Digital Underground :: Raw Uncut Docu-Musical
Label: Equity Entertainment
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
After Run-D.M.C. decided to "Walk This Way" and before Jay-Z
gave us all "Reasonable Doubt" comes a period of hip-hop that fans
and historians alike refer to as the "golden era"; roughly speaking
the late 80's and early 90's, give or take a couple years either way.
The dawning consciousness of the world to rap and of rap fans to
what hip-hop was about made for a powerfully intoxicating experience.
The revolutionary fervor of Public Enemy, the in-your-face attitude
of N.W.A., the smooth and loquacious delivery of Big Daddy Kane; even
De La Soul disowned their seemingly hippie roots by declaring
themselves "Dead" and emerging brand new and funkier than ever. And
when you talk about "funky" in the golden era, you can hardly leave
Digital Underground off the list. In stark contrast to the rising popularity of
hardcore reality (gangsta) rap bubbling up from the West coast around
this time, the D.U. crew were a bunch of Oakland hip-hop heads for
whom rapping and making music was about having a good time. If their
music shocked anybody it generally wasn't because of their violent
content, but rather the brazen amounts of libido displayed on their
"Sex Packets" album. With the release of the "Humpty Dance" D.U.
went from being a regional collective to a nationally known rap group
whose tape was boomed out of every car, played at every dance, and
spun at every party and club in the country.
Sadly despite the fact that they sold millions, hit the top of the
charts and became a familiar name even to non-rap fans everywhere, D.U.
is little mentioned today. Even the legions of 2Pac fans have largely
forgotten that his first major break in the business was rapping on
D.U.'s "Same Song" and that he shared the billing with Money B and
Shock G on his landmark hit "I Get Around." Thankfully the Underground
sound is still around, and with their new "Raw Uncut Docu-Musical"
there's a little something for everyone - the new jacks who weren't a
part of their funk renaissance, and the golden era fans who fondly
remember "The Way We Swing" and "Doowhutchyalike." The DVD's main
feature starts squarely in 1989, reminding us that a large plastic
nose (Shock G's alter ego Humpty Hump) made it all possible. The
narrator also correctly notes that it was their fusion of George Clinton's
P-Funk sound and style with new age hip-hop attitude that made their
music fresh and fun yet helped them also maintain a slight attitude
and edge without being forceful or preachy. A KRS-One track rapping
about D.U. friends and family opens the video, and then all the crew
introduce themselves. Interesting fact I learned from this segment -
DJ Fuze actually used to be known as "Davey D" but gave it up because
there was one in New York AND one out in the West (that of
course being the famous DaveyD of radio and WWW acclaim). Initially he wanted to be
DJ Goldfingers, but it didn't sticks, so Fuze he became.
The documentary doesn't spare on the little and historically important
details, a fact hardcore D.U. fans will definitely appreciate. The
narrator even mentions that their debut single "Underwater Rimes"
backed with "Your Life's a Cartoon" was pressed on TNT and sold about
30,000 copies - mostly in California. The version of "Underwater
Rhymes" most fans are familiar with from "Sex Packets" is actually a
remix of that debut track. This success led to Tommy Boy offering a
record deal to Digital Underground. The crew talk about how well
they were received in Europe around this time, and how "Doowhutchyalike"
was a big international hit, landing them with a different promoter
in every country they visited on tour. It's also cool to hear them
note how at every venue, they'd find BDP, P.E. and EPMD tags and
posters, and how grateful they were to be on that same circuit just
following in their footsteps. "Humpty" of course liked Amsterdam best.
Parental advisory here, there is some graphic nudity and language,
but that's all in keeping with their "have fun swing." The strength
of "Doowhutchyalike" landed them a gig touring WITH P.E. in
the United States, which they chose on purpose over touring with
Hammer, even though it would be less money. No love for their fellow
Oakland rapper? Perhaps, but they knew touring with P.E. was not only
an honor but a way to connect with rabidly hardcore hip-hop fans.
It must have worked. Among the first ten rap albums I ever bought
(as opposed to being given as gifts or getting as dubs from friends)
were Digital Underground's "Sex Packets" and P.E.'s "Fear of a Black
Planet." Ahh, those were the days. Shock G also reveals that the
plastic nose was part of a hidden revolutionary message in "Doowhutchyalike,"
where people could live in a world without government, and that the
nose symbolized you could be ugly or beautiful and it didn't matter
as long as you did onto others as you'd want them to do unto you.
