A pivotal, nee vital, year in Hip Hop history, 1990 was graced with a litany of golden age classics from both sides of the Atlantic; kicking off the next decade with assured bombast. The Monolith Cocktail compiles a playlist of highlights and once pays an in-depth tribute to one of that year’s funkiest, playful and inventive albums, Digital Underground‘s Sex Packets.
Intelligent Hoodlum ‘No Justice, No Peace’ From the Intelligent Hoodlum LP.
X Clan ‘Funkin’ Lesson’ From the To The East, Blackwards LP.
MC Mell’O’ ‘Total Eclipse Of The Art’ From the Thoughts Released (Revelation I) LP.
Kool G Rapp & DJ Polo ‘Streets of New York’ From the Wanted: Dead Or Alive LP.
D-Nice ‘Crumbs On The Table’ From the Call Me D-Nice LP.
Part 2: Digital Underground – ‘Sex Packets’
Tommy Boy Records 1990
Track List –
A (Safe Side)
1. The Humpty Dance (6:50)
2. The Way We Swing (6:48)
3. Packet Prelude (0:57)
4. Sex Packets (7:21)
5. Street Scene (0:33)
6. Packet Man (4:41)
B (Sex Side)
1. Freaks of the Industry (5:38)
2. Underwater Rimes (4:23)
3. The New Jazz (One) (0:37)
4. Rhymin’ on the Funk (6:16)
5. The Danger Zone (5:31)
6. Packet Reprise (1:30)
7. Doowutchyalike (4:12)
All tracks produced by Digital Underground except B4, produced by The D U and Raw Fusion.
Greg Jacobs plays the following roles –
Humpty Hump – Vocals on A1, A6, B1 and B7
MC Blowfish – Vocals on A2 and B2
Piano Man – Piano on A3, A4, B3, B6 and B7; synth on A4, B1, B6 and B7
Shock G – Backing vocals on A1, main vocals on A2, A4, A6, B1, B2, B4, B5 and B7
Rackadelic – Artwork
The Rest –
Bret Davis – Backing vocals on B7
Bulldog – Backing vocals on B7
Chopmaster J – Arrangements and concept, live drums on B3 and drum programming on B7
Computer Women – Vocals on A4, B2 and B7
C.M.J – Vocals on A2, A6 and B7
Danny Myers – Vocals on A2
Earl Cook – Arrangement on A3
Fuse – Backing vocals on A1, turntables
Goldfingers – Turntables
Kenny K – Vocals on A2
Kent Racker – Bass on B1
Liz Racker (Baby Dope) – Backing vocals on B7
Mac Mone – Backing vocals on B7
Maverick – Guest vocals on A4
Money B/ Randy Brooks – Synthesised bass harmonies on A4 and B6; vocals on A1, B1, B2, B4, B5 and B7
Schmoovy Schmoov – Backing vocals on A4
Sleuth – Backing vocals on B7
Tanisha Spencer – Backing vocals on B7
Vinny B – Vocal on A2
Artwork – Victor Hall and Rackadelic (Jacobs)
Cover Story: Greg Jacobs holds the miracle sex pill in his hand, glowing in all its incandescent neon glory, on the shadowy lit cover.
The rest of his crew shuffle around menacingly in the background; acting the ever cool veneered look of being down – though this attitude pose is offset by Jacobs rather fetching Zebra skinned headwear.
Using another alias, Jacobs becomes the doodle scribbling graffiti artist, ‘Rackadelic’, whose Funkadelic-esque/Cheech Wizard caricatures and naked lounging women bedeck both the back and inside covers.
Photographer Victor Hill snaps the D U enjoying the ‘sex packets’ effects, with main man Jacobs filling his boots with a threesome version of the magic bullet pill.
The Funk, the whole Funk, and nothing but the Funk!
Greg Jacobs aka Shock G, the co-founding rap artist, chorographer, producer, musical chameleon, and brain behind Oakland, California’s clown funk miscreants Digital Underground, slipped into a myriad of fatuous and amusing characters for his role as the crown prince of west coast Hip Hop.
Whether he’s assuming the role of the “deep sea gangsta” MC Blowfish, or donning the Groucho bulbous nose disguise of Humpty Hump, or even tingling the late night cocktail lounge bar piano as the Piano Man; Jacobs remains the consummate entertainer, stepping straight off some psychedelic depraved Funkadelic album cover; delivering George Clinton‘s sermon into the Hip Hop age.
