Money B On Digital Underground, 2Pac and Bay Area Diversity
By Stereo Williams
There’s always been something about Bay Area Hip-Hop; those slow-rolling grooves, that loose funkiness, a richness of character and perspective — it’s found in virtually every act we’ve seen come out of the West Coast hotbed. From Too $hort to The Conscious Daughters, from Paris to Mac Dre, there’s a connective spirit that sits parallel to an undeniable eclecticism. Money B has seen the richness of Bay Area Hip-Hop thrive for decades, and the Digial Underground emcee knows more than a few things about musicality and having a broad scope. Alongside DJ Fuze, Saafir, Schmoovy Schmoov, 2Pac and, of course, the great Shock G, he helped set a standard for Bay Area creativity.
Digital Underground was formed in the late 1980s when Florida transplant Gregory Jacobs (aka Shock G) formed a duo with DJ Chopmaster J. Shock, a DJ/producer/instrumentalist with a serious P-Funk affectation, would eventually recruit a Hip-Hop duo known as Raw Fusion into the group. Raw Fusion’s Money B and Shock G formed a potent combo; Money’s charming everyman immediately paired well with Shock’s sly maestro shtick, and Digital Underground’s sonic trademarks were all in place. Once 1990s Sex Pockets dropped, Digital Underground was one of Hip-Hop’s most popular and critically-acclaimed acts.
“Shock was and is a real musician," explains Money B (born Ronald Brooks). "Before Digital Underground, he was in a funk band. That’s where he comes from. Even his approach, which is something I was fortunate enough to be around and he taught me; he would sequence out the whole song and just play. He would compose a whole musical piece and fill it in with raps. Me being a Hip-Hop head, I write the rhymes and find a beat. He didn’t approach it like that.”
Sex Packets was hugely successful, spawning the radio smash “The Humpty Dance,” (which turned Shock G’s infamous Groucho-nosed alter ego into a pop culture phenomenon) and the anthemic feel-good hit “Doowhutchyalike.” At the dawn of the 1990s, Hip-Hop’s voice and image had grown increasingly diverse, with Public Enemy’s fiery rhetoric sitting comfortably alongside DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s teen-friendly storytelling and N.W.A.’s gangsta nihilism. In Digital Underground, the quirkier side of the genre had a party-friendly Pied Piper in Shock G, and Money B shone as the relatable rapper’s rapper. They followed Sex Packets with an EP simply called This Is An EP Release, which included the hit single "Same Song."
“[Shock G] just has an ear. He knew how to pull in the right musicians to complete his ideas. We weren’t just sampling funk, we were creating it."
"We were creating our own brand of funk and I think that’s what was unique about Digital Underground. If you noticed, you noticed. If you didn’t, I aint mad atcha.”
Digital Underground was always a wide collective of diverse talents, and once the crew was firmly established, those talents were given opportunities to shine. It was after the success of D.U.’s This Is An EP Release that the crew began to put together projects by satellite acts from within the group. One such project was the solo debut for a passionate, Black Panther-quoting young rapper out of Marin County, CA named Tupac Shakur. Another was the debut album from Money B’s Raw Fusion, the duo he’d originally formed in the 1980s with DJ Fuze.
“We were doing talent shows as Raw Fusion at the same time D.U. was doing ‘Underwater Rimes,’” Money B says of the group’s pre-Digital Underground origins. Raw Fusion joining Digital Underground was part of a bigger plan. “The trade-off was always ‘hey, come do this and we’ll get the deal and [then] you guys will get to express yourself the way you want to express yourself.’ Raw Fusion was me and DJ Fuze getting to express ourselves fully. It’s more Hip-Hop, less instrumentation than Shock G.”
Money B acknowledges that Digital Underground was always the Mothership (“We all helped each other on projects.”) but he relished the opportunity to show what Raw Fusion could do on its own. The duo released its debut Live From The Styleetron in 1991.
“Raw Fusion has the deep basslines and dancehall elements, that was really me and Fuze. It was the first time we got to express ourselves without having to check and make sure it was cool with Shock.”
Raw Fusion’s ...Styleetron was released via Hollywood Basic, an offshoot of Hollywood Records that was supposed to be that label’s Hip-Hop-focused imprint. But upon release, aside from single “Rockin’ To The P.M.” garnering some Yo! MTV Raps play, the album was barely heard.
“I hear people now saying that it was a classic album but it’s weird for me because it didn’t perform, sales-wise. Sometimes albums are slept on, but I always joke when people say it’s classic. It’s like ‘Why didn’t you go buy it, muthafucka?’"
Raw Fusion would drop two albums in the 90s, but Money B believes Hollywood Basic just didn’t know how to get the records to the people.
“It was new for them, so maybe we didn’t get the best marketing effort," he concedes. "Who knows what it was.”
But those sessions for the Raw Fusion debut, as well as the sessions for 2Pac's first album 2Pacalypse Now, proved to be fertile ground for creativity. And Money B took part in all of those marathon recording sessions.
"It would be eight hours of Raw Fusion and then right after that, eight hours for 2pacalypse Now and then after that, eight hours for Sons Of the P, and right after that, eight hours for Gold Money, which was another act signed to TNT Records," Money recalls. "If 2Pac's session was next, you'd just hang out during the session. That's why I wound up doing backgrounds on 'Brenda's Got A Baby' and stuff like that. I could be in the studio for 24 hours for all those sessions. We were all co-mingling in each other's spaces during that time."
Money B and 2Pac were collaborators and friends, and he still respects just how fully-formed Shakur was when he was still a very new artist. Digital Underground had set the stage for Pac to become who he'd become, and it was evident that Pac's ambition was something special.
"For him to be new to it, it was all calculated," Money B says. "He had it all planned out. He would write out his set list, the titles, what they mean. He was ready for it. He knew exactly what he wanted to say, he knew exactly what he wanted people to get from his music. He had the plan. In real time, you didn't think about it because we were all doing the same thing. In hindsight, it was pretty amazing."
Digital Underground, group portrait, at Berlin Hip Hop festival, Germany, 1989. (Photo by Rico D'Rozario/Redferns)
CIRCA 1990: Alternative hip hop group Digital Underground poses. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
But regardless of Raw Fusion’s cult status, 2Pac’s immortality as an icon or the groovy influence of Shock G’s production, Digital Underground’s legacy is vast. Their sound was a bridge between classic funk and the Hip-Hop generation, and it helped forge the template for what we now consider classic West Coast sounds. Even as indelible as that sound is, the Bay Area-based crew is unlike anything else in Hip-Hop, and they managed to maintain a positive ethos throughout the party.
“We tried to slide a message in the music, always,” Money B states. “We were having fun. But even ‘Doowutchyalike’ had a message: be free. We didn’t beat you in the head with it.”
And Digital Underground is a pillar for Bay Area Hip-Hop; epitomizing the region’s refusal to be boxed-in. From E-40 to MC Hammer, there is no singular Bay voice. It’s all Bay.
“If you could tie any one sound to all of us, it did have some funk origins. We like our basslines and it comes from Sly and the Family Stone. But we all sounded different, but we all existed in the same space,” Money B explains. “And we all respected what each other did from the very beginning. And as we went on, the same thing happened as we all started putting out our music.”
“We were all recording in the same places and we knew each other, but didn’t sound anything like each other. We were all just Bay."
*HEADER CREDIT: Money B of Digital Underground during 2005 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo at Sand Expo Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)