I was 12 years old when I was watching Yo Mtv Raps and saw a video of a song the likes of which I hadn't heard before. There was no "cool" guys running around with Cross Colors, Starter Jackets, or any of that. It was was a guy what looked like a grampa's sports coat, furry hat, and what would become the world famous BIG nose on the glasses. I was on the hunt for the Digital Underground.
I lived in a town so small that the idea of the Benjamin Franklin Dime Store selling any cassettes, let alone hip-hop, was just plain stupid. I would either tape videos to watch over and over or sit and wait for songs on the radio to add to my "mixtapes". The latter was best done on Sunday during Casey Kasem's Top 40. To my surprise, The Humpty Dance was on there and climbed all the way to #11. But like most groups I discovered, I had to find a way to get my hands on the album, and before long I did.
I loved the fun loving Humpty Dance, but the rest DU's first album was even better... and probably way too mature for me to be listening to. Underwater Rhymes was fun trip of fantasy and The Way We Swing was as infectious as any song I had ever heard. I still play that thing on a regular basis. This was my first exposure to hip hop following the heavy influence of funk music. When I got older, I learned that DU was the Parliament Funkadelic of Hip HOP. At 12, it was just a groove that attracted me.
Again, I was old enough to connect who I was to why I might attracted to this group. But if you look at groups style, the album covers and the freedom of the music, you can see why an artist might be into this. Shock G, the leader of the group really put together an artistic package. He drew the cartoony album covers for a few albums. I became addicted to Humpty. I drew him over and over and on everything. I connected about 4 sheets of paper and drew a giant one and stuck in my 7th grade locker. I took fabric markers and made a t-shirt. He became my mascot for the music I loved and who I think I was at the time. An artistic music lover that wasn't afraid to act like a clown.
I will say this though. The first person to try and tell me that Shock G was Humpty was in for a few hours of argument. I was not having it. It was fooled from top to bottom. When people ask how no one knows that Clark Kent is Superman when there is only a pair of glasses to distinguish the two. Well, at 12 I couldn't answer because all it took was a pair of glasses and big brown plastic nose to fool me. It actually took me years to accept it.
DU was also a group that understood what putting on a live shown meant. They created music and preformed it on tour for years, long past their hay day in the charts. Unlike most hip hop groups today that either rap over a back track laced with the vocals, or take the stage with 4 hype men so the artist you're there to see says about 4 total words.
For kids today that remember the "thug" Tupac and the hardcore image he put on (which has sadly spawned a whole generation of copy cats) you might be surprised to know that he started as a dancer and mc with DU. The Way We Swing was the first time the world was exposed the Tupac. (This is a side note, but isn't telling how full of shit everyone when Tupac who was the poster boy for "Thug Life" didn't have a criminal record until he was rich and famous. Clowns!)
So, Digital Underground, another group from the late 80's & early 90's that changed my life forever.
Next week I'll focus on some newer artists that I've grown to love.