"We Won't Be Rockin' Bells That Go a-Ding and a-Dong"
The extra-large Oakland, California, crew Digital Underground was hardly the first hip-hop act to sample the music of '70s funk pathfinders Parliament-Funkadelic. But with this near-delirious debut, it became the first to fully update the P-Funk vision for hip-hop heads. The Underground assimilated the teachings of P-Funk—the taunting refrains, the rumbling bass lines, the chaotic onstage antics—into surreal party music. Hip-hop hasn't been the same since.
Meant to be enjoyed more than dissected, Sex Packets begins with "The Humpty Dance," which answers the musical question, "What would P-Funk have sounded like in a rap context?" This seemingly slight bonbon is all elastic grooves and squiggly lines and the horny word-play of leader Gary "Shock G" Jacobs—who appears as Humpty Hump, one of his many alter egos. This dude is the perfect rap buffoon: He looks like a hapless loser in a Groucho Marx getup, but rhymes like a hired assassin, dispensing one-liners like he's getting paid by the dagger. The term "Sex Packets" refers not to condoms, but an imaginary space-age pill that, according to the lyrics, helps induce and accelerate sexual fantasies. Whenever a brother's having trouble with the ladies, a packet is prescribed. As a result, much of what follows "The Humpty Dance" is a hot-and-bothered discussion of getting it on, with detours that allow various Underground members to explain their tactics ("The Way We Swing") or explore witty repartee at a fast-break pace ("Freaks of the Industry"). Countless MCs have yammered at length and in graphic detail about the sex they want and the sex they need. Digital Underground does something else entirely: Casting sex as a blessed event (as opposed to a predatory game), this crew takes the desire that powers the funk, and uses it to power hip-hop that's fresh, frolicsome, and, even after all these years, still a little freaky.
Released: 1990, Tommy Boy
Key Tracks: "The Humpty Dance," "The Way We Swing," "Underwater Rimes" (remix), "Doowutchyalike."
Next Stop: Jungle Brothers: Straight out the Jungle
After That: The Beastie Boys: Licensed to Ill
Book Pages: 224–225