Shock G, the rapper, songwriter and producer who helped take hip-hop into the pop mainstream in the early 1990s with “The Humpty Dance” by his Oakland-based group Digital Underground, has died, according to an Instagram post by his former bandmate Chopmaster J.
The rapper, born Gregory Jacobs, was found dead Thursday in a hotel room in Tampa, Fla., TMZ reported, attributing the news to Jacobs’ father, who didn’t state a cause. He was 57.
Performing as his alter ego Humpty Hump — “pronounced with a ‘umpty,’” as he advised in the song — Shock G struck a proudly comic pose in “The Humpty Dance,” bragging with exaggerated style about his skinny frame and his sexual prowess (“I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom”) as he encouraged listeners to follow his lead in the titular dance, which he called “your chance to do the hump.”
Built on prominent samples of tunes by Parliament and Sly & the Family Stone, “The Humpty Dance” topped Billboard’s rap singles chart for five weeks in 1990 and went to No. 11 on the all-genre Hot 100, where it was surrounded by hits such as Madonna’s “Vogue,” MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” and “This Old Heart of Mine” by Rod Stewart and Ronald Isley. The song was also nominated for a Grammy Award for rap performance by a duo or group.
“The Humpty Dance’s” success was driven in part by its music video, a staple of early-’90s MTV in which Shock G wore his trademark prosthetic nose and in which a young Tupac Shakur can be seen as one of Digital Underground’s backup dancers. Shakur went on to make his debut appearance as an MC in the group’s 1991 track “Same Song.”
Shock G worried later in life that his over-the-top image from the “Humpty Dance” video distracted viewers from his musical talent. “My nightmare was that I was going to OD onstage as Humpty, and they were going to leave me in the coffin with the nose on and put on the tombstone ‘Humpty Hump,’” he told Vibe magazine in 2005.
Yet his lighthearted approach — as captured on Digital Underground’s platinum-selling 1990 debut, “Sex Packets,” which featured another classic of the era in the rambunctious “Doowutchyalike” — endeared the group to fans of similarly quirky hip-hop outfits such as De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.
In a tweet Thursday, Ice Cube called Shock G — whose death closely follows those of fellow hip-hop veterans DMX and Black Rob — “a true Bay Area original,” while MC Hammer hailed his “incredible vision.” El-P of Run the Jewels called him “a kind and pure musical genius” and said he was the “coolest, most down-to-earth icon/hero of mine I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.”
Jacobs was born on Aug. 25, 1963, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He spent time as a keyboardist and a DJ before he landed in Oakland and formed Digital Underground with Chopmaster G and Kenneth Water. The group set out to make “nonconformist hip-hop,” as Shock G told Spin magazine at the time. “We just try to be in tune to all forms of music. R&B, jazz, rock ’n’ roll, hip-hop. Like Funkadelic, we wanted to use all our influences on one record.”
For “Sex Packets,” which Digital Underground produced itself — and which Vibe put on a 2008 list of “51 albums that changed the game” — the group repeatedly sampled Parliament and Funkadelic, whose flamboyant bassist Bootsy Collins said Thursday on Twitter that Shock G “helped keep P Funk alive!” “The Humpty Dance” in turn was sampled by dozens of hip-hop acts including LL Cool J, Kriss Kross, Gang Starr and Das EFX.
Digital Underground continued to release albums throughout the ’90s, while Shock G cultivated a career as a producer outside the group. He co-produced Shakur’s 1991 debut album, “2Pacalypse Now,” and co-wrote and co-produced Shakur’s “I Get Around” single, which went to No. 11 on the Hot 100 in 1993. He also worked with Prince on Prince’s 2008 “Crystal Ball” box set and with rappers Murs and Yukmouth.
In 2004 he released a solo album called “Fear of a Mixed Planet.”
Information on survivors beyond his father wasn’t immediately available.