Sunday, December 15, 2013

My Top Ten Hip Hop Albums - #8

Digital Underground - Sex Packets

Song TitleTime
The Humpty Dance6:30
The Way We Swing6:48
Hip Hop Doll5:30
Underwater Rimes (remix)4:23
Rhymin' on the Funk6:16
New Jazz (One):37
The Danger Zone5:31
Freaks of the Industry5:38
Gutfest '898:17
Sound of the Underground                              5:06
A Tribute to the Early Days3:06
Packet Prelude:57
Sex Packets7:21
Street Scene:33
Packet Man4:31
Packet (reprise)1:30

     Digital Underground is one of my all-time favorite musical acts, and I hate when people refer to them as a "One Hit Wonder".  Nothing could be further from the truth.
     Digital Underground was formed in the mid-1980s by front man Shock G, and was composed of a members from a multitude of locals, which provided a wide range of styles for the group to pull from.  G was heavily influenced by 1970's P-funk music - so influenced that what he tried to create with Digital Underground was an all-encompassing group with an unlimited amount of members and collaborators, as George Clinton had managed to do with Parliament-Funkadelic.
     Borrowing from Clinton's concept, a number of emcees and musicians contributed different things to different songs - be it lyrics, production, instrumentaion, singing, or otherwise performing.  G would go into the studio and fuse the different bits and pieces into something larger, and then tie it all together.  G would create characters, concepts, and elaborate stroylines that tied everything together.  So, as Clinton had invented characters like Dr. Funkenstein, Star Child, and Sir Nose to fill out his stories of Mothership Connections and Uncle Jam's Army, Shock G created characters like Humpty Hump, MC Blowfish, and concepts like Sex Packets, Gutfest, and more.
     The album can loosely be divided up into two parts - part one is just a collection of crazy hiphop songs about a variety of subjects, while the second part is a concept album that more closely resembles a hiphop/jazz fusion that is closer to P-funk than anything else.  The album is full of songs that feature strong funk samples, with emcees flexing their vocal skills.  Much like Dr. Dre's signature G-funk sound, Shock G speeds up and slows down the old funk samples to smooth it out into another sound. G would mix and match snippets of different samples, and overlay it with something completely new, and thus hide the sample in the instrumentation.  Aside from the rapping, there is a lot of Biz Markie-influenced singing, where vocalists with less than exceptional singing skills blend their voices together smoothly and smartly to create something heartfelt and almost showtoon-ish in nature.
     The "concept album" portion of Sex Packets involves just that - a fictional pharmeceutical product known as a "sex packet".  This pill, invented by the government for astronauts, causes the person taking it to have a psychadelic out-of-body sexual experience.  These pills have now been leaked on the street, and are now a powerful narcotic used by people to live out their sexual fantasies. 
     One thing that the album does suffer from is pacing and arrangement.  Depending on what version of this album you have (The CD, vinyl, and cassette all were different), the song order changes, with some tracks omitted from certain versions.  Rather than firmly dividing the album into two distinct halves, the album was arranged almost haphazardly.  The cassette version is the most complete version of the album, and although the two "sides" are different lengths, this version does the best job dividing the concept portion from the rest.
     If you cannot tell by now, for something to make my Top Ten, it really has to stand out and be unique, or at least the first of its kind.  Digital Underground really is a unique group, and despite the faults with it, this album was unique, and very influential after the fact.  While "The Humpty Dance" is what this album is and always will be known for, there isn't one other song like that on this album.  However, the same can be said with almost any other track on this album too.

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