Gregory “Shock G” Jacobs, the late frontman of the legendary Oakland hip-hop group Digital Underground, didn’t take to the piano right away when his parents gave him lessons as a kid. In fact, “he hated it,” recalls his brother, Kent Craig. “We never sat down and talked about it, but I figured it’s because his piano teacher never taught him songs he wanted to learn.”
But with musical influences surrounding him, it was only a matter of time before Jacobs came around to tapping out notes on the family’s old piano. “Our pops had a crate of records—Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Band of Gypsys’ was in there, ‘Kind of Blue’ [by Miles Davis] was in there, and ‘Straight No Chaser’ by Thelonius Monk was in there too,” said Craig. “That’s how he learned to play. He would sit down and play the records.”
His grandmother, Gloria Ali, taught him how to play Monk’s “Round Midnight,” and from there Jacobs took off. He figured out how to play more songs by ear and eventually became a mainstay at piano bars in Tampa, Florida, where he lived before moving to Oakland. According to Craig, Jacobs tried studying piano formally for a spell at Hillsborough Community College, but got kicked out of the class (for reasons unspecified by Craig).