Thursday, March 26, 2015
Digital Underground - Sex Packets
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Today (March 26th) marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Sex Packets, the debut album from Oakland rap collective Digital Underground. The Platinum selling album peaked at number 8 on Billboard's R&B Album chart and hit number 24 on Billboard's Top 200. The album is listed as one of the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die and was released in three distinct configurations across the three formats of the time: CD, vinyl LP and cassette. For our review today, we're going with the CD track listing.
"The Humpty Dance", the third single to precede the album's release, gets the party started with a witty rap from group leader Shock G's comedic alternate persona, Humpty Hump, along with several vocal samples ("Oh, do me baby" and "give me the music") lifted from Parliament's "Let's Play House" (1980) and other funky musical samples. The phat, throbbing bass and nasally rhymes propelled "The Humpty Dance" to number 11 on the Hot 100, number 7 on the R&B charts and all the way to Number One on the Billboard Rap Singles chart. The song itself is a certified Platinum seller and one of the most sampled hip-hop songs there is. It's also listed in the book 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die: And 10,001 You Must Download.
MM: I am a fan of this 90's dance jam! Totally a lot of fun and one I will rap along to every time I hear it on the satellite radio. It is six and a half minutes long of 90's party fun.
The second track "The Way We Swing" starts with a spoken question before busting into a blues-infused Jimi Hendrix sample beneath Shock G and crew's rhymin' answer.
MM: I definitely like this change-up on the typical rap/hip-hop sound. The stripped-down swing really works for me.
"Rhymin' on the Funk" is built upon a couple of samples from Parliament's "Flashlight" and is a continuation of the group's Mission Statement (began in the track before) featuring Money B.
MM: this track reminds me a bit of De-La-Soul, another late 80's/early 90's hip-hop group that I was really into. I like the funky loop hook used here.
The piano-based "The New Jazz (One)" is a brief interlude featuring a scratch snatch from Run-DMC.
"Underwater Rimes (Remix)" is an updated version of the independently released first single that foreshadowed the album back in 1988. It went to number 1 in the Netherlands of all places but failed to chart here in the States. The song has a cameo from the Jimmy Cagney-style gangster voiced persona of MC Blowfish (Shock G, again) and features a Beastie Boys sample and an Herbie Hancock interpolation. The main sample is appropriately from Parliament's "Aqua Boogie (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop)".
MM: I like the way this one sounds; it gives me the sensations of descending to depths when I have gone scuba-diving. Very cool.
"Gutfest '89 (Edit)" is hard to describe. It starts off as a remote broadcast with two reporters talking about the title fest and all the acts scheduled to appear before a rap breaks out over a stew of samples from Dexter Wansel, Ray Charles and Johnny Pate.
MM: I was not a big fan of the start of this track, but then when the music kicks in I got into it.
"The Danger Zone" is a hip-hop remake of K-Log's song from Top Gun. Nah, I'm just playin'. It's a cautionary drug tale over another instantly recognizable "Flashlight" sample.
MM: I like the mid-tempo grinding groove of this track.
Donna Summer's orgasmic moaning from "Love To Love You Baby" (or is it Diana Ross's similar sounds from "Love Hangover") is laced throughout the slinky sex rap "Freaks of the Industry" where Money B and Shock G trade stories. The song was released to DJs as a promo 12" containing three remixes pressed on red vinyl.
MM: Herc, it is definitely Donna Summer - I'd know that moan anywhere. The piano at the end was a nice surprise to this very explicit sexual tune.
"Doowutchyalike" was the second single to come out before the album, in October 1989 when the song stalled at number 89 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart. It marked Humpty Hump's first appearance on record but failed to crack the Pop chart. A remixed single did make the R&B/Hip-Hop chart at number 29, the Dance Music/Maxi-Single Sales chart at number 20 and the Hot Rap Singles chart at number 19. Besides being the longest track on the album (almost nine minutes), "Doowutchyalike" features the most samples as well, with credited contributions from Chic, KC & the Sunshine Band, George Clinton, Parliament, Prince and Vaughan Mason & Crew.
MM: this one is a house-party in full effect. I love how the group tailored the tune for a variety of listening sources. Very clever. I like the piano solo too.
"Packet Prelude" is another piano-based interlude, setting the stage for the next four tracks.
Title track "Sex Packets" is about packets of pills that provide the ultimate realistic sexual experience in a pill. A Prince sample punctuates the song while another couple of Parliament samples can be found in the backing track.
"Street Scene" is a non-musical skit depicting a dealer and a customer engaged in a sex packet deal.
Penultimate track "Packet Man" is the dealer explaining his inventory. It rides the most horny (no pun intended) backing track on the album courtesy of a Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns sample.
"Packet Reprise" brings back the slow instrumental groove of the album's title track.
MM: this suite of tracks has an overall theme of sex-as-a-drug, but for me the short skit kind of disrupts the flow. Taken together they would have made for an interesting EP but, of course, the EP was sort of out of fashion by 1990. More like a CD single perhaps.
Some people get the joke while others do not. I liked the song "The Humpty Dance" the first time I heard it around Christmas 1989 and eagerly snatched up the album when it went on sale later in the Spring. Given the incredible amount of Parliament samples, it serves as a continuation of Clinton's P-Funk empire from the Seventies and Eighties. It's funky, playful, sexy and squishy - everything you want in a rap album right? Twenty-five years after the fact, I still give the album a play regularly while both "The Humpty Dance" and "Doowutchyalike" are in regular rotation.
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Martin here again. I had not heard Sex Packets before preparing this blog post. But thanks to Herc, who always turns me on to "new" classic stuff, I gave it a spin on Spotify and very much enjoyed it. This was the kind hip-hop album I was into back in the late 80's and early 90's. Had I heard more of it back then, it easily would have been in my music library.