As D.U. returned to the states, "Humpty Dance" as a single and "Sex Packets"
as an album were released together, broadening their fan base beyond
the hip-hop core to a wide cross section of ages, races, religions
together to have a good time. In all honesty though, the narrator
tries a little too hard to find some sort of socio-political context
to it. So what? When the song came on, people reveled in Humpty's
carefree attitude and the tremendous booming bass beats, and let go
of their hang-ups to have a good time. It doesn't have to be any more
profound or complex than that. The interesting note is that "Humpty
Dance" was the last song to be recorded for "Sex Packets," as a last
minute replacement for another song that was cut. Of course, that
famous bass beat went on to be sampled by dozens of artists, and fueled
sales of "Sex Packets" into platinum status, making it D.U.'s best
selling album of all time. Live concert footage enhances the story,
and the crew members discuss the "Sex Packets" concept and how they
wanted to actually MAKE a drug people could take that would
have the effect described in the song. It's funny to me because I
remember some very hot debates among my friends in our youth as to whether
or not there were real "sex packets" you could buy, so there's no
question the narrator is right when he says that the idea captured
the hearts and imaginations of millions whether or not the real deal
ever existed. The DVD follows it up with a story of how they'd
recreate the "Packet Man" concept from their album live on stage,
complete with rare footage of 2Pac as the one on playing the role
of a packet fan looking for a hit from Humpty, looking all pimped out in a white fur hat and coat.
Priceless moments like these are worth the cost of admission alone.
The D.U. evolution continues, discussing how they released "Same
Song" as part of the soundtrack for the movie "Nothing But Trouble"
starring (and directed by) Dan Aykroyd, and how D.U. got involved with
the "We're All in the Same Gang" project. At this point more focus
is given to 2Pac's membership in the group, how he got put on "Same
Song" and how D.U. was only insured for 8 people when they went on
tour, so somebody had to stay behind just so 'Pac had a spot to go
on the road - that's how much faith they had in him as a rising star.
It brings a smile to the heart of D.U., Tupac and hip-hop fans alike
to see Shakur clowning around backstage at a show with super soakers.
It's also revealed that even at the young age of 18, Shakur had an
incredibly nihilistic attitude, proclaiming that if he sold a million
records and died by the age of 25 he'd live a full life. Money B
has a good laugh about how Shakur wrote his verse for "I Get Around"
just in case they didn't make it to the studio in time to pen their
own, and how it was so violent and hardcore ("shoot you with my
four-four") that B knew there was no way in hell he was performing it.
B talks about how much fun they had filing the video, and that if
even half of that came through on screen, it would be a huge hit.
Of course it's ultimately a tragic story, nothing that "Me Against
the World" was the last album that D.U. would produce tracks for
Shakur on, and how he was gunned down after signing to Death Row.
They still pay tribute to him in concert though, a fact I can
personally attest to having seen them perform live in Omaha.
The focus switches back to the Underground as D.U. discuss releasing
"Sons of the P" and the success of the single "Kiss You Back." Like
most hits discussed in the "Docu-Musical" this is accompanied by live
in concert footage. Their association with the Luniz is brought up,
not surprisingly with some strong focus put on how much they like
getting high and how they were on the "I Got 5 on It" remix (still a
hip-hop classic today). The documentary doesn't neglect
to mention their fourth and often forgotten 1996 album "Future Rhythm"
and it's single "Oregano Flow," released on Critique Records.
Unfortunately mentioning it is about all they do, quickly skipping
ahead to the fifth album "Who Got the Gravy?" on J Records in 1998,
and the 1999 independent album "Lost Files" compiling D.U. songs
that got cut from their prior releases. More focus is given to the
Money B solo album "Talkin' Dirty After Dark," which I don't
understand given how little focus was given to two much better
Raw Fusion albums by Money B and DJ Fuze that came out before it.
The narrator also discusses a porn project that D.U. produced,
and Mystic's association with D.U. and how she performed with the
group before releasing her own solo album. Concert footage of
her performing "The Life" is also shown. More time is spent
reflecting on Shakur's importance and his loss in the industry, as
well as spotlighting the careers of tangential members of the group.
It's at this point the "Docu-Musical" loses focus and ultimately
at which I lose interest, with no disrespect meant to Eisenchill
or Metaphysical or any of the other D.U. family who hope to be as
big as 2Pac in their own right someday. The footage of D.U.
touring and performing helps keep things together though, as the
D.U. crew continues to be strong on the road and in the hearts
of hip-hop fans whether or not they have new albums in stores.
Everybody from De La Soul to Sir Mix-A-Lot to Tone Loc is caught
chilling on tour with the D.U. crew. More footage of scantily
clad women having their booties felt and dancing on stage with
Digital Underground is shown - so many women at one point in fact
there's really no room for the band on stage. And that's it.
Bonus features include DU Live With Pac, an unplugged "I Get
Around," and a video for the D.U. family group Element entitled
"Hit the Streets." Unfortunately no actual Digital Underground
videos are included, or any funny footage like the Humpty Hump
"Win a Date with Humpty" contest that was held on the music video
show Pump it Up back in the day. On the whole despite a tendency
to at times take itself too seriously and a surprising lack of
depth beyond the main event, D.U.'s "Raw Uncut Docu-Musical"
will be a hit with their fans and does a very good job of
showcasing how important the group has been to the history of hip-hop.
Long live the Underground sound!
Content: 7 of 10
Layout: 7 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: December 7, 2004