Music

The highlight of my day was trying to find a Lauryn Hill album in my music collection and then after several minutes of angrily insisting to myself that I owned it and I wanted to listen to it and god damn it did I lose files when I switched over to this computer??? I realized that the reason that I couldn’t find the album is that Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu are two whole-ass different people and somehow my brain thought “search for Lauryn Hill” and my fingers searched for Erykah Badu.

At any rate, Lauryn’s Unplugged album remains a Goddamned masterpiece. Erykah Badu’s is not a masterpiece, because Erykah Badu is a different person and she never recorded an Unplugged album.

Dumb-ass brain.

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.

Sunday odds and ends

DMX hit the scene in 1998, my senior year in college, a time when my musical tastes were probably as far away from hiphop as they’ve been in my life. I can’t pretend I’ve ever really been a fan, although X Gon’ Give It To Ya is an immortal banger, and the guy’s voice was something else. But it’s been amazing to see since he died just how many people have been coming out of the woodwork to tell stories about him just being a great person, or stories about running into a generous stranger that end with “… and then it turned out that guy was DMX.” I’m at the age where more and more people close to my age (he was only about 7 years older than me, which doesn’t feel like much) are passing on, and I can only hope that when I go there are more positive stories told about me than otherwise. Rest in power, man.


Speaking of rap music, and forgive me, because given DMX’s placement on this it’s going to feel like shade, but this dataset investigating the vocabularies of various rappers is really interesting. Especially so when you scroll down and look at when they sort everybody by the era they’re most associated with.


I bought Taylor Swift’s reissue of Fearless, mostly because her last two albums were so (sincerely) fucking good. I’ve talked a lot of shit about her music over the years– and most of it I still stand by, frankly– and buying the reissue was almost more of a political decision than it was a musical one, because I so very much adore the idea of her responding to someone else refusing to sell her the rights to her own music back by shrugging and using her songwriter rights to rerecord every single bit of it. At some point a switch in my head has flipped with her, though, and where I used to have all of her music inadvertently memorized and didn’t like it, now I have all her music inadvertently memorized and fuck it I’m listening to it on purpose because I’m grown and if I wanna be inconsistent I’m going to.

I still think she and Lil Nas X should write a song together, just to see if the entire world wakes up the next day with it memorized.


I go back to work in-person tomorrow, for the first time in, basically, thirteen months. I’m surprisingly sanguine about it– I was expecting to be climbing the walls today, and I’m really just not right now– but I still haven’t resolved some basic issues about what the next few days are going to look like that I’ve been mulling over for the entire break. I still don’t quite know how I’m going to handle my at-home kids; believe it or not, me being at home is easier for doing in-person and at-home at the same time than being at school will be and I don’t know how well all of that is going to work. I know I need to do some grading today one way or another, and I think for at least tomorrow I’m going to more or less give the at-home kids the day off; I’ll do a review assignment of some sort (everything this week is going to be review, since ILEARN starts a week from tomorrow, which is the real reason they’ve brought all the teachers back) while I sit down with the in-person kids and get them sorted out.

I’m going to take a shower– it’s past noon and I’ve had lunch, so I feel like it’s maybe time for that to happen– and then get that grading finished (hopefully somebody did something to catch their grades up this week, but I’m not holding my breath) and then we’ll see how things go.

Sunday night music break

I’ve got nothing in particular to talk about tonight, and this song’s been running through my head all day, so take a few minutes and chill.

On what I want

My wife and I, married thirteen years come next February, typically do not buy each other gifts. My wife is impossible to buy for, as she does not like things, and I am exceptionally easy to buy for but tend to spend money indiscriminately, so buying things from my Amazon wish list, for example, can be kind of a fraught proposition.

I fucked around and got myself into trouble last week, as I came up with a perfectly good Christmas present for my wife and managed to acquire it in a fraction of the time I would have expected it to take and at a fraction of the cost. In other words, not only was I breaking the rules by buying something in the first place, she was going to take one look at it and assume that I had spent way more than I actually spent on it– even though what I did spend for it would generally count as a relatively large amount for us to spend on each other, even in a world where we buy things for each other, which we really don’t.

I hope to hell that sentence makes sense because I’m not rewording it.

Anyway, I went through this brief crisis where I was trying to figure out what my duties were in terms of whether I was going to disclose the gift before Christmas or not, and if I was merely going to disclose its existence or also disclose how much I spent. I ended up, after discussing the matter with my brother and sister-in-law, deciding to tell her what had happened and that I’d spent what I spent on it, so that if she wants to get me something in return (which she isn’t required to do) she has a chance of achieving some sort of parity.

(She won’t. I win this Christmas. She can try again next year if she wants, but I win this one.)

Anyway, the trick to buying me (and a lot of people, really) is to come up with something that I want but would never buy myself, which is kind of a tricky needle to thread, and thinking about it tonight all I’ve been able to come up with are two items that I really don’t need and would just add to the clutter around the house. Guitar Center is going out of business, and part of me really wants to go buy a guitar once I can get them at discount prices. Can I play the guitar? No. I can’t play the ukulele either. I’m not gonna learn. I’m 44 and it is too late to learn a musical instrument. There is, therefore, no reason for me to want one.

It is kind of hilarious to me that the second thing that I came up with was a combat-grade lightsaber, which is also something that someone else should not buy me, because they come with literally a billion available options and are also expensive as hell and the whole idea is completely ridiculous. I do not need a lightsaber, much less a $250 one, and the idea that I’m fixated on a combat-grade one, which has a blade tough enough that they’re supposed to be good for full-contact sparring against someone else, is even more ridiculous.

I’m curious to see if anyone can guess what color blade I’d pick, by the way.

(Oh, and also I’m still fighting off the occasional urge to buy a lathe.)

It’s best to just let me waste my own money, I think.