2Pac’s Start: The Classic ’90s Rap Video That Featured Pac as a Backup Dancer

With Tupac Shakur (aka 2Pac), people tend to focus on the end of the legendary rapper’s life (in 1996). When you die as a result of a drive-by shooting — and you murder remains unsolved more than two decades later — it’s not hard to understand why.

But 2Pac’s life story is just as fascinating. Whether you dig into his impressive record sales (more than Biggie Smalls), his upbringing, his movie career, or the different approaches he took to recording, you’ll find a tale worth hearing.

Tupac’s path to the top of the music business definitely took interesting turns. Before he recorded opposite Biggie (or even fronted his own rap group), Pac got his start in the Digital Underground. And in the video for the group’s biggest hit, you’ll find 2Pac as a backup dancer.

The Digital Underground’s ‘Humpty Dance’ has 2Pac in the background

Digital Underground in 1990| Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The members of Digital Underground, including Shock G (aka Humpty Hump) and Chopmaster J, knew that Tupac was going to be a star from early on. However, they didn’t have a place for him right away in the outfit. In a 2017 Rolling Stone article, they explained how they brought Pac aboard.

At first, Chopmaster J “didn’t want to insult [Pac] and ask him to do the Humpty Dance and carry gear,” He recalled. But “10 minutes later my phone rang and it was Tupac. ‘Yeah, I’ll do that sh*t.’ And from that point on he was always there.” Soon enough, Pac was doing that same Humpty Dance.

Even if you don’t immediately recognize the name Digital Underground, you’ve heard their hit “The Humpty Dance” somewhere (some time). The track absolutely blew up in 1990, hitting No. 11 on the Billboard pop charts and going all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard rap chart.

And there was 2Pac, walking past the camera in the opening seconds (0:02) of the video. After a security leads the way, Pac follows him, with Money-B — another backup dancer and Pac’s predecessor in Digital Underground — behind him. Following a few cuts, Humpty Hump enters surrounded by women. And “The Humpty Dance” begins in earnest.

2Pac built his reputation rapping on the Digital Underground tour

1991: Humpty Hump and 2Pac from Digital Underground perform at the U.I.C. Pavilion in Chicago. | Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

As big a hit as “The Humpty Dance” was, a backup dancer could only get so much exposure in the shadow of Humpty Hump. Indeed, you only catch the occasional glimpse of 2Pac in the video (which got a ton of airplay on MTV that year).

But Pac got more of the spotlight on the Digital Underground tour in 1990. In addition to his dancing duties, he’d get to interact with the audience as a hype man. On a performance of “The Humpty Dance” at The Arsenio Hall Show, you see him in a more featured role. (He’s the one in red.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byIkY9qsTdU

On tour, 2Pac began building up his skills in rap battles after the shows. After a while, Shock G (or Humpty, as the situation may have called for) saw him as the slayer in their group. “He could freestyle,” he told Rolling Stone. “He sounded how he sounds when he writes.”

“Pac was the one that we brought to the battles,” Shock G added. “I’d always have a pre-written battle rap, in case I got backed in a corner. But to come off the head, we knew Pac was our dude. He was our soldier.”