TAMPA — Rapper Gregory “Shock G” Jacobs, the frontman for the rap group Digital Underground who first gained fame for the hit single The Humpty Dance and helped take hip-hop mainsteam in the 1990s, has died in the city where he launched his music career. He was 57.
Gregory Edward Jacobs was found dead Thursday night in a motel room at the Vista Inn and Suites on E Bearss Avenue, according to a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office report. The motel sits just off Interstate 275 on the outskirts of Tampa.
A report from TMZ reported that there were no signs of trauma and that Jacobs’ father, Edward Racker, said an autopsy would be performed.
Nzazi Malonga, a longtime friend who served as head of security and helped manage the group, said the rapper-producer was found unresponsive in the motel, according to the Associated Press. Malonga said the performer had struggled with drug addiction for years.
“Thirty-four years ago, almost to the day, we had a wild idea we can be a hip hop band and take on the world,” wrote Digital Underground cofounder James “Chopmaster J” Dright in an Instagram post. “Through it all, the dream became a reality and the reality became a nightmare for some ... Rest In Peace my Brotha Greg Jacobs.”
Jacobs was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but spent much of his childhood in Tampa. His mother worked as a television producer and his father worked as an executive in computer management, according to the New York Times.
After the couple divorced, “I spent my biggest chunk of time in Tampa but I also lived in New York, Philly and California,” he previously told the New York Times. “I have always been into music and played in bands starting when I was 10 or 11.”
It was in New York with his mother that he discovered the burgeoning underground rap scene there. Then he returned to Tampa to live with his father. He attended Chamberlain High School but left school in the early 1980s to begin his music career.
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He formed the Master Blasters, a local group of DJs and MCs. That’s how he ended up as a 16-year-old DJ performing as Gregory Racker at WTMP, according to the Hip Hop Wiki. Jacobs eventually obtained his diploma, taught himself piano and studied music theory at Hillsborough Community College.
Then he moved to Oakland and in 1987 he formed Digital Underground with Dright and Kenneth “Kenny K” Waters, the legendary Tampa DJ who died in 1994.
Jacobs rapped under the aliases of Shock G, Humpty Hump and Piano Man on classic raps like The Humpty Dance, Doowutchyalike and Return of the Crazy One. Rolling Stone magazine called him “hip-hop’s freest spirit.”
He was also a respected producer of 1980s and 90s hip-hop and worked with some of the biggest names in music, such as Prince, Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur and KRS-One.
In addition to his father, the Times report said Jacobs’ survivors include his mother, Shirley Kraft, his sister, Elizabeth Racker, and his brother, Kent Racker.
In response to a records request from the Tampa Bay Times, the Sheriff’s Office provided three almost completely redacted pages of a 28-page death investigation report. The office cited an active investigation for withholding the rest of the report and the heavy redactions.
The report lists Jacobs’ employer as “Digital Underground.”