by Garrett Caples
Kev Kelley is excited. The Hunters Point emcee has been taken on as a protege by Shock-G, legendary leader of Digital Underground, who produces two tracks on the 23-year-old’s upcoming debut. It’s 3 a.m. Shock’s exhausted, having just wrapped a two-hour jam between DU and a funk band called Slapback, in celebration of his own “solo debut,” Fear Of A Mixed Planet. As we roll to the hotel for the interview, Kev insists on carrying Shock’s bag, despite its owner’s modest protests. “Fuck that!” Kev yells, zooming ahead with his treasure. “I’m doing what 2Pac did!” Shock accepts this with the habitual calm that contrasts so strikingly with his on-stage presence, whether as Shock-G or as his plastic-nosed alter ego, Humpty Hump. And Kev has a point. While never just a roadie — “We were producing and grooming and trying to get him a deal the whole time,” Shock says — 2Pac definitely lugged his share of equipment on the first DU tour in 1989. Shock’s ear for talent, moreover, is undeniable; through DU over the years he’s also boosted the careers of Saafir, the Luniz, and Mystic, among many others. As a producer Shock profoundly influenced rap’s development in the early ’90s. Two years before The Chronic had everyone jumping on the Mothership, Shock drew the blueprints for a hip-hop built on P-Funk principles. Tracks like “Rhymin’ on the Funk” (Sex Packets, 1990), “Same Song” (This Is An EP Release, 1991), and “The D-Flo Shuttle” (Sons Of The P, 1991) — all on Tommy Boy Records — laid the groundwork for much that followed. According to Digital Underground: Raw Uncut, a new DVD documenting the group’s entire history, “Freaks Of The Industry” remains, after 14 years, the #1 requested song on the Bay Area’s main hip-hop station KMEL despite never being a single. (#2? The Bay Area Ballers mix of the Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It,” also featuring Shock.) Such achievements and innovations have been obscured, however, by the huge pop success of “The Humpty Dance,” which led many to see the group as a bubblegum novelty. The beautifully eclectic, meticulously detailed, and deeply felt Fear Of A Mixed Planet is Shock’s ambitious attempt to finally step out of the shadow of Humpty Hump.
by Garrett Caples