CLASSIC ALBUMS features ROCK THE BELLS writers getting together to discuss some of the greatest albums in Hip-Hop history. A track-by-track breakdown of the essentials; what we like, what we don't. We explore Hip-Hop's canon without pretension or prejudice.
DJ/producer Shock G formed Digital Underground in 1987 with Chopmaster J and Kenny-K; injecting the Bay Area-based rap group's music with a heavy dose of George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic sound and anything-goes ethos.
After landing a deal with Tommy Boy, the crew (which now included instrumentalist Piano Man, DJ Fuze, rappers Schmoovy Schmoov and Money B and a growing collective of rappers and musicians) scored a rap hit with the infectious "Doowutchyalike."
The debut album from D.U. would become a landmark release of the early 1990s; further establishing the growing popularity of West Coast Hip-Hop. With its combination of samples and live instrumentation, all highlighting the group's jazz and funk affectations, Sex Packets established the sonic hallmarks of producer Shock G, and after the smash single "The Humpty Dance," turned Digital Underground, Shock G and Humpty Hump into superstars.
We look back at the ultra funky debut album from Digital Underground.
"The Humpty Dance"
Angie C: This was the first rap song I learned all the words to. It's just a hilarious and funky tune, Humpty Hump is one of the great rap alter egos of all time!
Stereo: He might be the greatest rap alter ego -- and this song still has the best Burger King shout-out in the history of music. Also: do people recognize that Jay's opening from "P.S.A." is a nod to this?
"Way We Swing"
Stereo: The musical richness of Shock G's production is evident all over this record, and a lot of casual fans might've missed it because of how big "Humpty Dance" was. Humpty gets you in the door, but the George Clinton jones keeps you here.
Angie C: This is such a loose track, and a great way to introduce the group; they make it clear you might find it hard to define them. They let the groove lay out and the scratching is so unique.
"Rhymin' On the Funk"
Angie C: Money B is the underrated guy in D.U. Always has been. But he's the regular guy with a naughty sense of humor that complements Shock (and Humpty) so well. I see him almost as the Phife Dawg of Digital Underground.
Stereo: It's worth noting that Shock was knee-deep in P-Funk before G-Funk was really fully formed. He was already in that place.
"The New Jazz (One)"
Stereo: Such a dope example of the musicality in Digital Underground. They let Piano Man do his thing and show again they're an actual band.
Angie C: They're such a unique group within Hip-Hop, then and now. A rap group, a musical collective, a band -- all of the above.
"Underwater Rimes (Remix)"
Angie C: As a kid I could rap every words of this! "I tried to mix a cut from a TV blooper/Got pulled by a deep sea state trooper/Told me that I didn't have the right to bite/I said, "Your wife looks just like a fat blue grouper."
Stereo: The original version of this was the first song Digital Underground released and it's how they landed their record deal. You can hear how great Shock's production is and the goofiness is charming. It's a close second to De La's "Tread Water" in Stereo's "Favorite Rap Songs About Anthropomorphic Sea Dwellers."
Angie C: "Crazy guts! Crazy guts!" It's a hook that shouldn't work but it clearly does. Problematic spots notwithstanding; I actually love most of the horndoginess on the album overall. This was the nastiest shit ever to me at age 10.
Stereo: My favorite lyric is "Girls with lots of back fat." And it's funny how Shock gets to hint at his music nerdery on the intro; name-dropping everybody from Chick Correa to The Clash to Herbie Hancock.
Stereo: A heavier anti-drug song that's more cautionary than empathetic. But damn, this is a rider. They flip Steve Miller and Parliament, and turn it into some serious West Coast groove shit. And it's one of the darker tracks here.
Angie C: "But everybody's basin/Even the suckers who are runnin this nation
YES, I'm pullin no punches/The government gets drugs in bunches/Shock G get the nine/But don't shoot until I finish my rhyme." Dope fiend Carla. Every night, she has crack for dinner.
"Freaks Of The Industry"
Stereo: Dolemite sample? Check. Chopped Donna Summer flip? Yep. Another good example of that playfully raunchy, quasi-P Funk thing that Shock does so well.
Angie C: Money B is the star of this track for me! This was the filthiest album I'd heard up to that point and this track scarred me for life. Shock G went full X-rated on this one.
Angie C: It's one of the best party tracks ever. Throw this on at your wedding reception, bar mitzvah, whatever-- watch how people go nuts. It's such an infectious song.
Stereo: Mega-classic track. And I can never hear it and not want to be at a pool party.
Angie C: Another showcase for the Piano Man!
Stereo: Yeah and it gives a cool, smokey, jazz club feel to the middle of the album. And sets up the "Packet" section of the album nicely.
Angie C: The groove is sooooo groovy. Shock knew his way around a Parliament sample, my goodness! And "She's Always In My Hair" is in there! Such a great track. I don't really know why this wasn't a single.
Stereo: "Sex Packets/a dollar or two/Just tell me/How many for you? This time..." It's maybe the most underrated song here, which is crazy considering its the title track.
Stereo: It really is one of Hip-Hop's greatest concept albums. And the concept is outlandishly perfect. It all holds together well.
Angie C: Absolute. It has to be on the short list of great rap concept albums. It tends to get overshadowed by other legendary albums from that period like 3 Feet High... and Paul's Boutique, but it's just as brilliant a record.
Stereo: It's a fun song and a dope semi-closer. There's a lot about this record that's could be considered cringy, but I grew up loving it, honestly. The beat wouldn't sound out of place on a Death Row record.
Angie C: I see what you did there. It's definitely got some moments that make you side-eye. Infectious as hell, though, and another example of how dope Shock's ear has always been.
Stereo: The groove so good, you get a reprise.
Angie C: Is it necessary? Who knows/ Who cares? It closes things up neatly and that beat is so good, who can complain?
Label: Tommy Boy Records/Warner Bros
Producer: Shock G, Chopmaster J, Digital Underground, Raw Fusion