Few groups in the history of hip-hop have had as good a grip on what’s funny about rap music as Oakland’s Digital Underground. DU peaked early with their 1990 debut album, Sex Packets (Tommy Boy), and its massive hit “The Humpty Dance,” a self-mocking manifesto that combined hip-hop braggadocio with unabashed geekiness over grinding P-Funk grooves. Cucumber-cool leader Shock-G’s alter ego Humpty Hump, he of the Groucho Marx demeanor and fake swollen nose, provided a much-needed antidote to his peers’ outsize boasts, unscrolling his inadequacies in his attempt to get a piece of the action. Subsequent records documented a steady decline, but on last year’s Who Got the Gravy? (Jake) DU sound revitalized, if a little quaint (when they’re not pulling out more of that infectious old funk, they’re sampling Public Enemy). As usual, the topic of the day is scoring with the ladies, but apart from Big Pun’s gutter-mouthed cameo on “The Mission,” the rappers opt for imaginative old-school language. Humpty’s “I wanna make freaky, squeaky sounds with you” may not be as precise as “Big Pun’ll make you come ’til you cough up a lung, sister,” but I’ll take it. There’s also some of the same self-deprecation that made “The Humpty Dance” so endearing: in “Mans Girl” Shock-G and guest rappers earnestly describe their ideal women, then acknowledge they’ll never get them with a chorus of “If you can’t take me home with you / Then a lap dance will have to do.” These dogs haven’t really learned any new tricks, but their live show is genuine entertainment, and that alone makes them pretty unusual in hip-hop today. Sunday, 10 PM, Cubby Bear, 1059 W. Addison; 733-327-1662. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.