"Pac discovered us, man, we didn’t discover his ass. No way."
Tupac Shakur and Gregory Jacobs (known to the world as Digital Underground frontman Shock G) held an invaluable place in each other's lives. Shakur was the fiery son of Black Panthers who would begin his career with Digital Underground en route to becoming a cultural icon; Shock G was the George Clinton-worshipping musical genius who would help launch Pac into orbit while establishing his own legacy as an artist and producer. “It’s a lucky thing in the other direction," Shock G would explain to Rolling Stone in 2017. On the surface, their brotherhood may have seemed unlikely, but their connection was a catalyst for both men's creativity.
Shock G was putting the finishing touches on Digital Underground's platinum-selling debut when he got wind of this rapper out of Marin County, California. Shakur was an ambitious 19-year old who'd recorded a demo that was being shopped around by promoter Leila Steinberg and wound up in the hands of music manager Atron Gregory, who passed it on to Digital Underground's Shock G.
Shock was impressed with Shakur, but didn't know what to do with him initially. Digital Underground had just come back from a European tour to find their single "The Humpty Dance" was a smash hit. They were set to hit the road now in a much bigger way, on a tour with Big Daddy Kane. Shock saw an opportunity. But 2Pac was getting restless.
"[Atron] said, if we don’t do something, we’re going to lose him," Shock recalled. "But I would hate to ask Pac [to be our roadie]. I didn’t want to insult him and ask him to do the Humpty Dance and carry gear. Ten minutes later my phone rang and it was Tupac. 'Yeah, yeah, I’ll do that shit. I might be dead the time y’all get back.' And from that point on he was always there."
2Pac, as he was now going by officially, latched onto Shock G and Digital Underground and maximized the opportunity. His own family life had mostly deteriorated, living with his sister in Marin County as his mother descended into addiction. He'd considered joining the New Afrikan party in Atlanta before going on the road, but being out there with D.U. breathed life into the aspiring rapper.
It was Shock G and Digital Underground who gave Pac his first moment on a hit record (1991's "Same Song") and Shock guided 2Pac's debut album 2Pacalypse Now. As his star rose, Tupac Shakur would have no shortage of famous friendships. Many of those bonds would turn sour, but his kinship with Shock G remained a constant. In the early days, after the fame and when things descended into darkness towards the end of 2Pac's all-too-short life, Shock G was there.
“He was on TNT Records [with us] for four years," Shock told Rolling Stone. "He was with Death Row for nine months. So do the math. He did five tours with us, including Japan. Over those three or four years that he was around us, we did a lot of touring and a lot of living together on the tour bus and that’s how we know the man.”
From Day One, Tupac Shakur knew what kind of rapper he was going to be, and Shock G made sure that Pac's voice was allowed room to thrive. After the release of 2Pacalypse Now, and the success of 2Pac's first major film Juice, the rapper's early persona was established: righteously enraged, calling out the hypocrisies of an American system that had left his generation behind.
But he became more than a poster child; 2Pac became a lightening rod.
"I started out saying I was down for the young black male, you know, and that was gonna be my thang," Tupac told L.A. Times writer Chuck Philips in 1993. "I just wanted to rap about things that affected young black males. When I said that, I didn't know that I was gonna tie myself down to just take all the blunts and hits for all the young black males, to be the media's kicking post for young black males. I just figured since I lived that life I could do that, I could rap about that."
On Pac's second album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., his focus became clearer; his capacity to straddle the line between social commentary, gangsterism and lighthearted skirt-chasing comes into full view. And Shock G gets to pal around with his old friend on the single "I Get Around." The song became 2Pac's first major hit in the summer of '93. Shock G would later view it as a turning point before things got heavy for Shakur.
"It was a nice ride in there [on 'I Get Around'], and I think I wasn’t too cocky or not confident enough," Shock explained to Alice Price Styles in 2014. "But to play no volume, my voice was low and you had to strain to hear it when you listened. Tupac’s verse: 'Fingertips on her hips as I get a tight grip/ I love the way she lick her lips/ See me watching…' I like the chasing the chick all around the tennis court, because you don’t see Pac clown like that. Especially from that point on…life got him."
