| All roads lead back to the Digital Underground and 2Pac |
By Garrett Caples
San Francisco Bay Guardian March 16, 2005
I CAN'T COUNT how many surprised responses I've elicited with the information that 2Pac started out in Digital Underground. To anyone first exposed to him through the movies or during his final phase on Death Row Records, the idea of Pac coming up under the plastic-nosed guidance of Humpty Hump is scandalous. Such skeptics are referred to the 2004 documentary DVD Digital Underground: Raw Uncut, which features footage of the future Makaveli rocking "The Humpty Dance" for all he's worth.
Atron Gregory, the group's first manager, introduced the young 2Pac to Humpty's alter-ego, D.U. leader and producer Shock-G, after the group completed Sex Packets (Tommy Boy, 1990) but before the album's release. As a result, Pac was on hand for the group's MTV-fueled explosion, making his recording debut on "Same Song," from their 1991 This Is an EP Release (Tommy Boy). Inevitably, once he blew up with the 1992 film Juice, 2Pac concentrated on his solo career, though he continued to appear on D.U. albums until 1996's Future Rhythm (Critique).
In a sense, to take a cue from Dotrix 4000, "the underground is all connected" – through D.U., which some might say laid the blueprint for the Bay's blend of sexed-up P-Funk grooves, psychedelic thought, and streetwise yet conscious hip-hop.
"I couldn't have ever been 2Pac," Shock says now. "It's not my personality. By the same token, Pac probably couldn't have ever made it like I did as a producer-central figure in a collage of people. You gotta do you."
This is not to say Pac lacked protégés, however. In 1993 he put Mac Mall on the map by directing and appearing in the video for "Ghetto Theme," Mall's first single. Having recently taken over Mac Dre's Thizz Records in order to release their collaboration, Da U.S. Open, Mall still maintains his own Sessed Out Records and has recently joined with Ray Luv (see "The Post-2Pac Pack," page 41) in the rap-rock group Crhyme Scene.
Though he moved out of the Bay Area – first to the Pocanos, then to Los Angeles – after the Oakland hills fire in late 1991, Shock has always turned to the Bay for new talent. Rap historians might note he was the first to tap Richmond, helping the duo Goldmoney score a deal with Tommy Boy and featuring them on Sons of the P (Tommy Boy, 1991). But Shock's most successful protégés after 2Pac are undoubtedly the Luniz, who appear on Future Rhythm and whose platinum debut, Operation Stackola (Noo Tribe, 1995), features production by Shock. That year Shock appeared on the remix of the Luniz' weed-smoking anthem "I Got 5 on It," alongside such local heavyweights as E-40 and Richie Rich.
In the late '90s, Shock continued to influence the Bay through his associates. D.U. members DJ JZ and Saafir joined Hobo Junction for the critically acclaimed Box Car Sessions (Qwest, 1999) as well as three classic underground discs on their own Hobo Records. While D.U.'s 1998 album Who Got the Gravy? (Jake) failed to make a huge impression, it introduced Esinchill (see "Breaking Down the Battle Lines," page 43) as well as Mystic, whose debut, Cuts for Luck, Scars for Freedom (JCor), was nominated for a Grammy in 2002.
Now, with the release of his first solo album, Fear of a Mixed Planet (33rd St), Shock has finally begun to receive his due as a pioneer. He's been producing tracks for Hunters Point MC Kev Kelly, even as he's transformed D.U.'s live show with the addition of an eight-piece funk band called Slapback. "I think people saw Humpty as a gimmick," Numskull of the Luniz says, "but Humpty is just a part of Shock. Shock is our driving force. For real. He's a genius."