Oakland’s first Black-owned brewery created a popcorn-packed beer to honor rap legend Shock G

A music icon, a community-focused brewery, and an established Oakland taproom teamed up to create a special tribute brew.

Hella Coastal’s Shock G Forever beer sports label art from Digital Underground friend and collaborator Chuck Taylor. Credit: Brandy Collins

The passing of legendary Bay Area rapper Gregory “Shock G” Jacobs, who died in April 2021, sent a wave of emotion throughout the world. Now Oakland’s first Black-owned brewery is honoring the music icon with his own brew, just days before a citywide commemoration of Jacobs’ birthday.

Jacobs is best known to many as the co-creator of the Digital Underground, a group that scored hits in the 1990s with songs like “The Humpty Dance and “Freaks of the Industry.” The group also introduced onto the music scene future talents like Mystic and Tupac Shakur. But while Jacobs was laid to rest in Tampa, Florida (where he lived with his family), Digital Underground co-creator Ronald “Money-B” Brooks told Nosh that the Bay Area should be the epicenter of a celebration of Jacobs’ life, as this is where the the band felt most supported and at home. “We have to bring it back to the Bay. That’s where we started,” Brooks said.

In addition to an Oakland proclamation declaring Aug. 25 — which would have been Jacobs’s 58th birthday — as “Digital Underground Day,” Oakland’s Hella Coastal Brewery, in collaboration with Brooks and Oakland’s Federation Brewery, has released a new beer called “Shock G Forever” in the musician’s honor.

“We kind of crafted this beer that directly reflected Shock G’s personality and who he was,” Brooks said. Brooks worked with Hella Coastal co-founders Chaz Hubbard and Mario Benjamin to come up with a golden ale with hints of cherry in a limited edition can, featuring the musical icon as his friends and fans remember him best — hand on headphones and vibing to sounds. 

Hella Coastal’s Mario Benjamin (center left) and Chaz Hubbard (center right) display the few remaining cans of Shock G Forever. Credit: Hella Coastal

Brooks said he also vibed with Hella Coastal’s ethos. “It just seemed like it was meant to be,” he said. 

“We feel like it’s important for us to highlight our culture and people from the soil in a positive light,” Hubbard told Nosh. “Especially since we grew up on Digital Underground and all the underground hip hop music back in the day.”

For Hella Coastal Brewery, creating “Shock G Forever” means not only appreciating music that has been a central force in their lives, but contributing to hip hop culture and history. 

The can’s vibrantly orange-and-purple-colored artwork that depicts Jacobs was created by Digital Underground friend and collaborator, Chuck Taylor, a Sacramento-based artist, and is a limited run for this can art. Only 900 four-packs were made, and are already sold out. 

“Chuck was really emotional and he gave this artwork that reflected the emotion in their relationship,” Brooks said. “It was like all of these components just came together to make this really unique experience.” 

What Brooks and Hella Coastal created was a golden ale that is 6.5% alcohol by volume, a perfect pair with the movie theater treat. “The beer itself has popcorn in it — unsalted, no butter [or] anything like that,” Hubbard said. “There’s not enough popcorn to actually do anything to the beer.” Drinkers shouldn’t expect any buttery or traditional popcorn flavors, and the Talus hops and Pilsner grain used to brew it lead to fruity notes without being overly sweet. “One of the other things that Shock G loved is cherries, so, that’s one of the notes that Talus gives off as a flavor profile,” Hella Coastal’s Benjamin said. 

Ronald “Money-B” Brooks (left) poses with some popcorn, a favorite snack of Gregory “Shock G” Jacobs and an ingredient in his tribute beer. Credit: Hella Coastal

In crafting beer Jacobs would have liked, the team built a flavor profile based on his song “Cherry Flava’d Email,” which is a play on the 1971 R&B classic “Strawberry Letter 23,” as well as Jacobs’ love for popcorn, Brooks said.

Pending Hella Coastal’s application for their own brewing license, Hubbard and Benjamin have an alternating proprietorship with Federation Brewing. That company’s owner, Aram Cretan, has lived in the Bay Area most of his life, and attended the same Palo Alto high school as Brooks. He was eager to support Hella Coastal’s work to honor Jacobs. “I grew up listening to Digital Underground, too,” Cretan said. “To be a part of it in any small way is just super cool.”  

“The main thing is giving them a launching pad to do their thing,” Cretan said. This means Hella Coastal can use Federation’s equipment, and Federation will handle distribution and sales.  

“We were really hoping that we would have our license by the time we did this collaboration,” Hubbard said. “But we didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity to work with Digital Underground.” Given its current license status, Hella Coastal only breaks even on each beer it sells. For the Shock G Forever brew, the reward comes from working with Digital Underground and celebrating its co-founder’s accomplishments. “For us, we came to the conclusion having our name on this beer like this is something huge. For us, for Oakland, for Shock G and for the culture,” Hubbard said. 

This tribute to Jacobs isn’t the first time Hella Coastal has collaborated with other local brewers in service of the culture. For Black History month in 2021, Hella Coastal partnered with fellow Black-owned brewers Hunters Point Brewery, Oak Park Brewing and Full Circle Brewing for a limited line of IPAs depicting civil rights activists Ella Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, Fannie Lou Hamer and Fred Allen Hampton. In July, Hubbard and Benjamin began working with the Inclusion Beer Project, an equity and inclusion program for an industry where Black brewers make up less than 1% of all craft breweries. 

It’s a group that “is getting a lot of these breweries to be accountable for their hiring practices and who they have in front of the house,” Benjamin said. “If they want to be about doing things within the community, then they actually have to show it. Not only the atmosphere, the vibe, but also your hiring practices and how you’re really contributing to the community.”

With this collaboration with Brooks, Hella Coastal and Federation Brewing are again serving the community by creating something to commemorate the loss of someone who meant so much to so many people. But it doesn’t diminish the losses. It’s been an emotional time for the remaining Digital Underground members, Brooks said, and he wanted to make his bandmate proud. 

“After this weekend, I think we’ll also feel as if we’ve done good by Shock G,” Brooks said. “I think he would be happy for us and proud of us for what we did and put together in his name. And that gives me a little bit of a solace and peace of mind.”

Digital Underground co-creator Ronald “Money-B” Brooks (right) takes a sip of Shock G Forever as Federation Brewing owner Aram Cretan (left) takes a photo. Credit: Brandy Collins

There aren’t many of the limited edition cans four packs of Shock G Forever available, but the beer will be available on draft at Federation Brewery for a limited time. Federation Brewing is open noon-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. They are located on 420 Third St. (near Broadway) in Oakland.