When I first heard Digital Underground in 1989, via "The Humpty Dance," little did I imagine it would someday fall to me to announce the group’s end. After a 20-year run including five albums, one EP, one rarities disc, solo albums by Shock-G and Money B, and a helluva lot of touring DU are calling it quits. Their Feb. 22 show at the Red Devil Lounge may be your last opportunity to see these putf8um Bay Area OGs. You’d be a fool to miss it: their shows are a cut above most live-rap, P-Funk-style fests, driven by Shock’s keyboards and an endless array of MCs, including, at one time, 2pac himself.
"Every group from [Public Enemy] to the Stones has experienced a hiatus, some straight-up fallouts," says Shock, a.k.a. Humpty Hump, on the phone from Los Angeles. "I think we hold the record for longest harmonious run without a breakup. I gave it a loyal 20 years ya can’t be mad at that."
Despite the lack of internal beef, however, Shock’s decision to disband DU is both personal and artistic. Constant touring, for example, has taken its toll, particularly with the group’s partying reputation.
"The energy was gettin’ bad," Shock concedes. "Both the group and the audience were becoming a bunch of alcoholics. That means it’s time for a break.
"I did several sober shows over the past few years, like 1 in every 10. However, when I suggested this to the band, everyone looked at me like I’m crazy, as if I suggested doing the show naked!"
Even more pressing, however, is Shock’s desire to expand as an artist, musically and otherwise.
"I’ve always wanted to give serious musicianship a shot," he says, "to sit down at the piano like a jazz musician and do complicated arrangements and improvisations with other musicians. But it’s hard to be fully present anywhere when I’m outta town every weekend to do DU shows."
While Shock confirms he has about two albums’ worth of unreleased DU he’ll eventually drop and doesn’t rule out the possibility of a reunion "Ask me in five years," he says for now he wants to direct his energies in nonmusical directions.
"I wanna go down to Hollywood and see what it do: voice-overs, comedic acting, films, TV stuff I never had time for from recording and touring. For the first time since 1987, I have time to commit to something else. I’m excited.
"I used to use George Clinton, Sting, and RZA as my models," he concludes. "Now I plan to be more Ice Cube, more Puffy, more Jamie Foxx, more wherever I wanna be."
Feb. 22, 8 p.m., $20
Red Devil Lounge
1695 Polk, SF