Originally from the Tampa Bay coast of Florida, our all-round performer moved out west for a fresh start in the mid 80s – Jacobs went off the rails for a while, ending up serving time for selling dope at one point.
A swift punishing retribution soon pushed Jacobs back on the right track, as he gained his high school diploma and immersed himself with the salvation of music.
Enter stage left Jimi Dright, the son of the well known jazz saxophonist Jimmy. Dright was essentially a drummer and arranger, who’d already recorded a number of records with his old man, before he happened to cross paths with Jacobs in 1987.
The Berkley Californian laidback hippie, of a sort, breezed into the San Leando Music Unlimited store one fine day, where Jacobs was working as a keyboard salesman. A discussion about recording equipment sparked the foundation of Digital Underground, as both men found a common interest in forming a group based on the grand colourful eroticism and psych of George Clinton’s many funk projects.
Jacobs promised to show Dright how to use some keyboard equipment in return for working on some of his rough demos.
This first meeting of minds must have gone off well as Dright soon dropped his surname for the more street savvy ‘Chopmaster J’: the pair began to feverishly record some early 12 inches – which included a very early version of ‘Underwater Rimes’ and the future club hits ‘Doowutchyalike’ and ‘The Humpty Dance’.
They soon realised that they’d hit upon something, as they set to broaden the crew’s ranks with former Tampa radio deejay Kenneth ‘Kenny K’ Waters, and the roommates pairing of David ‘Fuse’ Elliot and Ronald ‘Money B’ Brooks – by 1990 the groups hardcore line-up and peripheral membership had swelled to 20 (see personal list above).
Their larking about and blundering blend of funk and rap drew some favourable criticism, as a couple of 12″ were knocked out on the local scene, with a heavy dose of publicity bombastic radio play.
With the release of De La Soul‘s Sgt.Pepper of Hip Hop game changing debut in early 1988, the D U believed they would soon be scooped up in the frenzy to sign up quirky and new age rap acts. As it happened De La Souls label Tommy Boy came knocking on the Oakland funk mobs front door, though it would take them two years to release their debut long player Sex Packets.
The dance floor “let-it-all-hang-out-tonight” Parliament manifesto party ethos of ‘Doowutchyalike’, and the honk nosed freak gnarling bass of ‘The Humpty Dance’, both saw the light of day in 1989, and both made an immediate impact on the club audience; unfortunately a Richter scale measuring 6.9 earthquake was just about to hit the area that same year, killing 63 people in the process, as the San Andreas Fault decided to flex its muscles.
For the debut LP, Jacobs worked over-time on a suitable extravagant and allegorical apt concept. The result of which trod a fine line between a magical drug, that to all intents and purposes carried with it both scientific reasoning and complete fantasy, and a set of acute observations on the narcotics trade in the real world.
Using another nom-de-plume, Jacobs sets himself up as the, barley disguised, Gregory E Jacobs, a member of the Underground Biochemical Sex-Relations Organization. This body worked in conjunction with a certain Dr. Edward Earl Cook (another thinly veiled D U member) to create an accessible version of his safe-sex pill, nicknamed ‘sex packets’. In the beginning this so-called solution to cheating, disease and all manner of social problems, was conceived as a “genetic suppression relief antidote” for astronauts, whose sexual frustrations could be combated at the swallowing of a pill, their concentration for the task-at-hand (careful!) uncompromised.
Cooks invention inevitably breaks out from its intentional use, and soon makes it onto the streets: packaged in a handy condom mocked wrapper, complete with an image of what to expect, from the realms of sexual every known kink and experience imaginable – you could say the most vivid of wet dreams.
Digital Underground play around with the vividly dreamt-up plot throughout the albums 13-tracks; romanticising, parodying and at times drawing parallels to the drug dependency in their own community.
Oakland like many of the US’s inner cities had to contend with its fair share of the effects of the drugs trade. In the 70s, kingpin drug czar Felix Mitchell flooded the Californian city with cocaine, increasing Oakland’s murder rate to trump that of New York’s in the process.
His legacy created a horrific crack epidemic during the following decade, which obviously made a cultural impact on the city’s music scene.
On the surface, ‘Sex Packets’ can be read as a re-working of the Funkadelic cosmic slop buffoonery, but there is the strong undercurrent of protest; a direct reactionary reading of the devastation caused by crack – though you could say the sex packet pill could also be read as a subtext commentary on the burgeoning cultural adoption of Ecstasy.
