Tupac Shakur: Probably the most famous (an infamous) rapper ever to walk the face of the earth, which in part can be credited to his very public personal issues and ultimately his untimely and controversial death that somehow remains unsolved to this day (but that’s a story for another day). Before Tupac became a household name the group in today’s review is responsible for giving him his big break into the game: Digital Underground.
Digital Underground is a west coast hip-hop collective that begin to sprout in the late eighties, led by Greg “Shock G” Jacobs with a supporting cast that changed its roster more often than a newborn baby’s diaper. They will always be best known for their party vibe, frat party humor, and their big nosed caricature Humpty Hump (more on that later). DU released their debut album Sex Packets in 1990, a concept album based loosely around a fictional pill for him or her to meet their sexual needs. Sex Packets, which fused P-funk samples with live instrumentation, would go one to earn the group a platinum plaque and even earned a spot on a The Source’s top 100 hip-hop albums of all time in 1998.
20 years later let’s see if Sex Packets still stands up. I’m talking about the album…get your minds out the gutter!
The Humpty Dance – If you had any type of pulse in the early nineties you’re already familiar with this song, which is easily the biggest hit in the DU catalog. Shock G plays his big nosed alter ego Humpty Hump and proceeds to drop random boasts from his sexual prowess (I always thought it was funny that the video censored “funk” which apparently the powers that be mistaken for “fuck”) to how sick he is on a microphone, then finally using the third verse to give instruction on how to do the “Humpty Dance”, which if done correctly you’ll look like “MC Hammer on crack”. Shock’s funk instrumental acts as the perfect backdrop for Humpty’s hilariously random rhymes. Nice way to start the show.
The Way We Swing – Over another funk driven instrumental (get use to that, folks) Shock G holds down microphone duties (like he will for the majority of the album, including his alter ego) explaining to America how DU gets down, musically speaking. Shock G manages to sound pretty good, although is verses are repetitive. It was slightly funny to hear him say “America we hope you like are sound, but if you don’t we really don’t give a fuck”. The instrumental was very nice. My only real issue with this song is its length as there is absolutely no reason this should have gone on for nearly 7 minutes. All in all, still an enjoyable listen.
Rhymin’ On The Funk – The title pretty much says it all. Shock G and Money B tag team the mic on this one (which also happens to run over 6 minutes). While Shock G sounds decent on the mic, Money B quickly displays why his mic time on Sex Packets is limited and why his name will never be found on any one’s top ten list (remember Raw Fusion? Stop laughing!) as he at want point proclaims himself as “the poop”. Really? Who calls themselves “shit” unless they’re using the term “shit”? DU used a popular Parliament sample which sounds decent enough. While I gave “Way We Swing” a pass for its excessive length I won’t do the same for this one. DU would later recycle this instrumental and use it on “Arguing On The Funk”, which was included on DU’s EP, amply titled This Is An EP (which is a play on acronyms but more on that at a later date). That version pairs Shock against Humpty discussing funk pioneers and who is and who isn’t worthy of props. That versions in fairly entertaining, plus no Money B.
The New Jazz (One) – Nothing more than a piano interlude. Much to short to have a legitimate opinion on.
Underwater Rimes (Remix) – Sticking with the funk instrumental theme, “Underwater Rimes” pick up were we left off at prior to “The New Jazz”. Shock G rides this smooth track with infinite references to water or objects found in water, and the results are
liquid solid. Shock adds yet another alter ego to his repertoire, introducing the listener to MC Blowfish, who picks up where Shock let off, closing the song on a funny note. I’ve never heard the original, maybe I’ll spend some time looking for it on the World Wide Web. This also marks the first real song on the album that runs under 6 minutes.
Gutfest ’89 – Shock G and Money B share mic duties again (well, kind of) for this
misogynistic song ode to booty. I found it mildly interesting that Shock referred to receiving head as “skull” or “brains”, which might make him the first in hip-hop to refer to oral sex as such. This might be the first song on Sex Packets that falls in line with the album title, but it still does nothing for me. Apparently the cassette release of Sex Packets
has an extended version, in which I will not personally waste any energy seeking out. Next…
The Danger Zone – I don’t think any one’s ever bought a Digital Underground album looking for music with a message, but DU uses “The Danger Zone” to take a stab at it. Shock G speaks on the drug (mainly crack) epidemic that was very much prevalent when Sex Packets was released. Props for the attempt but DU should leave these types of song to PE or BDP, and stick to the humorous joints.
Freaks Of The Industry – Getting back to the album’s overall theme: Shock G and Money B spin tales of their sexapades while proving that they’re the biggest freaks in the biz over a smooth laid back groove accompanied by a funk guitar rift. While I can’t recall any of Money B’s verse, Shock G saves the day providing a very entertaining verse while the Piano man takes us out over some jazzy keys. Overall this was pretty good.
Doowutchalike – The first single off of Sex Packets. I still remember seeing this video for the first time and thinking “who the hell are these guys?” Who’ll ever forget Humpty instructing the ladies to grab a guy they like “in the biscuits”? Shock’s shout out to Vanessa Williams “just to hear her name in his rhyme” was pretty comical too. Nice touch to leave a space at the 3:30 mark of the song for radio station to insert their station identification and even provide a fade out, only to come back in for another 4 and a half minutes, which I can tolerate since this includes my favorite part of the song, as the Piano man (making his second contribution in as many songs) provides a dope medley on the keys. If any one song could accurately depict DU’s personality, “Doowatchalike” is that song. This still works over 20 years later.
Packet Prelude – The “Piano man” provides a pleasant piano piece that segues into…
Sex Packets – The title track. Over a laid back Prince-esque (at least the synthesizer sound used over the refrain) groove, Shock G goes into crooner mode to describe a pill that, depending on your preference, will bring to life a man or woman to fulfil all your sexual needs when your significant other isn’t available or just plain isn’t in the mood. Or as Shock G so eloquently puts its: “biochemically compacted sexual affection” or “your favorite toss-up in a pill”. This still sound nice, and props to DU for the original concept.
Street Scene – Interlude to set up the next song.
Packet Man – Somebody has to distribute the sex packets, right? Shock G plays the dealer trying to solicit Humpty for a few packets, an attempt that ends successful. Kudos to Shock G’s attention to detail as you can visual the interaction between himself and
himself Humpty as he paints it. The storyline and lyrics are dead on but I’ve never cared much for the instrumental used to back this one. The instrumental used on the remix (included on the This Is An EP) works a lot better as the beat captures the essence of the scene Shock is trying to paint.
Packet Reprise – Instrumental version of “Sex Packets”. And with that, Sex Packets
is a wrap.
The cassette version of Sex Packetshas three addition songs ( “Hip-hop Doll”, “Sound Of The Underground” and “A Tribute T0 The Early Days”) as well as an none of which I’ve heard, but might seek out after I finish this blog.
After listening to Sex Packets again after all these years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Shock G who, let’s face it, pretty much IS Digital Underground, is severely underrated. No, Shock isn’t one of the greatest emcees of all time and Sex Packets is not one of the greatest hip-hop albums ever made either. Sex Packets is a solid debut and the majority of the credit should go to one of the most creative minds in hip-hop (yeah, I said it. What??!) While Sex Packets does have a few mishaps, over all it’s a comical- funky-enjoyable listen. In a genre that often takes it self way too serious, albums like Sex Packetsare always a fun treat to revisit.