RIP, Shock-G

I don’t think that my wife actually realized what she was doing last night when she told me Shock-G had passed away. We still don’t know why; the most recent news I’ve heard was just that he was found in a hotel room. He was 57.

Here is the thing to realize about Shock: he is the guy on the left in that picture, with the zebra-striped hat. Here is the other thing to realize about Shock: he is also the guy on the right, in the big hat, sunglasses, and prosthetic nose. We call that guy Humpty Hump.

Humpty Hump and Shock-G are the same guy.

I have told this story somewhere before, I’m sure: I was, and remain, a huge fan of Digital Underground, as well as a huge fan of Tupac Shakur, who got his start with them. Everything you’re going to read about Shock is going to talk about Digital Underground’s debut album, Sex Packets, and the breakaway hit from that album, which was The Humpty Dance. For my money, their second album, entitled Sons of the P, is not only the group’s magnum opus but perhaps the single most underrated album in the history of hiphop. That album is burned into my bones. I will still remember lyrics from it when I have forgotten my own name.

I did not realize that Shock-G and Humpty Hump were the same guy until a few years ago.

Y’all need to realize that all of this was before the internet. I didn’t watch a lot of MTV, so my main exposure to DU was through their music. And not only do Shock and Hump’s voices sound distinctly different, but they layer their voices over each other and duet each other all the time on their albums. I’m listening to a song right now called Arguin’ on the Funk that is literally just a track of Shock and Humpty yelling at each other. Shock regularly used body doubles, both on stage and (obviously) in pictures so that he and Humpty could appear in the same place at the same time. They’d both be on stage at the same time, Shock doing all the rapping and the guy playing Humpty just lip-synching. Or sometimes he’d just put on the nose and glasses mid-song and switch parts. (And sometimes he’d have Tupac on stage doing the Shock-G parts, too.)

And then I randomly saw this interview, recorded in 2002 (although I didn’t see it until much later,) where he’s telling stories about Tupac, and … well, the whole interview is worth watching, but forward to about 1:25, where his voice shifts down into Humpty’s register for just a few seconds:

And … mind. Blown.

I had no goddamn idea. None. And yeah, I feel like a dumbass, but I maintain that if you knew these guys in a pre-Internet, pre-YouTube era, there was no fucking reason to see through the game. Like, they’re literally climbing all over each other on the videos. They’re both there. And, sure, they look alike, but the one dude is wearing the big glasses and the fake nose, so you’re basically just going by the jawline.

(This is why Superman being Clark Kent is not remotely as inconceivable as people believe, by the way. I never realized that Shock-G and Humpty Hump were the same guy because I had no reason to even imagine that to be the case. Superman and Clark are the same thing.)

It sounds like a gimmick, I know. But the guy was brilliant, and Digital Underground’s music was next-level. Like a lot of these pieces, I don’t know how to end this. We’re damn near exactly five years out from losing Prince, and I think that’s the last time a musician’s passing hit me this hard. I wasn’t ready for the world to not have Shock-G in it any longer, and 57 was way too fucking young for him to leave.

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.