The Old Testament: Digital Underground-Sex Packets
Let's just get it out the way: "Humpty Dance" is the best party rap record of all-time. I know there's a lot of competitors. Realistically, you could pick any of the Tribe Called Quest singles through Midnight Marauders, or practically anything from The Chronic or Doggystyle. Not to mention, "Bust a Move," "Me Myself and I," and "Funky Cold Medina," among many others. But when push comes to shove, I'm rolling with the man the ladies knew as Humpty, pronounced with an Ump-tee, (and not just because I'm capable of a spot-on Humpty Hump impression capable of turning heads at your local karaoke night).
The first track of 1990's seminal Sex Packets, "The Humpty Dance," has everything you could dream of in a party song. A rumbling head-nodding bass line, witty risque lyrics about "doing girls in burger king bathrooms," admonitions for fat girls to come for tickling purposes. Plus, it came equipped with its very own dance (where you limp to the side like your legs were broken/shaking and twitching like you were smoking/crazy wack funky/so that people will say you look like MC Hammer on crack). And looking like MC Hammer on crack is spectacular in my book. I imagine it looks rather similar to the video for Addams Family Groove.
Often pegged as one-hit wonders for the ever-present ubiquity of "Humpty Dance," Digital Underground has a fairly deep catalogue that seems destined to forever be overshadowed by their biggest hit, (and the fact that they broke 2Pac.) But following the platinum success of Sex Packets, they continued to drop brilliant singles, including the 2Pac featured "Same Song," the George Clinton co-written, "Kiss You Back" and "No Nose Job."
Sex Packets is their most acclaimed album and rightfully so. In addition to "The Humpty Dance" it features three other stone-cold party classics: "Doowhutchyalike" "The Way We Swing," and "Freaks of the Industry." Indeed, the latter song might serve as Digital's mission statement. These guys weren't fucking around. They genuinely were freaky. After Money B left hip-hop, he moved onto doing porn. This probably doesn't come as much of a surprise, considering the album's title is Sex Packets. But sex isn't dealt with in the crass shock-value sensibilities of 2 Live Crew, Digital's songs had a playful Native Tongues vibe to them.
Of course, the Sex Packets mini-suite of the album's final five songs is predictably sex-obsessed, as "sex packets" were the fictional invention of Underground member, Schmoovy Shmoov, who had the idea for a drug that could induce vivid sexual dreams and eventually orgasms. To promote the album, a fake newsletter was circulated to California medical clinics, for which the ‘sex packets’ even got notice in USA Today (the newsletter claimed that NASA was secretly developing them for astronauts, as relief on extended space stints).
The album isn't perfect, running a too-long hour and five minutes. Many of the tracks bear the marks of self-indulgence with bloated bouts of instrumentals slipped in between the verses. The shortest song on the album is 4 and a half minutes. Yet despite DU's nearly proggish tendencies, the album maintains a nice mellow burn throughout, rising at times to give you a nice good laugh, before descending again into a rolling funk groove.
idiosyncrasy of a record that dropped 17 years ago this month, it's striking how far removed it feels from the world of 2007 hip-hop. It's almost inconceivable that a major label will ever again take a chance on an eight-man hip-hop collective that proudly celebrates their weirdness, never trying on hard-core poses, just writing catchy, off-beat songs about sex and psychedelics, (not to mention pertinent advice about the best way to hook-up with your friends in the next room). Jimmy Iovine and Jay-Z aren't exactly the business of inking groups with front-men who masquerading in their alter ego: a big-nosed, glasses-sporting freak named after a nursery rhyme. Slim Shady this wasn't.
Like a Funkadelic of hip-hop, Digital Underground's flair and originality are sorely lacking in a world of hip-hop bereft of a sense of humor. Too many Rick Ross' and Young Jeezy's, not enough Humpty's. After all, the man had a point. He might've beeen funny-looking, but he got things cookin'.
MP3: Digital Underground: "The Humpty Dance" (left-click)
MP3: Digital Underground: "Freaks of the Industry (left-click)
MP3: Digital Underground: "Doowhutchyalike" (left-click)
Bonus: "Humpty Dance" Video