Shock G Describes Early Days of Hip-Hop in Unpublished Essay

Writer Rob Tannenbaum explained that while he was interviewing the late Shock G for a book, the emcee emailed Tannenbaum an unpublished essay.


Image via Getty/Johnny Nunez


Hip-hop was served another blow earlier this week when Shock G passed away at the age of 57.

Artists, musicians, friends, and collaborators took to the internet to mourn the Digital Underground co-founder’s death. On Friday, an unpublished essay of Shock G’s found its way to Twitter. In the tweet, writer Rob Tannenbaum explains that while he was interviewing Shock G for a book, the emcee emailed Tannenbaum the unpublished essay, which he decided to now “‘publish’” online.

In the piece, Shock G describes what it was like to make hip-hop music when the rest of the world was “oblivious” to it, writing that “hip-hop thrived as an underground cult” and “only an elite 1 or 2 percent … were in-the-know.”

He explains what it felt like to be part of this group, which consisted of “artistic outlaws” and “musical aliens.” They had their own language too—something that was only known by “maybe 15 to 20 thousand people total” across New York’s five boroughs, some parts of New Jersey, and “surrounding cities.” According to Shock G, that number included DJ crews and fans, with most of the people being teens, who would “circulate this new sound on cassette tapes in the neighborhoods and schools.”

He names a few of the artists who appeared on these tapes, including Kool Herc, Africa Bambaataa, DJ Hollywood, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five MCs, and more. Shock G writes that the “exclusive subculture” endured for around four years, from 1976 to 1980.

“We all knew we were a part of something that was artistically heavy, unique, intelligent, different, as creatively rich as jazz or classical music, and completely brand new to the universe.” At the end, Shock G describes how Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 record “Rapper’s Delight” changed the world and the course of hip-hop.

Digital Underground is best known for its song “The Humpty Dance,” which was released in 1989. The Bay Area crew would release six albums in total, with their debut Sex Packets arriving in 1990 and their last album, ...Cuz a D.U. Party Don’t Stop! dropping in 2008. Shock G passed away on Thursday. The cause of his death remains unclear.

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