Last Thursday afternoon, according to an initial case summary sent to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay by the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner, hip-hop pioneer and Digital Underground founder Shock G was found unresponsive in a hotel room by an on duty manager at the Vista Inn & Suites near Bearss Avenue and I-275, just 7.6 miles south of the rapper and composer’s home in Lutz. Hillsborough County medics and sheriffs who responded to the 911 call pronounced him dead at 2:20 p.m. The brief and rudimentary intake report is a precursor to an autopsy that will eventually determine the cause of death. The medical examiner anticipates that it may take approximately four months to complete the investigation, but the news immediately sent a wave of grief throughout a rap scene that spent the 80s watching the 57-year-old, whose real name is Gregory Jacobs, change hip-hop and pop music forever.
Remembering Shock G
Wake: Friday, April 30 (5 p.m.-7 p.m.)
Homegoing service: Saturday, May 1 (12 p.m.)
Allen Temple AME Church
2101 Lowe St., Ybor City
As Concept, co-host of “Saturday Night Shutdown” on community radio station WMNF 88.5-FM said over the weekend, Shock G—who’s survived by his dad, Edward Racker, mom Shirley Kraft, stepmom Sonja Racker plus siblings Elizabeth and Kent Racker—was the bridge between P-funk and G-funk. Concept was referring to Shock G’s reverence for the psychedelic vibes of George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, which he later translated into his own trunk-rattling, deeply melodic and ultra-potent production which propelled West Coast classics like Tupac Shakur’s 2Pacalypse Now and Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.
In fact, it was Shock G, a Chamberlain High School dropout, that introduced 2Pac—the first solo rapper to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—to the world. When Digital Underground was mixing its groundbreaking 1990 album Sex Packets, Pac, who was in the studio at the suggestion of his manager and Underground pal Leila Steinberg, looked him in the eye, then worked on a goofy song called “The Case of the Misplaced Mic.”
“He busted something like that and then he busted something that was more political,” Shock G told Rolling Stone in 2017. “I hit Atron [Gregory, of TNT Management, which signed Pac’s group, Strictly Dope] like, ‘He’s good, he’s good.’” 2Pac went on to become the best roadie Digital Underground ever had, one of the group’s most charismatic background dancers and a highlight of the “Same Song” video from the soundtrack for “Nothing But Trouble” before establishing himself as one of the greatest rappers of all time.
And while it was the Brooklyn-born Shock G that opened the door for 2Pac, it was another young G, late Tampa DJ Kenny K, that helped usher the Digital Underground out from inside Shock G’s restless mind and into the real world. Kenny K, a disciple of hip-hop who was younger than Shock G, recognized the Shock G from his time with Master Blasters, a group of DJs and MCs that used to rock to large Sunday crowds at Tampa’s old Riverfront Park. Shock G’s time with the group landed him a slot DJ-ing on the legendary WTMP-FM (1150 on the AM dial), but after moving to California for a while, Shock G soured on hip-hop as his sole musical identity. So he came home and studied musical theory under professor Patricia Trice at Hillsborough Community College.
“I started learning piano, I started learning jazz, blues, all the things that came before hip-hop, backwards,” Shock G—on camera as MC Butterfly, “because I’m butter, and I’m fly”—told local hip-hop historian Michael Lortz in 2011. “Hip-hop funk, disco, R&B, rock, rock and roll, swing, jazz, blues— that's the tree. At the bottom of the tree is blues, then branches spread… [but] it all goes back to blues. So to build a good house, you’ve got to be able to build a good foundation. I felt like it would improve our records.”
Kenny K was a student at HCC while Shock G—who’d already been immersed in groups like the Cold Crush Brothers from the first wave of rap in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s—was learning jazz. Kenny used to roam school with Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid In Full and Afrika Bambaataa in his headphones. But at this point in rap, LL Cool J was already a thing along with groups like Sugarhill Gang, so Shock G was listening to Ray Charles and Thelonious Monk trying to go past sampling music and into making it. But Kenny K recognized Shock G from the Master Blaster days, called him out, handed him his headphones and turned him onto EPMD and other modern rap. Kenny K never forgot his own childhood spent watching Shock G and the Master Blasters and never left Shock G alone.
“Kenny K kept hip-hop on my mind by running up to me every day,” Shock G said, recalling the countless moments Kenny K would spend drumming beats on his desk and introducing him to Tampa’s MC Skoobie-D and the MD Dazzlin Doc-P with whom he’d form a local group called the Four Horsemen.
On Monday, Doc-P spent 30 minutes with CL recalling how Kenny K—a founding member of Digital Underground—ended up creating WMNF’s groundbreaking “Wax Attack” program. Doc-P talked about how Digital Underground was born in a Carrollwood bedroom where he, Shock G, Kenny K and others would listen to records and rhyme while Shock would sketch out his ideas literally in black art books and on tape.
“He was a genius in every sense of the word,” Doc-P, who’d recently shared beats with Shock G, said. “Musically and otherwise.”
Cold Crush Brother’s DJ Charlie Chase told CL that Shock G—who sought Chase out for a hip-hop documentary he was working on at the time of his death—could have easily been a member of his pioneering Bronx hip-hop crew. “He was eclectic, flamboyant, eccentric,” Chase said.
Chase recalled a time when he and Shock G went to see Tyler, the Creator at the Yuengling Center. Beforehand, Shock G stepped past some velvet rope surrounding a piano at a hotel where they were meeting his sister and started to play. Once he started playing, bystanders, including security, stopped what they were doing and ended up giving him a standing ovation.
“He fucking played that thing. I mean this guy with this long afro with the shock of white hair just had the whole room stopped, and I am just watching this guy in admiration thinking, ‘Man, I wish I could play the piano like that,’” Chase said.
And that’s how Shock G was. Once your ears and eyes were open to his talent—be it with “Underwater Rimes,” the Master Blasters, the bass line on “The Humpty Dance” or via any of the other personas be brought to the microphone—you could not forget Gregory Jacobs.
On Monday, Shock G’s best friend Ronald Omar Everett recalled the generosity and deep-feeling side of his “little brother” and told CL that details are still being worked out for a more-or-less public celebration of life in Ybor City this weekend and a separate, more-than-likely private, burial on a family plot in Clearwater. And whether or not Tampa Bay gets to celebrate a career and life that changed music forever in real life at the memorial, Shock G’s compositions and pioneering spirit will always bring joy to dancefloors, inspiration to recording studios and ideas into the bedrooms of young hip-hop fans across the globe.
“That’s what Shock G did, he always brought people together,” Doc-P said.
In the words Shock G illustrated in one of Doc-P’s black art books, “The Underground is everywhere, boyee!”
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