“So what are you guys? Old school, new school, R&B or hip-hop,” asked a fan at the beginning of Digital Underground’s “The Way We Swing”, some 15 years ago, and to no surprise, with Shock G (Digital Underground)’s latest release, Fear of A Mixed Planet , heads will probably still be asking that same question.
It’s amazing to see how the paradigms have shifted since that golden era when Shock G and alter ego, Humpty Hump were ruling the charts with classic party jams such as “The Humpty Hump”, “Doowutchalike”, and “Kiss You Back”. But despite the fact that Digital Underground is best known for the huge crossover success of Edward G. Humphrey III’s theme song, there was much more to D.U. than there might have seemed at surface value. Digital was truly ahead of its time, stepping outside the boundaries of hip-hop music of the time, besides wearing wacky accessories before Kool Keith and Andre 3000.
In its seven album catalog, Digital Underground were the kings of the concept album, from 1990′s “Sex Packets” all the way up to 1998′s “Who Got The Gravy”, with each album suggesting some creative, well thought, and far out idea, complete with blueprints drawn out by Shock himself. Digital Underground was also the first group to embrace the “crew” concept – signing different members of the overall larger crew to different labels – way before it occurred to Hieroglyphics or The Wu-Tang Clan. Not to mention another oft overlooked fact, Digital Underground was responsible for introducing some rapper named Tupac Shakur, a hungry, misplaced Oakland emcee, without a “Thug Life” tattoo on his stomach.
But now in 2004, with hip-hop’s rapidly changing sounds, styles, voices, and faces, people have almost forgotten about Digital Underground and their contributions to hip-hop, however Shock G is still doing it. While the name of the act has changed (from D.U. to simply Shock G), the sound remains the same. Fear of A Mixed Planet is a Digital Underground album, whether Shock will admit it or not, complete with way out concept, and fully drawn and colored cover art by Rackadelic, in the flesh.
A post-ecstasy pill popping Shock G wants nothing more than peace on earth, racial unity, free love, and toilet humor. On the opener, “Keep It Beautiful”, Shock prides himself being the only rapper left with a smile on his face and ponders the rap world’s current fascination with his fallen friend. “His special gift was his love side / so many want to be Pac but only copped the thug side / How come ya’ll don’t want to be Shock, I survived?” spits Shock over the funky blues backdrop. Shock uses much of the album to ask himself rhetorical questions regarding race, politics, and everything in between, such as on “We’re All Killaz”, where he and Humpty Hump go back and forth with important issues like “Why can’t the person who brought the water take my order?!?!”, with a “Lookout Weekend” inspired hook (which surprisingly works).
His racial diatribes extend throughout much of the middle of the LP, beginning on “Who’s Clean”, driven by a chopped, funky Shock concoction. Here, he metaphorically examines the dating habits of fish (“I was rude to her / I didn’t accept her dad because he was half baracuda”), and the dilemmas of living in the company of mixed parental figures (“Daddy from the burbs / Mommy from the hood / growing up I wasn’t sure if I should speak well or dance good / First name Shock, last name Jacobs / Means I love chicken, but prefer to take it with a bagel”). “Fear Of A Mixed Planet” is another study of race relations, where Shock suggests that Americans are trained to find partners that look exactly like them, as he humorously points out “You look more like your lover than your mother”. His agenda comes full circle on “Gotchoo”, where he explains his reasons for wanting to date outside his race, despite those around him chastising him for it.
Shock’s musical talent comes through on this LP, just as it has on virtually all of his albums, freaking the keyboard to hilt. Whether simply replaying EPMD’s “You’re a Customer” for Digital Underground to rock over, or exploring the studio space on instrumentally dominated tracks such as “Cinnamon Waves”, his self-production is vastly overlooked and underrated. His lyrical creativity is also is good form, such as the vastly entertaining “Rime In The Mochanut”, where he hilariously tip-toes around using dirty words, or “Baby You Okay?”, where he vividly relives a drug trip over a vintage Digital Underground beat (think: “Freaks Of The Industry”).
As much as Shock has accomplished with this LP, his concepts are stranger than ever, and may be a little harder for audiences to grasp than say, the idea of taking a “sex packet” to live out your sexual fantasies, hands free. Another issue with the LP is that despite this is not a “Digital Underground” release, it does feature way too many guests. Unfortunately, these new emcees have a tough time following in the footsteps of former D.U. greats, such as 2Pac, Saafir, Money B, and the multi-faceted Shock G himself. And at 17 tracks in length, this would have been a much better album if the fat was trimmed – like for instance “Let’s Go” and “Sunshine Rime” use the same damn beat. 10 to 12 tracks would have been fine. But despite the fact that Shock’s classics are behind him, Fear Of A Mixed Planet will still please longtime fans of his work, even if in small doses.
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