That reliance – though obsession seems a more appropriate word – with all things funk, caused some initial problems for the group.
The sheer amount of sampling from the back catalogues of both George Clinton and Bootsy Collins made this LP almost wholly reliant on gaining their permission and clearance for the scattergun spraying of these funk icons work.
Unfortunately a period of wrangling led to the album being shelved during 1989: The fall-out from the ever-increasing sample heavy album 3 Feet High And Rising, led to a change of thinking, with the rights owning labels cottoning on, and now asking for increasingly higher fees for usage and royalties – quite a few groups fell foul of this clamp-down. The only saving grace was that Clinton loved the D U’s sound, going as far as to help them out on their next album: A special thanks is included on the album “…to George Clinton and the entire funk mob for allowing us to borrow the funk”, probably in respect but equalling to fulfil an obligation to the source of their sound.
The albums opening salvo comes from ‘The Humpty Hump’, Digital Underground’s million selling club hit and one of the most influential Hip Hop records of all time. Far from fitting in with the albums main concept, Jacobs gonzo alter-ego and mocking jester masked Humpty Hump persona turns loose over a growling pulsatating bass grooves, ponfonticating a legend-in-his-own-lunchtime brag, whilst vocaling snorkling about his predillications with bravado.
“People say, “Yo, Humpty, you’re funny lookin’,
That’s all right’ cause I get things cookin’.
Ya stare, ya glare, ya constantly try to compare me but ya can’t get near me.
I give’ em more, see, and on the dancefloor, B, all the girls they adore me.
Oh yes ladies, I’m really bein’ sincere,
Cause in a 69 my humpty nose will tickle ya rear.”
Hump, another dreamt up character of the mischivious Jacobs, was the imagined front-man for the doo-wopping carousing Smooth Eddie and the Humpers, who after losing most of his honk in a deep-fryer accident, became a rapper, changing his name from Edward Ellington Humphery III in the process. A slapstick rap from Jacobs over the borrowed drum loop from Sly and the Family Stone’s ‘Sing A Simple Song’, handclap snares from Parliament’s ‘Theme From The Black Hole’, and much speeded-up smatterings of ‘Let’s Play House’ and Clinton’s ‘Atomic Dog’, create an luminous maraudering and bumping grinding classic – the tracks loop remaining one of the most used in the Hip Hop cannon, being ripped and used on over 50 tracks, from Redman to Ice Cube.
This track belittles all in its wake, bomping and grinding across the Hip Hop horizon, infectiously sending listeners into a ritual frenzy.
Following in its wake is the more laid-back jazz of ‘The Way We Swing’, which starts with the opening enquiry:
“Yo man, what’s up with the Underground, man?
You guys old school, new school, R&B or Hip Hop?
What should I tell em?”
In unison the group launch into a more swimmingly vaudeville-esque light rap delivery, as they smoothly sway along to the Jimi Hendrix and his band of gypsy’s languid ‘Who Knows’ jazz rocking meander backing. Jacobs is joined by a cast of backing singers, that include C.M.J, Danny Myers, Vinny B and the southern lock-jaw drawl antics of MC Blowfish – another of Jacobs incarnations.
This marauding jaunt is used as a sound bite proclamation of the D U sound, a bird-finger salute to their detractors and confused critics.
‘Packet Prelude’ plays on the lounge-core piano blues of a late evening smoky club, where Jacobs sits at the grand, resigned and fateful. He gently caresses the ivory, and broodingly tinkles out the main motif of the ‘Sex Packets’ theme; an introduction to the finer details of the main concepts sultry and sulking suite.
‘Sex Packets’ riffs on the prelude, building on a sort of modern rapping bluesy jazz anthem to the wet-dream pill, and a bittersweet symphony detailing the culture surrounding this imaginary sex drug.
Minimal backing and use of sampling, this grand opus relies on cascading synth, piano, and interjections of wailing funk to conjure up an evocative parody to the wonder drug of the moment.
“Sex packets the girl of your dreams,
Just try one it’s not what it seems,
There’s love…..there’s love”.
Jacobs as Shock G, swoons about the pills attributes, and its positive impact. And how you can see get some action, no matter what the situation.
“You whispered in my ear, said “Not tonight”
You just won’t get with me, and you think that you dissed me,
But now I can still be getting busy, with any girl I like,
No more will I ever have to jack it,
Cause instead, I can just take a packet”.
