TAMPA — On a Wednesday evening in February, two Tampa police officers responded to a disturbance call at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk hotel.
They learned that a man under the influence of drugs and alcohol got into an argument with his girlfriend and other hotel guests, according to a police report. The man threw water on some guests, stripped down to his boxers and walked away from the hotel. Officers found him several blocks away and took him into protective custody.
The man was Gregory Edward Jacobs, also known as Shock G, an internationally-known hip hop artist and producer who founded the group Digital Underground. Jacobs was found dead in another Tampa hotel last week at the age of 57, sparking an outpouring of grief and love across the world and in Tampa, where his career began and where his funeral will take place Saturday.
A cause of death has not been announced and an autopsy is planned. Nzazi Malonga, a longtime friend who served as head of security and helped manage the group, said after Jacobs’ death was announced that the rapper struggled with drug addiction for years, according to the Associated Press. Malonga said Jacobs had lived with him in the Los Angeles area for several years to get sober in the early 2000s, but had relapsed and been recently living with family in Florida.
Tampa police records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times about the incident at the Sheraton, as well as another call last month that almost resulted in Jacobs’ arrest, shed some light on the apparent struggles the artist faced in the months and weeks before his death. The records show both incidents stemmed from his use of methamphetamine, a powerful and highly-addictive stimulant.
The incident at the Sheraton, a hotel on Ashley Drive in the heart of downtown, happened on Feb. 17. A woman described in a police report as Jacobs’ girlfriend told police that he had used meth that day, “became irate and took off his clothes and began running through the streets.” Others said Jacobs was throwing water on people.
The girlfriend, whose name is redacted from the report, said officers might find Jacobs at the Hub, a bar on Franklin Street about a half mile away.
Officers found him near the Hub, still clad only in his boxer shorts and “stumbling in the streets, in front of cars.” Jacobs told the officers he was drunk, the report states.
“I believed that without treatment, Gregory would get himself hurt,” an officer wrote in the report. “He was unable to determine for himself if medical treatment was necessary.”
Police took Jacobs into custody under the Marchman Act, a state law that allows law enforcement to take a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol into protective custody to undergo substance abuse evaluation and treatment. Officers drove Jacobs to St. Joseph’s Hospital.
The address listed for Jacobs in the report is the Sheraton. Two voicemail messages left for a hotel representative this week were not returned.
About five weeks later, on March 27, a Tampa police officer responded to International Plaza for a battery call. A woman there told police that Jacobs had come to the mall to meet with her to apologize for breaking her phone the prior night. The woman, whose name is redacted from the report, said she’d been friends with Jacobs for about a year and a half. She appeared to be under the influence of a narcotic, the report said.
The woman said she and Jacobs went to California Pizza Kitchen, where Jacobs wanted to go to the restroom to use meth, and he asked the woman to come along. The woman said she and Jacobs went into a stall. When another man came into the restroom, Jacobs became angry because he thought the woman was being too loud, “so he pushed her up against the wall in the stall and covered her nose and mouth with his hand,” the report states.
The woman said Jacobs covered her nose and mouth again briefly and pulled her hair, then left the restroom and hailed a cab to leave the mall, according to the report. The woman said Jacobs was wearing a blue suit and a hat with a “Prince” wig attached. The report says the officer found a broken glass meth pipe in the restroom.
The woman was not injured but the officer decided there was probable cause to arrest Jacobs on a misdemeanor battery charge. She told police she was with him every day but didn’t know his address “because they move around in hotels.” She said Jacobs sometimes stayed with family members in Lutz.
The woman didn’t know Jacobs’ date of birth and the officer had trouble locating an official photo of him to show her. She agreed to meet later to view a photo, but another officer assigned to follow up was unable to reach her. The officer cleared the case April 5, citing an uncooperative victim, the report shows.
Seventeen days later, a manager at the Vista Inn and Suites on E Bearss Avenue, where Jacobs had been staying, noticed he hadn’t checked out, according to a preliminary case summary released by the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner. The manager entered the room and found Jacobs unresponsive on the bed. First responders with Tampa Fire Rescue arrived and pronounced him dead.
The case summary, a brief report that includes information the Medical Examiner collected from Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office investigators, notes there were no obvious signs of trauma and that Jacobs had a history of alcohol and methamphetamine abuse. A final autopsy report, which typically includes the cause and manner of death and toxicology results, typically takes weeks or months to complete.
The Tampa Bay Times reached out to Jacobs’ family for this story. His sister, Elizabeth Racker of Tampa, provided a brief comment, saying her brother’s career showed he was “a genius in his own way.”
“Usually what comes along with that is, sometimes they struggle,” Racker said. “It just goes and proves that people with that caliber or skill sometimes struggle.”
Jacobs was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but spent much of his childhood in Tampa. He lived in New York with his mother and 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.
He formed the Master Blasters, a local group of DJs and MCs, and at 16 landed a spot as a DJ performing as Gregory Racker on WTMP-AM, according to the Hip Hop Wiki. Jacobs eventually obtained his diploma, taught himself piano and studied music theory at Hillsborough Community College.
He moved to Oakland and in 1987 formed Digital Underground with Jimi “Chopmaster J” 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 and Doowutchyalike.
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, and Tupac Shakur, who got his start by performing on the road with Digital Underground.
In more recent years, friend Malonga told the Associated Press, Jacobs gave away much of his wealth and worked on many unfinished side projects, struggling to find validation from those around him.
“He could draw, he could write music, play piano, he could score things, he could write stories and scripts,” Malonga said. “But unless someone was telling him he was okay, he would never present that... He was far more humble and insecure than people thought.”