Shock G died yesterday. As the years pile up, maybe you become accustomed to your influences passing away. But this one hit me hard. I grew up with Digital Underground. I copied the cartoons from their albums into my middle-school notebooks, and I memorized their lyrics; my brain still carries them around thirty years later.

I was fourteen when my neighbor scowled at my meager collection of pop-rock cassettes and gave me a mixtape with Boogie Down Productions, Stetsasonic, and Digital Underground’s “Doowutchyalike“—a sprawling nine-minute party that began with Shock G’s affable delivery: “Now as the record spins around, you recognize this sound. Well, it’s the Underground.” It was the sound of someone inviting you into a new world, and Digital Underground’s world was a mad sci-fi cartoon that swerved from cultural satire to psychedelic transport (“The DFLO Shuttle“) to speculative cyber-sex, from stern warnings about addiction (“The Danger Zone“) to rapping fish (“Underwater Rimes“) to paying respect to our heroes while they’re still with us (“Heartbeat Props“).

Digital Underground was a direct descendant of Parliament-Funkadelic‘s 1970s Afrofuturism. It’s a strange sensation, encountering the original material after the remix, sample, or homage. But Shock G went beyond borrowing or recontextualizing. While everyone else was looping “Flashlight” and “Atomic Dog,” Digital Underground’s second album, Sons of the P, featured George Clinton in one of his first appearances on a hip-hop record, and Shock G’s multi-tracked alter-egos carried the spirit of Starchild and Mr. Wiggles through the 1990s. I’m grateful to Shock G for introducing me to music that could be simultaneously bonkers, wise, and mythic—and for priming me to appreciate Funkadelic, Drexciya, and the programming of the Electrifying Mojo. I can think of no better introduction.

Digital Underground – Tales of the Funky

Sons of the P | Tommy Boy, 1991 | Bandcamp