Shock G (aka Gregory Jacobs; Humpty Hump), Tupac Shakur and Rap Group Digital Underground performs at Newark Symphony Hall on April 10, 1990 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives)
Humpty Hump and 2Pac of Digital Underground performs their hit song, 'Sex Packets' at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana in July 1990. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)
1994 would see 2Pac's life thrust into a seemingly-endless list of controversies.
He was facing charges in Atlanta for an October 1993 shooting involving two off-duty Atlanta police officers; in early 1994, he was found guilty of assaulting movie director Allen Hughes; and most damningly, he was set to face charges that he'd sexually assaulted a woman in a New York City hotel room in November 1993.
In the fall of 1994, as he was set to face trial for the sexual assault accusations, Tupac Shakur was shot in Quad City recording studios in Manhattan. "Life got him" is a polite way to acknowledge that his life was spiraling out of control.
But even as 2Pac had morphed into Hip-Hop's most notorious superstar, even with the rapper racking up charges as quickly as he was amassing platinum plaques, Shock G was still there. Pac appeared on the 1994 Digital Underground track "What's Up Wit Da Love," as both men rapped about consciousness and community. And when Pac went on trial, Shock G was in court to hear his friend address the judge just before he was sentenced to prison.
"Pac stood up -- and this [was] the first thing you heard him say in like two weeks of court," Shock G would tell MTV years later.
"'You know, your honor, throughout this entire court case, you haven't looked me or my attorney in the eye once. It's obvious that you're not here in search of justice. So therefore, there's no point in me asking for a lighter sentence. I don't care what you do, because you're not respecting us. This is not a court of law, as far as I'm concerned. No justice is being served here. And you still can't look me in the eye. So I say, do what you want to do. Give me whatever time you want. Because i'm not in your hands - I'm in God's hands.' Brave brother, man..."
2Pac's bravery, and his commitment to the young Black male helped keep Shock G connected to that side of his own personality and mission. A major part of Digital Underground's ethos was the power of the collective; and conversely, Digital Underground and Shock G kept 2Pac bonded to something that hadn't become tainted by violence and money. 2Pac's sense of humor, his sense of brotherhood, seemed to be best embodied by his relationship with Shock G and Digital Underground.
But as 2Pac's notoriety reached peak levels in the mid-1990s, Shock G admitted that those around him didn't understand why he was so close to someone so volatile. His mother questioned his friendship with the infamous 2Pac.
"But, then she used to say 'is he crazy? Is your friend crazy? I don’t want you hanging out with him anymore Gregory!'" Shock shared in 2014. "This was in ’94, when he was out and away from Digital Underground. I remember I was getting married and told my mother and father about it, and she said 'Is your friend going to be there?' So I was like 'who? Tupac? I hope so. He’s very busy, but I invited him.' She said 'Are you going to have a metal detector there?' I was like 'Ma, he’s not like that around us.'"
Around Shock G, 2Pac seemed to be more free, more himself, than he was ever allowed to be in the midst of an industry that he felt had betrayed him. In a sea of snakes, his relationship with Shock G was something pure. Tupac Shakur would be gunned down in September 1996, and Hip-Hop fans lost Shock G earlier this year. These two men are forever linked, and it's powerful to remember just how much they meant to each other. Even Shock G's mom eventually came around.
"So Pac turned up [at Shock G's wedding] and surprised us, he didn’t give me a heads up he was coming," Shock shared. "He showed up with about eleven or twelve cats and my family members just loved him. My mother came to me afterward and said 'He’s a beautiful man, Gregory. I see what you mean, he’s decent.'"
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*HEADER CREDIT: Humpty Hump and 2Pac of Digital Underground performs their hit song, 'Sex Packets' at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana in July 1990. (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)