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.

RIP, Rachel Caine

Rachel Caine passed away last night. I have twenty-three books by her in the house, with one preordered (what I assume will be the final book in the excellent Stillhouse Lake series) and three more freshly ordered and on the way, as I decided to get off my ass about finishing the Great Library books. That’s without having read anything from what’s probably her best-known work, the fifteen-book Morganville Vampires series. And once those incoming four are all in the house I might have half of her books; the total is approaching sixty, many of them bestsellers.

She is, by any measure, one of my favorite authors– I probably have more books by Stephen King and I might have more books by Seanan McGuire, who is similarly prolific– but that’s it.(*) Rachel had already survived a battle with breast cancer earlier in her life and was diagnosed … last year? Earlier this year? Fairly recently, one way or another, with an aggressive soft-tissue sarcoma that finally took her away from us last night. She’d been open on her various social media feeds about the cancer and the toll it was taking but was writing until very close to the end; recent tweets from her still refer to the forthcoming Stillhouse book as the “newest” in the series and not the “last.” Hell, for all I know she’s written three more of them and they’re just waiting to be published. She was fast enough; it wouldn’t really be a surprise. Various surgeries and chemotherapy didn’t work, and I suspect by the end she was going through something very similarly to what my mom had to endure for the last months of her life, where the wounds from ostensibly lifesaving surgery simply wouldn’t close up and heal. Her assistant more or less officially took over her Twitter feed on Friday, letting us all know that it wouldn’t be long, and the official notice that she was gone came this morning.

I never met Rachel; she was reasonably active on the con circuit so if she hadn’t gotten sick it probably would have happened eventually, but you can’t read eight thousand pages of someone’s work and not feel like you know them on at least some level. I think we would have gotten along pretty well, and one way or another, she will be missed.

Fuck cancer.

(*) It is literally hours later, and because this is exactly the type of nerd I am I eventually found myself unable to not determine this for sure. Total number of Seanan McGuire books: eighteen. First count of Stephen King books: at least 38, but his are spread throughout the house and are in a bunch of different types of editions and there are a few titles that we have more than one copy of because before marrying me my wife occasionally bought books on her own. I would not be surprised to discover that I missed as many as half a dozen, but that would probably be cancelled out by the ones we have duplicates of, so let’s say “around 40,” call it a day, and hope that my brain doesn’t demand further clarification at 4:00 in the morning.

RIP, Chadwick Boseman

I took a moment last night, before I told my wife what had happened, to hold my breath and double-check that the news of Chadwick Boseman’s death wasn’t a cruel fucking hoax. I found out on Twitter, which is where I find out when anyone dies nowadays, and it was amazing how my timeline went from whatever it’s usually about to 100% Chadwick Boseman in a matter of two or three minutes.

I don’t know what I would have said yesterday if you’d asked me how old I thought he was. I’m weird about celebrities; I tend to assume that anyone who isn’t obviously a teenager is older than me even if that doesn’t quite make sense. Chadwick Boseman was 43; a little bit over a year younger than me. And he has been battling colon cancer for basically as long as I’ve known he existed. And no one knew about it.

He had colon cancer while he was filming Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame and three or four other movies that I haven’t seen and no one knew about it. There were some recent pictures circulating where he’d clearly lost an unhealthy amount of weight; I hadn’t seen any of them, and whatever speculation might have been floating around never crossed my radar, so this was a bolt out of the blue.

It hit me harder than I might have guessed it would, and my head was all over the place to the point where I took one of my emergency Bad Brain Day pills before going to bed. Just one more way in which 2020 has been awful. This will be all my students want to talk about on Monday, too, and I feel terrible for my black students in particular, who have just had one of their genuine heroes torn away from them.

… he had cancer the whole fucking time, guys. I can’t wrap my head around that. The whole. fucking. time. And he’s younger than me. And no one even knew he was sick.

I just … I still can’t cope with it. Fuck this. Fuck cancer, and fuck 2020, and fuck cancer again.

Rest in power, sir.

RIP, Richard Ira Siler, 1935-2020

One of the odder changes in my life since the coronavirus became a thing is that I’ve become the type of person who scans the obituaries every couple of days. It’s rather surprising how many people I’ve found that I know at least tangentially; the former owner of OtherJob, an occasional relative of a student, that sort of thing.

And today I came across Richard Ira Siler’s obituary, and … well, it raised an eye.

Luther Michael Siler, remember, is a pen name. Each of the three names is a family name; Luther is my paternal grandfather’s first name, Michael is my mother’s maiden name, and Siler is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. As it works out, my great-grandfather’s name was Jesse Siler.

And damned if this gentleman doesn’t have a “J. Clifford Siler” as his father’s name and a “Jesse Jr.” among his brothers. I have seen Jesse Siler’s grave; he is buried next to his second wife (my great-grandmother divorced him, which must have been quite a thing back then) whose name is Minnie Jo Buck, according to her tombstone. Richard Siler’s mother’s name is Miriam Siler, according to the obituary; it doesn’t seem that much of a stretch that Miriam might have been called Minnie. My grandmother was born in 1917 and was the oldest child, so Jesse still having children in 1935 with his second (or possibly even third, as the family seems to have mostly lost track of him after the divorce) wife is entirely possible. Hell, my mom’s oldest sister and youngest brother are 17 years apart.

If I search the Internet for “Jesse C. Siler,” I find an ancestry.com link for “Jesse Clifford Siler,” too, so it seems entirely reasonable to believe that that’s the same guy, and further confirmation that “J” stands for “Jesse,” as if there’s any real chance that it wouldn’t given that there’s a Jesse Jr. in the family. I didn’t look any further, because I’m not signing up for ancestry.com at the moment, but I’m willing to take that as evidence enough, given what else we have in front of us.

So it looks like this guy was my (half?) first cousin once removed, or at least is reasonably likely to have been. I never met him and never knew he existed until about twenty minutes ago, but he seems to have been a lovely fellow. I hope his family is holding up as well as they can be under the circumstances, and may his memory be a blessing.

(The punch line: Great-grandpa Jesse’s first wife, my biological great-grandmother, was named Juanita. Her maiden name? Pence. My uncle assures me that he has dug into it and we are not related to That Pence, but it’s skeevy enough just that there’s a chance.)

(EDIT: The plot thickens. I just spent half an hour digging through a bunch of paperwork my dad gave me after mom passed away, and it looks like “my” Jesse Siler was Jesse Edward, not Jesse Clifford. J.E. Siler’s father was Harry, and it was his wife who was Minnie Jo. I don’t have any additional information about his family– no siblings or anything like that. I continue to think the guy is a cousin of some sort but the 1st-once-removed link now looks a bit less likely.)

(Also, George Washington Pence’s obituary, dated 1903, if I remember right, is a trip. I may try to get a good scan of it and post the whole thing.)