No matter how much we make fun of the music industry, we can't deny that a musician doesn't last long unless he or she knows at least a little something about ... well, music. Even ridiculous cockholes like Justin Bieber can sing, even if his songs don't match our personal taste. But what you may not know is that there have been some flat-out musical prodigies hiding in plain sight, in some of the most unexpected bands. For instance ...
#4. Gregory Jacobs Is a Self-Taught Machine
How You Know Him:
You know him best as Humpty Hump, the one who ruined the image and the style that you're used to. His main persona is Shock G, and he's the front man and creator of Digital Underground. If you only know them from their 1990 hit "The Humpty Dance," you've still got a pretty good idea of what the rest of their albums are like: jazz- and blues-inspired hip-hop, laced with comedy, satire, and fun. For instance, "Underwater Rimes" is a song about a bunch of 1920s gangster fish that includes a credit to "MC Blowfish" ... another of Shock G's characters. If you were to take the band at face value, you'd swear it was just a bunch of buddies getting high and fucking around with musical equipment just to amuse themselves.
The Musical Genius:
As a kid, Jacobs was a talented drummer who transitioned to the turntables and hip-hop back when it was just being played in house parties and basements like they were covert ops meetings. Due to his parents' divorce and a shitload of moving from city to city, Jacobs eventually returned to his home state of Florida and gave high school the finger. I prefer to think that he did it in full Humpty gear, using that voice. Now, normally I wouldn't even bother giving you this kind of background, but it's important because it led to him backpacking across the U.S. and teaching himself piano by dorking around in music stores and college practice rooms.
The other reason it's important is because his love of music eventually drove him back home to obtain his diploma, specifically so he could attend community college and study music theory. His genius isn't wrapped up solely in his talent for instruments, but it's a pretty goddamn good start:
I think the true core of his genius is in how he presents himself and his music. On top of Shock G, Humpty Hump, and MC Blowfish, Jacobs performs under the names and characters Peanut Hakeem, Piano Man, the Computer Woman, and more. He even goes as far as creating backstories for them and pretending they're real, living people. It's a crossover from fantasy to reality that's pretty impressive, and he's unwavering in his dedication, like my feminine side to coconut mocha coffee (shut up -- I am who I am). Especially when you see him going through the trouble of getting into costume for each character and playing their roles for interviews:
What that does for the music is beyond brilliant because utilizing a combination of any of those characters tells a story on its own, even outside the context of the song. It gives the whole album a level of depth and personality that I don't think I've ever seen matched. It's like breaking the fourth wall and giving the music a three-dimensional life. Gregory Jacobs has done something few musicians have ever done: He's imagined a world and made it real.
#3. Kip Winger Writes Symphonies
How You Know Him:
You may remember me ripping on Winger in my last article on guitar geniuses before fawning over Reb Beach's insane skills. I feel kind of bad for that because I made them sound like talentless hacks, and they're clearly not. I think they got a bad rap because they were just so goddamn pretty. They were presented in a way that made them look so carefully crafted by a record label, it was repulsive:
I mean, truthfully, that's kind of hard to watch. The carefully constructed ripped shirts to make them appear rough. Hair styled and frozen into position. Kip swinging his bass guitar around and spinning, stopping every few seconds to pluck one note before spinning away again in a hairspray-fueled frenzy. It was fluffy bubblegum rock -- the Nickelback of their time.
The Musical Genius:
Reb Beach isn't the only gifted member of Winger. Kip Winger is all about music. He started studying classical music at age 16 after hearing different composers in ballet class. When the '80s ended and grunge hate-fucked glam rock into the grave, the band members kind of went their own directions. In the late '90s, Kip decided that he wanted to continue his old childhood passion of learning classical music and enrolled himself in the University of New Mexico, where he studied with some of the biggest names in composing.
And he went balls to the wall, too, eventually writing several symphonic pieces, including "Ghosts," which became a full-fledged ballet, performed around the world. You can hear the score on his website, which I highly recommend because it is shit-your-pants beautiful. When he's not working on writing classical music, he still plays with Winger, as well as his own solo projects. When he's not writing music for three separate musical groups with three separate styles, he's still studying. In fact, in the embedded interview above, he expresses an interest in going back to college again to study further because he could never know enough.
If you're wondering what Winger would sound like with the backing of a symphony orchestra, it's pretty damn impressive. Notice how he respectfully steps out of the way when the orchestra performs alone in the middle of the song: