Sometimes I really wonder about my methodology in ranking these songs. By the time I got to putting them in order, my goal was to just get it done. I think it would be a lie to say that I like “Doowutchyalike” better than “Hotel Yorba.” I guess this makes me a liar. I guess maybe I weighted the former a little more because it’s really the only song I really get off on by Digital Underground, whereas there are other songs by the White Stripes I like better?
All of this is to say that I’ve never seen Digital Underground perform, I don’t have any weighty personal stories about Digital Underground. I don’t think I even own a copy of Sex Packets (I should). This is a fine pick, but I don’t have a lot to say and I cannot defend it in any meaningful way. It’s just a great song. So, here goes.
I knew of Digital Underground first from “The Humpty Dance,” a single released several months after “Doowutchyalike” It is a novelty song about founding member Shock G’s alter ego, Humpty Hump. I think given the time and context, I could very well have come up with the idea for Humpty Hump. Shock G was inspired to invent the character when they went to a party supply store *the day of the “Doowutchyalike” video shoot* and found the Groucho glasses with plastic nose, inventing Humpty on the spot. This is the exact method I use for coming up with stuff. It’s a math equation:
(Structure/Functional Necessity) + Situational Inspiration = New Idea
In this case
(Same-Day Video Shoot/Prop shopping) + funny glasses = an enduring feature of hip hop history
So too in my case:
(Album release/COVID-19) + that paper skeleton on our living room wall = stop-motion animation project featuring handmade paper dolls
See? I get this. The other thing that’s very Mary Alice about Humpty Hump as an idea is that Shock G came up with a whole invented biography for Humpty. A fucking plus. He’s not just a funny man with novelty nose and glasses, there’s a *reason* for the nose. The story was that his nose was burned off in a grease fire, which also somehow is the reason he became a rapper. I like that Shock G also alters his voice so that it’s more nasal when he’s rapping as Humpty. Because he doesn’t have a nose. Obviously. If memory serves, we had no reason to believe that this wasn’t mostly true. That Humpty was at minimum a separate person from Shock G, even if that implausible grease fire story wasn’t true. I think some people may have suggested we tried to pull a Humpty situation with Super Steve, but that’s ridiculous. Pete and Super Steve have appeared in the same room together. We have dozens of witnesses.
Here’s another completely insane thing about Digital Underground: they appeared in one of history’s absolutely worst major motion pictures. When we were in college and completely broke, Pete and I used to treat ourselves to bargain basement pay-per-view movies, which were at the time a fairly novel thing. Previously, only films that were no longer in theaters but yet to be released on VHS, but Oceanic Cable seemed to be trying something new, by putting older movies of varying quality on pay per view and charging like $3 instead of $10. We would only occasionally *treat* ourselves to a $3 pay per view movie and it would usually work out fairly well. We first saw now-beloved holiday favorite Funny Farm starring Chevy Chase this way. Never having previously heard of it, we took a chance and were richly rewarded. We took *another* chance shortly thereafter on something called Nothing But Trouble, starring yes, Chevy Chase but also Dan Aykroyd, fucking John Candy, and Demi Moore. We didn’t think we could lose with that case. We lost. We lost by a lot. I guess we should have known given the strength of the cast AND the fact that we’d never heard of it. The Digital Underground cameo is so weird, so unnecessary, and totally unrelated to the plot. Also, they were never really famous enough to make this kind of cameo? The film was released in 1991, so I’m thinking maybe a Hammer would qualify, but while Digital Underground was much beloved by America’s youth, they weren’t cultural-icon level. Nothing but Trouble wasn’t a kids’ movie and--I don’t know--the whole thing is a mysterious mess. At least *everyone* lost in this scenario. Digital Underground weren’t the only hapless victims.
“Doowutchyalike” was released initially as a single, well in advance of DU’s debut album Sex Packets*. I don’t know when I heard “Doowutchyalike” the first time, but I know it was after “The Humpty Dance” and possibly even after “No Nose Job” and “Kiss You Back,” fairly successful singles released on their 1991 album, Sons of the P. In the YouTube era, however, “Doowutchyalike” has become my favorite by Digital Underground. I can’t separate it from the music video, which is just pure, distilled fun. It’s your standard party-rap video format, but 90% of notable hip-hop artists of the time make cameos in it. Combine that template with the theme of the song, which is essentially that you should do what you like, and it’s celebration of confident, unified individuality. I feel like I can again relate to this low-judgement approach to relationships, particularly in the context of relationships with other musicians. It is the way to be. I love it. It’s a gift to humanity. And with that, I have nothing more to say about this song.
*I have always been completely tickled by the name of this album, not knowing what a sex packet actually is. In pre-post reading, I’ve found out that it is a concept album about--well, I’ll let Wikipedia take the wheel here: “‘G.S.R.A.’ (Genetic Suppression Relief Antidotes), a pharmaceutical substance that is produced in the form of a large glowing pill about the size of a quarter, which comes in a condom-sized package and is allegedly developed by the government to provide its intended users such as astronauts with a satisfying sexual experience in situations where the normal attainment of such experiences would be counter-productive to the mission at hand.” Holy shit, man.