An exchange between the ‘Computer Women’ and Shock livens up the experience, as our protagonist gets carried away in the dreamlike thrill.
There’s also a high-voiced R&B cameo from Maverick, his silky Vandross soulful tones lending some parodied serious lovemaking vocals to the heady mix – now an almost guaranteed addition to most commercial Hip Hop.
“I’m a give ya what you want,
I’m just feelin what you love
And I’m givin til you need,
A second interlude, or segue way, breaks up this soirée with the ‘Street Scene’ skit: we eavesdrop in on a sex packet deal, as the bustling street sounds and mono echoing D U track ‘Danger Zone’ booms in the background.
The excited fiend buyer purchases, “two sisters and a Chinese girl” concoction from the pusher, on this pre-cursor to the next elaborated track, ‘Packet Man’.
Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns ‘Four Play’ brass section heralds the opening refrain of ‘Packet Man’. This further exchange between a pusher and potential customer, to’s and thro’s, as our dealer sells his wares to a sceptical guy in the street.
“(Shock G) Excuse me trooper, will you be needing any packets today?
(C.M.J) Yo B, don’t be pulling on my jacket, ok?
(Shock G) Cool, just trying to get your attention, so you can look at this invention
Now peep these, I got some more in my jacket.
(C.M.J) Man, what are these, condoms?
(Shock G) Uh Uh: Sex packets.
Its like a pill, you can either chew it up,
Or like an alka-seltzer, dissolve it in a cup”.
Some knock-about jive ensues, as Shock explains his merchandises properties and sensations.
“(C.M.J) Well what exactly do I get?
(Shock G) Well read what it says, look at the picture.
(C.M.J) It says Chinese girl, age 17, waist 24, hips 33.
Hmmm, this one here says young black virgin.
Man this is crazy, I’m gonna have to splurge and get me a few of these things”.
We are told there’s even a version for the ladies, and a boastful Shock credits the pill as the safest form of sex on the block.
Flipping over to side two, Donna Summers seductive carousing ‘Love To Love You Baby’ and its bumping grind rhythms, wrap themselves around the “ohhing” and “ahhing” orgasmic funk splurge of ‘Freaks of the Industry’. Peripheral crew member, Kent Racker, plays a gnarling sumptuous bass line, as both Money B and Shock G amuse us with their tales of sexual prowess – imagine if you will, a laidback and comatose 2 Live Crew.
“Getting’ back to my mission, break out the whipped cream and the cherries,
Then I go through all the fly positions,
My head under her leg under my arm under her toe.
She says, “I like it when you scream, baby let yourself go”.
I hit it and split it, lick it and quit it.
After the ride, put my clothes on and walk outside,
And before anybody gets a chance to speak,
I say, “Yo, don’t say nuttin’, I guess I’m just a freak!”
Slipping and sliding over an soulful piano and erotic backing track, our pair of freakified miscreants, try to enact the sophisticated sleaze of Funkadelics ‘Hardcore Jollies’; marrying it to their own brand of spoof and parody.
‘Underwater Rimes’ is quiet a curious proposition, which takes Finding Nemo into a X-rated blaxploitation deep-sea kingdom of filth. A place where ‘French Mermaids’ receive a right royal seeing-to, as a host of aquatic beasts get down to a Hip Hop battle jam.
“Saw your DJ underwater through the window pane.
That sucker tried to hit a mix, but the mix didn’t happen,
Records kept floatin’ all the fish kept laughin’.
A blowfish blew my mind and started to rhyme,
As the octopus cut nine records at a time”.
Reworking Parliaments ‘Aqua Boogie’ and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Chamelon’, the Underground run wild with the Oceanic rule book of apt ghetto puns and jokes – this version of the song on ‘Sex Packets’ is credited as a remix, but is more of an updated variant of the original from two years earlier.
Jacobs once again pops on one of his signature character roles, as he turns back into the underwater poisonous rapping spouting MC Blowfish. With that New Orleans jowl accent and mock delivery, our self-proclaimed “deep-sea gangsta” bangs out some caustic and knock-about bravado, whilst parodying west-coast macho gestured rap artists.
“You wanna play? I’ll hook your line to a stingray.
Get out of here with that boat and a stick,
Get out of line, I’ll call my homey Moby Dick.
I’m not thinkin’ bout dyin’, fool, stop tryin’ to test me,
People fishin’ don’t catch me”.
