinets full of medicine, and with practically everyone becoming sick in some way by middle age. I avoid sugar, grease and dairy products, and I try to eat as much natural and raw plant food, and drink as much water as I can. So, I can be healthy and active like the animals are. Wise eating is the cure to all. But, you won't hear that on TV or in the news. This society needs us to be sick for the economy to continue.
BallerStatus.com: Do you have any valid complaints about the state of hip-hop?
Shock G: I love it. There's so much variety out there. If you really search, you can find examples of any kind of hip-hop you want. It's all out there.
BallerStatus.com: What is the biggest misconception about you, Mr. Shock G?
Shock G: My private life is the polar opposite of the D.U. scene, and especially the Humpty character. Humpty's an excessive and over-indulgent type of dude. On the contrary, I'm a minimalist in real life. I have no microwave oven, no TV, and no cell phone. My only luxury is my light-speed internet connection, and my Mac computer. I make my meals from scratch with raw ingredients everyday at home. I shop only three days or so in advance, so that everything's always market fresh, instead of frozen, boxed or canned. No poppin' last night's pizza or yesterday's nuggets in the microwave 'round this motherf***er. That's that bullsh** that leads to high-blood pressure and arthritis. And in return, I have energy for days, more than when I was in high school, and can break my girl off all day and night, without Viagra (laughs). Yup.
BallerStatus.com: What other activities do you enjoy partaking in?
Shock G: Drawing my beautiful girlfriend. I like to paint her, or make little cartoons of us. Or, cook for her. I make a mean vegan pesto angel hair zucchini pasta, with garlic sourdough and a light basil dipping sauce. Or, my special, Shock-G's Broccoli Parmesan. Sometimes I cook for my neighbor's next door, or for my family. We just had a big week-long family reunion out here in L.A. My little sister, Liz Carson, is a designer on tour with Ebony Fashion Fair at present, so we based the family reunion around her L.A. dates.
BallerStatus.com: What has been your career defining moment?
Shock G: Too many to mention -- working with George Clinton; producing Tupac Shakur; sharing the stage with RZA recently; having Erykah Badu hold me down on drum machine while I busted at a Tupac benefit and her and I closing the show together; touring with Murs and Scarub, of Living Legends, as their DJ and music conductor; producing a Prince song on his Crystal Ball album; touring with the Luniz, (who are) total lunatics on the road; touring with Humpty Hump, so much fun he is; exchanging email addys and chatting with Fiona Apple online; touring Japan with Queen Latifah, Tupac, and the rest of D.U.; (and) to be able to hire my high school best friend, Larry Cushnie, and my younger brother, Kent Racker, as stage crew, and bring them on tour around the world with us on those first big stadium D.U. tours. Priceless.
BallerStatus.com: Looking into the future, what do you predict for yourself?
Shock G: Probably still here in Southern California. I've been all around this globe and trust me, there's nothing out there touching Southern Cali. When you add it all up -- the places, the people, the weather, plus the geography/the oceans, etcetera -- Cali's got it all. Musically though, I have no idea.
BallerStatus.com: Will there be one last Digital Underground tour/show?
Shock G: Nah, we only just disbanded this year. A much needed hiatus from the road, and from the whole scene, has just begun for me. It was beginning to burn us out, for real. The group internally, as well as the audience, the energy was starting to get stale in my opinion.
BallerStatus.com: Remind those folks what they missed out on when it came to a D.U. performance...
Shock G: You gotta check the new album. Also, there's a DVD out called "Digital Underground: Raw & Uncut." If you ever get a chance to see it, it's got lots of good live footage of us from '89 to '03 or so. And, there's also some cool live clips at these Myspaces: MySpace.com/TheRealShockG and MySpace.com/FunkyCyco.
..Cuz A D.U. Party Don't Stop!! is currently available now @ Amazon.com.