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Ride the D-Flow

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Shock G hit me up at my crib on a Friday afternoon. I assumed he’d be calling from some posh West Coast executive offices. Instead, Shock was at a pay phone in front of Kinko’s in downtown Oakland. The female voices I heard in the background were two Asian women that Shock had picked up the night before and “serviced”. In connection with Digital Underground’s new album “Who Got The Gravy?”, I was his third interview of the day. When we finally hung up over two hours later, I had gained a blunt and honest insight into one of Hip-Hop’s enduring characters. Digital Underground is now under Gary Stromberg’s Jake Records banner. Shock was introduced to Gary via Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur while working on unfinished Tupac tracks with the Luniz for yet another posthumous release. What resulted was an unexpected but fruitful relationship that gave birth to “Who got the Gravy?” The result is a flavorful concoction with hints of KRS One, Truck Turner, Biz Markie and Big Pun thrown into the mix. Shock G initially thought it was a joke when informed that KRS was down to appear on the album. Through the course of recording, he was proud to hear that KRS was a DU fan and considered the group to be influential in Hip Hop’s earlier growth. Longtime DU members Humpty Hump and Money B appear throughout while Money’s onetime Raw Fusion partner DJ Faze has taken a backseat for this effort due to other responsibilities (production of other artist’s tracks and mix show duties on a San Francisco radio station). The ever changing, evolving concept of DU that Shock G espouses introduces us to Esinchil, C Lee, Mystik, John Doe, Styles, Whateva, Black Ty, Rashida, Malia and Gruve for this go round. The album was initially slated to be called “On One” but the title track contained a sample from his homeboy Prince (yes the artist formally know as) that DU couldn’t get clearance for in time for the release. As a result the track “Three Blind Mice” was added and the title of the album changed to the current “Who Got The Gravy?”. Evidence of the original “On One” concept can been seen on the liner notes artwork that DU has continued to employ in the tradition of the classical funk records of the 1970’s. Universally accepted as the “future of the funk”, DU continues to make music with universal appeal. Although based in the Bay Area, Shock recorded in New York City to get what he calls “the compacted New York street sound” on the tracks. He explained the typical West Coast production as loose but funky and wanted to expand on the DU sound. That sound has produced classics such as “The Humpty Dance”, “All Around The World”, “No Nose Job”, “Kiss You Back” and Doowhatchalike”. Shock stressed to me the importance of female DU member Mystik in the future of the group and the current project. He’s madd hyped on his new rapper/ singer/ poetess. Although Digital Underground has been away from the national scene for some time, Shock G has remained deep in the mix. The current Saafir hit “Crawl Before You Ball” is a Shock produced track. Shock is also producing the soundtrack for an upcoming movie called “Funeral” featuring his protegee Mystik’s lyrical skills. Simultaneously, he’s working on an album called “Dopefiend Diner” which has no release date at this time. “Dopefiend Diner” is a continuation on the DU concept of “Sex Packets”. On the subject of drug use, Shock was unapologetic and refreshingly candid. The two Asian women that he had absconded the night before were found at one of the raves that he frequents for the Ecstasy. Shock doesn’t feel the rave sound but claims that they have the best drugs. Shock expanded the conversation to include the fact that “The Body Hat Syndrome” album was recorded on acid. At the time, all of members of Digital Underground were into yellow Meth that they called Giggle Drops and used throughout the studio sessions. He pointed out that the laughter that can be heard all over the album is a direct result of the Giggle Drops. Although they are proud of the album, they look back on the experience today as being somewhat surreal. Shock lives what he calls a simple life in Sacramento. He has made stops along the way in Florida, Brooklyn and Los Angeles where he attended college. He never travels with bodyguards and has never owned a pager or a cell phone. He said that he prefers to live by the Taoist code of simplicity. Shock is definitely his own man. One thing that he is is a Hip-Hop scholar. It was apparent throughout our conversation that Shock G has a true love and understanding of the culture that is severely lacking in today’s climate. Influences and favorite artists include EPMD, Rakim, Grand Master Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore, Lovebug Starski and DJ Charlie Chase. The sheer mention of all of these pioneers that many rappers aren’t even aware of convey the depths of Shock G’s commitment to Hip-Hop. Of course no one is held in higher regard to DU than the father of the funk; George Clinton, the patron saint of the groove. Shock shared his respect and love for the P-Funk patriarch as a result of his similar down to earth style. The arena that DU has stepped back into, the current state of Hip- Hop is one that Shock parallels to the period of jazz from which Charlie Parker emerged. Shock G feels that Hip-Hop is growing and expanding musically because it has to but sorely misses the showmanship that he says differentiates Digital Underground from other groups. When I questioned him on what other performers had impressive stage presence or would hype him personally, Shock refereed to a June, 1998 Kraftwerk concert in NYC. Shock’s reverence for excitement for Kraftwerk oozed through the phone. He said that he felt honored to be present for their first US appearance in fifteen years. Shock said that when the old white dudes that are Kraftwerk burst into their classic “Trans Europe Express” that the multicultural crowd, himself included went into an incredible frenzy. The vibe in the house that night is one that Digital Underground would like to bottle and unleash on an unsuspecting public. A national tour to promote the new album and display DU’s live performance skills is set for late 1998 and early 1999. With an aggressive tour plan and what Shock describes as “futuristic funk flavored videos”, Shock G and Digital Underground seem well prepared to reacquaint themselves with fans of old and win over converts from an increasingly fickle new generation of Hip- Hop fans.