The Head of Humpty Hump
After the Digital Underground leader died last week, a forgotten set piece has become cause for conversation.
On Thursday April 22, Digital Underground frontman and East Bay rap legend Shock G was found dead in a hotel in Tampa, Florida at 57 years old. The tragedy has shook Bay Area hip hop heads and historians alike. But one, physical symbol of his legacy still stands: a massive, over 10-foot tall model of his head, nestled away in an apartment parking garage in the Jingletown neighborhood of Oakland.
The head, fashioned in the style of Shock G’s nerdy alter-ego Humpty Hump, is a set piece from the music video “The Return of the Crazy One.” In the video, Humpty Hump emerges from the head through two doors in the nose, descending in grandeur into a bumping house party. Since then-student journalist Aaron Mendelson documented the head’s existence in 2012, it has become a relic of Bay Area history in its own right. With Shock G’s passing, interest in the statue has surged, as hundreds of Shock G fans discuss its whereabouts on social media. In the words of the East Bay Yesterday podcast on Twitter, “the huge Humpty Hump statue must be protected at all costs!”
For those familiar with the trajectory of Bay Area Hip Hop, the outpouring of love for Shock G and an obscure set piece made in his likeness should come as no surprise. The artist once described the Digital Underground to the New York Times as picking up “where Parliament left off,” in reference to George Clinton’s famed funk band — and he was right. Their sound became iconic of the transition from 80s funk to 90s Hip Hop, mixing groovy guitar riffs and the occasional horn with the sharp tapping of a high hat and simple, often one-or-two-note bass lines.
The group was also willing to be weird — dorky, even — at a time when their peers in the industry were focused on looking suave. When portraying Humpty Hump, Shock G wore thick-framed black glasses attached to a bulbous prosthetic nose. “One, two, buckle my shoe, Scooby-Doo, Humpty what you gonna do?” raps a crowd at the beginning of “Return of the Crazy One.” “If I was to pick a booger, it’d be a big, fat, gooey, gold-plated loogie,” he tells them a few lyrics later.
Most of all, the Digital Underground is known for introducing the world to Tupac Shakur. Shakur’s breakout record was Digital Underground’s “Same Song,” released in 1990. By 1993, Digital Underground members were featured on Shakur’s songs, rather than the other way around.
“I wasn’t expressly a Shock G fan, but I knew the Humpty Dance song when I moved in,” says Mike Taft, who manages the Oakland apartment building where the statue of Shock G rests. “Now, I’ve become inextricably linked to him because of this,” he says, laughing.
Nowadays the head is in need of a deep cleaning. It’s been in this garage since at least 2003, when the current owner, Francis Rush, bought the building (Shock G told Mendelson in 2012 the head first arrived at the building when it was a self-storage facility). A thick layer of shaggy fur lining the head’s collar is full of soot, while a thick layer of dirt from decades of car exhaust fumes casts the front of it’s fiberglass face in gray.
Structurally, however, the head is still strong. The lips and chin, protruding so as to be a series of steps to walk down after emerging through the nose, can still safely hold a person’s body weight, according to Taft. It’s wooden base and wheels still function — Taft knows because he had to roll the statue across his garage a few months ago. The foam interior, even, is still holding shape. Given the head breaks down into three separate pieces, Taft thinks it would be easy enough for someone to transport the head to a new location with just a few extra sets of hands.
Whether the head will ever leave this garage, however, is still a question. People have expressed interest in the head for decades, though nothing has ever come of it. One Twitter user, going by the name “Ill Raccoon,” says they once tried to buy the head and had some back and forth with a man calling himself “Johnny Payphone,” until “Mr. Payphone became unreachable.” Others have asked if they could turn the head into a “shrine.”
Taft is interested in the idea of a new caretaker acquiring the statue, though he and Rush are careful stewards. If fans are interested in buying it, he says Rush will likely “entertain” an offer. But giving the head to a museum, he says, is much more preferable. The Oakland Museum of California has expressed interest, tweeting that they’re “looking into” possibly acquiring it. Taft says they began emailing Friday, but discussions are still preliminary. Lindsay Wright, Associate Director of Communications at the Oakland Museum of California, said the museum didn’t have information to share at this time.
In the meantime, however, the statue will be staying put where it’s rested for the last two decades. “Maybe 10 to 15 years ago, in that time frame, we were trying to get someone to take it, but then we stopped trying,” says Taft. “Now, we kind of love it. It’s like a building mascot — a little bit of Oakland history in our garage, occupying garage spots 14 and 15.”
SF Weekly Link: https://www.sfweekly.com/culture/the-head-of-humpty-hump/