Study Guide

The Humpty Dance Technique

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  • Music

    "The Humpty Dance" was built around 1970s soul and funk, but the original bass line and drum track written by Shock-G also provided other artists with sample material. Within a few years, nearly 50 rap and rock artists had sampled "The Humpty Dance" for their own music. On a later release, The Body-Hat Syndrome, Digital Underground performed "The Humpty Dance Awards," a track that gave thanks to the song's many admirers and samplers. Built on a sampled foundation itself, a few iconic sounds in "The Humpty Dance," such as the "Ah, do me baby" dialogue, come from Parliament Funkadelic's "Let's Play House," Sly and the Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song," and The Vibrettes' song "Humpty Dump."

  • Calling Card

    "The Humpty Dance" is Digital Underground's most successful single, and thanks to a billion parties and karaoke bars, it is the song that will be forever synonymous with the Underground. The song that caught fire, however, isn't totally representative of their larger body of work. Yes, "The Humpty Dance" incorporates Shock-G's unique use of characters and DU's party vibe, and the Parliament Funkadelic influence is undeniable. However, what's missing from "The Humpty Dance" is a larger sense of funk spiritualism, social commentary, sensual rhythms, and the all-out Parliament tributes that would define the playful tone of later singles and albums.

    To understand Digital Underground, you don't need to look any further than their debut, Sex Packets. It was Shock-G's smooth-voiced roommate, Schmoovy Schmoov, who provided the idea; in a world where drugs like cocaine and heroin were destroying the inner cities—and some would say the black community—"sex packets" were imagined by the Underground to be the safest alternative: a hyper-real hallucinogen that would entrance the user and create a vivid wet dream. On the Sex Packets album, the fictional drug is a safe escape with a utilitarian purpose—it's not dangerous like crack or heroin, and it prevents the spread of AIDS and STDs; it is simply an extension of the party life Digital Underground had so thoroughly captured on record.

    Understood as a concept album, Sex Packets and the entire endeavor of Digital Underground is undermined by "The Humpty Dance," even though it's a song that captures the Underground's party spirit. The first half of the album includes songs like "The Humpty Dance," "Underwater Rimes," and "Doowutchalike," all of which embrace the absurd and silly, but the album quickly takes a serious and sensual tone with "Freaks of the Industry," "Sex Packets," and the "Packet Reprise" that closes the album.

    Paying the ultimate homage to Parliament, Digital Underground created a number of albums—Sex Packets being their undeniable classic—which blended silly with sexy, improvisation with deft musical skill, and physical desire with an accompanying drive for enlightenment. A unique blend of hip hop, funk, multiple-personality disorder, free love, and a quest for knowledge, Digital Underground is the purveyor of music that is meant to be heard, not listened to, felt, not explained.

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