Saturday, July 31, 2010

July 31: digital underground, "Wind Me Up"

Artist: digital underground
Song: "Wind Me Up"
Album: Who Got The Gravy?
Year: 1998

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As hip-hop made its move to the forefront of popular music in the early 1990's, it was based around the aggressive sounds of the hardcore and "gangsta" styles of rap.  Names like Dr. Dre, Notorious B.I.G., and 2Pac remain among the most highly revered of this era of hip-hop music, and to this day, this style remains the most commercially successful of all of the hip-hop sub-genres.  However, since that time period, there has been one voice that has consistently displayed the more socially conscious, yet more light-hearted side of hip-hop music.  Standing as one of the most accomplished musicians, producers, and emcees in hip-hop history, one cannot overlook the importance of the man known as Shock G and his primary musical outlet, digital underground.  Serving as the "jumping off point" for some of the biggest names in the history of music, digital underground stands today as one of the greatest collective groups to ever record, and their purposeful approach to give their songs a more upbeat and positive sound was one of the many ways in which they set themselves apart from the mainstream sound.  Making their names as legends with their iconic 1990 single, "The Humpty Dance," the group represented the most clear link to the funk-based roots of the entire hip-hop genre.  These themes of the group being more important than the individual, the base of funk, and the prevailing positive vibe ran across all of digital underground's records that followed, coming to a head with their 1998 album, Who Got The Gravy?  Easily one of their finest efforts, these elements, along with a clear display of musical maturity can be heard in one of the albums' strongest tracks, which stands as one of digital underground's finest moments, 1998's "Wind Me Up."

Released in an era in which hip-hop had become centered around gross over-use of bass, digital underground epitomized the idea of "keeping it real," as the deep, bright grooves remained the backbone of their music.  It is within the music that the deep inspiration of the Parliament-Funkadelic sound becomes apparent, as the overall atmosphere draws a very clear line across the decades.  Though many hip-hop acts of the time cited the P-Funk sounds as their source, few paid as consistent and fitting tribute to the founders as one hears within the music of digital underground.  On "Wind Me Up," there is an all-out party atmosphere, and it is set perfectly with frontman Shock G's alter ego, Humpty-Hump "introducing the band" as the song begins to spin around a single, repeating sound.  From these first moments, and throughout the entire song, Shock G proves once again that he is one of the most creative and innovative minds in the entire history of hip-hop, as the beat and music are joyously unique.  As the song progresses, the music seems to expand and contract, creating an amazing sense of moment to "Wind Me Up," and it also fits perfectly with the songs' title.  From the keyboards to the horns to the loops, everything pumps with the same level of energy on "Wind Me Up," and it also seems to push the energy on the vocals to a higher level than most other songs in the digital underground catalog.

Along with his distinctive style of musical composition, whether he is performing as Shock G, Humpty-Hump, or one of his many other alter-egos, the mind behind digital underground, Greg Jacobs, has one of the most easily recognizable voices in hip-hop.  In a genre full of copycats, Jacobs has always made a point of being original and constantly striving for new sounds.  On "Wind Me Up," both Shock and Humpty make appearances, as well as the debut of a new rapper in the digital underground family, Esinchill.  The fact that Jacobs was and is constantly searching for new, unique emcees to be a part of the "d.u. family" is one of the reasons why his songs are always so fresh and why the group is able to have such a diverse sound within their catalog.  Furthermore, with so many different emcees, the delivery style and lyrical content is always unique, yet there are always a few elements that appear across all their songs.  As "Wind Me Up" opens, Shock G gives a nod to his old school brethren, altering the iconic Eric B & Rakim lyric to state, "...well it's been a long time d.u. shouldn't have left you, without a heated beat you could step to..."  Filled with self-props, calls out to the crowd, and brilliant word-play, Jacobs proves his lyrical superiority, and the song truly contains everything there is to love about a great hip-hop song.  Jacobs also takes a moment to assert (as he often does), his call for unity as he puts a grin on the face of all true hip-hop heads with the rhyme, "...Nas, you can have the world, I want the universe...not for myself, but for all others first..."

Rarely caring what people thought of them and constantly doing hip-hop music their own way, few groups can boast similar integrity along with as impressive a musical catalog as digital underground.  Truth be told, Who Got The Gravy? was released during some of the most "heated" years of the so-called "Coast Battle," and the group uses the record to squash this idea, as legends like KRS-ONE and Biz Markie both make appearances on the album.  The entire record is filled with some of the most exciting songs that hip-hop offered that year, and the fresh and upbeat feel of the album helps it to sound just as good more than a decade later.  This is not all that surprising when one considers that the heart and soul of digital underground, Greg Jacobs, has proven to be one of the most innovative, creative, and intelligent members of the hip-hop community for more than two decades.  Perfectly transferring the spirit and sound of the P-Funk era, instead of just biting parts of it like most other hip-hop groups, it is digital underground that in many ways has served as the beacon for all that which is "right" about the hip-hop genre.  Leaving the "thug style" to the less talented emcees, the music of digital underground has a far wider appeal, as everything from the music to the rhyming style to the lyrics have an underlying mood of positivity, and this amazing sound can all be found within digital underground's extraordinary 1998 song, "Wind Me Up."

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