Ridiculous, mischievous, yet strangely alluring, ‘Underwater Rimes’ once again shows off the group’s goofball theatrics.
A jazz interlude follows in the wake of the sea life misadventure; ‘The New Jazz One’ cuts up the live jam of Chopmaster J’s drums and Jacobs’s piano, like a scratched and slowed down record.
‘Rhymin on the Funk’ follows this minor breakdown of tunes. Using the backing of Parliaments ‘Flashlight’ and the P-Funk Allstars ‘Pumpin-it Up’, the Underground add some extra prowling rumbling bass and synth.
Money B and Shock G ride the rolling beats, waxing lyrical about their new found style; navigating tight turns and bouncing off each others lyrical displays in a show of solidarity to the cause.
There are some nice touches and mixing going on, as the track snakes its over a manipulated roaming funk track for six and a half minutes.
The crew return to a more serious topic on ‘The Danger Zone’, as they paint a destructive street level portrait of the crack problem in Oakland. Bootsy Collins’s ‘Bootzilla’, and, yet another slice of, Parliaments ‘Flashlight’, are used as the foundation for this siren wailing and alarming observation on drug casualties – a direct antidote to the joys of the sex pill, and reality check.
“On the corner, I see cocaine addicts,
Given static and about to go at it.
And then you hear somebody holler,
(Who was it K?) It was dopefiend Carla.
She was waitin on a winner.
That Hoe every night she has crack for dinner.
But everybody’s basin,
Even the suckers who are runnin this nation”.
The crew enacts Oakland’s emergency services; an intercepted message between a cop and the ambulance crew informs us that they’ve come across another dead junkie, the aforementioned “dopefiend Carla”.
A last reprise of the central ‘Sex Packets’ theme slots in-between this warning shot, and the closing ‘blow-all-caution-to-the-wind’ party track ‘Doowutchyalike’.
‘Packet Reprise’ is a instrumental, made up of a shimmering emotive piano motif.
It strikes the last sobering tones of the album before launching into the larger-then-life funk of the ensemble club hit anthem.
‘Doowutchyalike’ mashes together Clinton’s ‘Atomic Dog’, Vanity 6’s ‘Sex Shooter’, Chic’s ‘Good Times’, George McCrae’s ‘I Get Lifted’, and yet even more of ‘Flashlight’, to make a sing-along goofing praise to hanging loose and just not giving a fuck.
In a way this party atmospheric blast is a bookend to ‘The Humpty Dance’. It shares many of the same traits and musical samples, and is another feel-good sex-crazed outlandish slab of fun.
‘Sex Packets’ on its release became an instant success, both critically and in sales terms. Influential to such acts as The Pharcyde and Snoop, their reliance on the back catalogue of George Clinton helped the Funkadelic patriarch take over from James Brown as the most sampled artist – Clinton was so taken with the groups use of his work that he ended up appearing on the their next album.
Unfortunately the D U never quite managed to follow-up the ingenuity of their debut, though they knocked out a further seven albums of funk inspired rap – all worth a punt, but not essential.
The group would soon lose founding member Jimi ‘Chopmaster J’ Dright, after the albums release – a disagreement over the direction of the outfit, led to his departure in 1991. His legacy was to introduce a young Tupac Shakur into the Hip Hop history tomes. Tupac had initially been Dright’s roadie, before his rapping skills impressed enough for him to make a debut on the ‘Same Song’ track in 1991 – this track was taken from the Dan Aykryod and Chevy Chase movie ‘Nothing But Trouble’ tie-in EP, ‘This Is An EP Release’.
Dright would produce Tupac’s very first solo recordings, years later.
Apart from Jacobs, the only member who stayed to the bitter end was Money B.
The group finally called it a day in 2008, with the release of ‘Cuz A D U Party Don’t Stop’; Jacobs wished to pursue new musical horizons and promised to write a book.
The Humpty Dance
Freaks of the Industry
Rhymin’ on the Funk
Check these out –
Digital Underground – ‘Sons of the P’ (Tommy Boy) 1991
Funkdoobiest – ‘Which Doobie U B?’ (Immortal/Epic) 1993
Ice Cube – ‘Amerikkka’s Most Wanted’ (Priority) 1990
The Pharcyde – ‘Bizarre Ride To The Pharcyde’ (Delicious Vinyl) 1992
Snoop Doggy Dogg – ‘Doggystyle’ (Death Row) 1993