Black men just don't live very long do we?
Shock G, a.k.a. Humpty Hump, a.k.a. Greg Jacobs, the bi-coastal rapper and musician of Digital Underground died at the age of 57. This is a leader of the band that gave a young Tupac Shakur his job as a dancer (and record carrier), who years later introduced him to the music world on Same Song before producing his debut album 2Pacalypse Now. You might even remember him as a talking head on Hip Hop Evolution on Netflix.
Many people don’t today don’t remember Digital Underground’s work, but they were a full hip hop band that started in 1987. They made great music and Shock G in particular was an amazing musician. At the time of this writing there is no reason being given for Shock G’s death, only that he was found alone in a hotel room in Tampa, Florida. My heart goes out to his family, friends and hip hop culture as a whole. For once I can truly understand the phrase, “last of a dying breed.” Because while Shock G’s passing is unexpected and traumatic, it happening so soon after both Black Rob and DMX died this April makes it hard to not worry about every rapper you’ve ever enjoyed who’s lived to be anywhere near 40.
Here’s a list of classic rappers we’ve lost to something other than violence over the past 6 months:
- Black Rob, 51 - Kidney failure and homelessness
- DMX, 50 - Heart failure brought about by a drug overdose
- Prince Markie Dee of the Fat Boys, 52 - Congestive heart failure
- MF Doom, 49 - Unknown but people suspect it was self inflicted
- John “Ecstasy” Fletcher of Whodini, 56 - Unknown
Six rappers, all black men, dead in their 50s, and killed by problems with drugs and heart issues; or what I like to refer to as depression and sadness diseases. Diseases that take many Black men every day. This is what it can look like when stress is so great that we have to seek things to soothe us and help us get through.
Rap as culture isn’t really that old to begin with, but with every early death we lose more of the stories and memories that bind us. The OGs like Kool Herc are in their 60s which is starting to seem like more and more like one last feat of originator magic unto itself. They gave us beats. They gave us rhymes. They gave us Black male longevity to the age of… 70… maybe. We got used to murders taking the lives since hip hop’s inception. That hasn’t let up at all; however, rappers dying of old Black age is a new kind of pain to get used to.
KRS-One is 55, Chuck D is only 57, and Grandmasters Flash and Melle Mel are 59 while Ice T is holding it down at 61 is still chasing crooks on TV and playing one in his metal band, Body Count. While Dr. Dre is 57, he had an aneurysm in January of this year! No idea what causes something like that, but high blood pressure and dealing with a contentious divorce are certainly most likely culprits.
Obviously, as ages increase we will see more deaths, but as you can already tell, Black people die rather young already. While wealth may make a difference up to a point, fame doesn’t seem to help much with at all. Not for Black folks. For reference, all of 80s hair metal bad boys Mötley Crüe are still alive today, with Mick Mars pushing 70, and Nikki Sixx still holding on after literally dying of a drug overdose in 1987, and being revived.
Rap and Blackness will eventually catch up to you.
As a rapper, I can tell you first hand that being a rapper is hard, and since some say fame is abuse that likely exacerbates the issue for anyone famous and not rich. As a Black man, I can tell you being Black is no picnic either. That’s because the word “picnic” has completely racist origins so every time a Black person uses it you kind of shit on yourself.
Actually, that’s not really true, but the fact you have to consider it sort of tells you what you need to know. As a Black person there is a stress to just…being . Money, and good decisions may help you live longer, but so can paranoia and luck which are both very stressful and impossible to control anyway. Epigenetically speaking, even with a good family life, Black people start lives with a deficit of joy and a challenge to their health. And this is before we take on bad habits like alcohol and soul food, and drug use.
The stress of being Black accumulates. It seeps in through your pores and settles in your bones. Every teenager that gets shot by the cops isn’t someone you’re related to, but you’re so bound to the Black experience they might as well be. We call it “race” but Blackness as an American construct is familial. We are drawn together because we carry similar scars. Death by a thousand cuts and looking for safety in places we can’t trust where it exists. So we question every micro aggression, wonder about being too black or not black enough in every relationship we gain, and work to belong in spaces that would just as soon not have us there. Being a rapper only adds to the back breaking labor of making a living without making problems, using one’s trauma, and making it look effortless. That is what we ask our favorites to do.
As a rapper, the more successful you get, the more scrutiny you receive. The more you complain, the more you mess your money up. People didn’t turn on Kanye West because he was crazy. We loved that about the “old Kanye.” We turned on Kanye because he made fame and fortune look hard. He made it seem like having the most stuff, making luxury rap albums, and marrying the blackest looking non-Black woman he could find would only make you lose your mind. He then dealt with that by making Jesus Walks an entire album, because looking Christian is always preferable to being Christian. Either way, this man cannot escape the stress of being, and he can’t make being young, gifted, and Black look as easy as he used to. Because the stress weighs on you more and more the older you get.
My Rappers. My Father. Myself
I’m getting older now and I feel it a little more every day. My father is still around and I’m lucky to have him, but he’s struggled with his health for 2 decades including 2 bedridden years before managing to turn his health around. He’s an inspiration, but there’s always a concern about a resurgence of issues. That’s probably why he sticks to playing golf and watching sports.
A musician homie left Cambodia recently, and had health problems days after he touched down. I wish him a successful and speedy recovery. Houston rapper Scarface at 50 ended up in the hospital for COVID-19 and needed a new kidney. His Geto Boys bandmate Bushwick Bill died at 52 from pancreatic cancer back in 2019
I’d like to say, I don’t much believe in atomized personal responsibility. We’re all trapped on the same dirt ball living lives we didn’t choose to begin at the mercy of forces we cannot hope to understand acting on us all at once. And that’s the universe before we get to the man made problems like algorithms and pollution. Lots of people die young and it has very little to do with their lyrical ability. We just have to think about it all the time. Rapper. Teenager. Rapper. Teenager. Someone I know. Me. It’s just… so much which just adds to the stress
Black people die earlier than white people. Broke people die earlier than rich people. A lot of Black and Brown people are broke. The stress continues to mount. A friend who works in Texas public health once told me that even if the wealth and education levels are high, Black children will still have a higher chance of being born with birth defects or dying prenatally. That’s what the racism and stress does to Black mothers and the lives they carry. That’s outside of Blacks and Native women being 2 times more likely to die in child birth. It only gets worse the deeper you go.
Even if the fear, worry, and systemic oppression don’t cause afflictions on their own, they can still drive us to the drugs and unnecessary risk taking that might leave us to be found in a hotel room alone after our hearts have stopped beating while we’re still too young be waiting around to die. And that’s even if your life was seemingly great by every metric we value.
Shock G will be missed as will everyone else gone too soon. Let’s try to take better care of each other.
“You gotta make a change. Its time for us as a people to start making some changes, let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live, and let’s change the way we treat each other. You see the old way wasn't working so its on us, to do what we gotta do to survive.” Tupac Shakur, Changes