Gregory Edward Jacobs, known as Shock G, the frontman for the influential hip-hop group Digital Underground, was found dead on Thursday at a hotel in Tampa, Florida. He was 57.
His death was confirmed by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which did not provide a cause of death.
Digital Underground had a string of hits in the early 1990s and introduced its audience to a little-known rapper named Tupac Shakur. The group’s name sounded like “a band of outlaws from a cyberpunk novel,” with a sound that “straddles the line between reality and fantasy, between silliness and social commentary,” The New York Times wrote in 1991. “Digital Underground is where Parliament left off,” Shock G said at the time, referring to the groundbreaking George Clinton band.
Shock G had been shuttling from his home in Tampa to Northern California in 1987 when the group made a self-released single, “Underwater Rimes.” That helped get the attention of Tommy Boy Records, which released Digital Underground’s first album, “Sex Packets.” It sold 1 million copies and featured the hit single “The Humpty Dance.”
The album stood out for melding funk and jazz riffs on top of catchy drumbeats. And with Shock G’s lanky frame and toothy grin, the group had a visual aesthetic ripe for the dawn of the music video generation. Shock G, who produced music in addition to rapping, was known for spinning different personas, depending on his surroundings.
In the video for “The Humpty Dance,” Shock G took on the persona of Humpty Hump, the title character, donning a pair of dark-rimmed glasses with an obviously fake nose, a fur hat and tie. “I’m sick wit dis, straight gangsta mack / But sometimes I get ridiculous,” he raps on the song. “I’ll eat up all your crackers and your licorice / Hey yo fat girl, come here — are ya ticklish?” Part of the hook for the song: “Do the Humpty Hump, come on and do the Humpty Hump.”
Shock G can be seen in a similar outfit, both goofy and suave, in the video for the group’s song, “Doowutchyalike,” where he encouraged listeners to let loose and enjoy themselves as a saxophone gently riffs over the beat.
Shock G’s most lasting impact on hip-hop and music may have come when the group released the hit “Same Song,” which was Shakur’s “first vocal appearance on a song,” according to Genius.com. Shock G, who appears first on the song, once again cast himself as the good-time host. “I came for the party to get naughty, get my rocks on / Eat popcorn, watch you move your body to the pop song.”
When it was Shakur’s turn, he quickly unleashed a thoughtful verse about the dangers of success: “Get some fame, people change.”
Shakur had auditioned for Shock G and was hired to be a member of the group’s road crew. He eventually performed and recorded with Digital Underground, appearing on the group’s “This Is an EP Release” (Tommy Boy), and “Sons of the P” (Tommy Boy), which was nominated for a Grammy Award.
In 1991, Shakur started a solo recording career with the album “2Pacalypse Now” (Interscope), which sold half a million copies. It included two modest hits, “Trapped” and “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” a song about an unwed teenage mother’s plight. Before the album was released, he also started a career as a movie actor, playing the violent, unpredictable Bishop in the Ernest Dickerson film “Juice.”
By 1993, Shakur was a rising star. Shock G and another Digital Underground member, Money B, appeared on Shakur’s album, helping create his first major hit, “I Get Around,” a poolside anthem with scantily clad women and a laid-back beat. But now, it was Shock G, sporting an Afro and oversized purple T-shirt, with the message: “Now you can tell from my everyday fits I ain’t rich / So cease and desist with them tricks / I’m just another Black man caught up in the mix / Tryna make a dollar out of 15 cents.”
Shock G’s musical instincts were forged by a childhood spent moving around the country. His mother worked as a television producer and his father worked as an executive in computer management. After the couple divorced, “I spent my biggest chunk of time in Tampa but I also lived in New York, Philly and California,” Shock G had told The Times. “I have always been into music and played in bands starting when I was 10 or 11.”
His grandmother, Gloria Ali, was a pianist and cabaret singer in Harlem in the 1950s. She taught him how to play “Round Midnight” on the piano. Then, as hip-hop began to gain traction in New York in the late 1970s, Shock G, who was living there at the time, recalled, “All of my friends and I sold our instruments to buy mixers and turntables.”
Shock G, who was born in Brooklyn on Aug. 25, 1963, leaves his father, Edward Racker; his mother, Shirley Kraft; his sister, Elizabeth Racker; and his brother, Kent Racker.
Shock G saw music as expansive, inclusive, and experimental. “Funk can be rock, funk can be jazz and funk can be soul,” he told The Times. “Most people have a checklist of what makes a good pop song: it has to be three minutes long, it must have a repeatable chorus and it must have a catchy hook. That’s what makes music stale. We say ‘Do what feels good.’ If you like it for three minutes, then you’ll love it for 30.”