Is Performing in Whiteface OK?

Digital Underground thought so

William Mersey
The Riff
Published in
3 min readJun 18, 2024

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Youtube — Shock G of Digital Underground performing “Humpty Dance.” I thought he was white for years.

Viewing Al Jolson (the originator of white men performing in Blackface 100 years ago) through today’s lens, people would view him as racist. But in fact, Jolson championed Black performers’ rights throughout his career. It was only decades later that Blackface performers fell out of favor with the public. Nowadays, nobody would dare repeat history in that fashion.

Mostly unreported and not commented upon, was a reverse phenomenon — a huge hit in the rap genre — recorded 33 years ago by a Black rap group called Digital Underground. Not all of their hits were recorded and performed in Whiteface. But the biggest one (“Humpty Dance”) was.

I’m a great lover of music regardless of the genre. That’s not to say I like everything I hear. Far from it, actually. But I don’t discriminate among genres. When I like a piece of music, I like it regardless of how it’s labeled.

The Humpty Dance was one of those tracks that appealed to me. Granted, the hook is lacking, but the rapper’s style is undeniable. That clownish…

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William Mersey
The Riff

Daily Beast, NY Daily News, Daily Mail, Independent contributor. "In all matters of principle, it's the principle that matters." Just call me "Dollar Bill."