Photo: George Clinton & Kendrick Lamar from 'Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard On You' music video
George Clinton has been one of the most well-known names in the funk world for decades, carving out a unique space in the mainstream for funk music with Parliament and Funkadelic, often referred to as the collective Parliament-Funkadelic (or P-Funk). While Clinton has been a larger-than-life figure in funk for years, he's never been too set in his old ways, frequently allowing his approach and his repertoire to include new and innovative collaborators.
In recent years, George Clinton has forged a creative relationship with experimental producer Flying Lotus and his L.A.-based Brainfeeder label, which ranks other neo-funk forerunners like Thundercat on its artist roster. During that time, he's also collaborated with some of the likes of hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar, contributing to the Compton rappers highly lauded 2015 album, To Pimp A Butterfly, alongside other L.A. scene associates like Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington, and more. He also welcomed Kendrick and Ice Cube on a remix of Funkadelic's "Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You" in 2016.
George Clinton & Funkadelic ft. Kendrick Lamar, Ice Cube - "Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard On You"
George Clinton is not the only legacy artist that's been influenced by this jazz-funk-hip-hop new guard. Herbie Hancock is notably working on a new album that will feature Kendrick, Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Kamasi, and other contemporary artists of their ilk.
In a recent Reddit AMA session, one fan asked Dr. Funkenstein what it was like working with Flying Lotus. This was his response:
He reminds me so much of when Bootsy [Collins] first came around. Thundercat, Steve [Flying Lotus] and the whole crew. Kendrick Lamar, it feels so much like 1975 when Bootsy first came around and started mixing James Brown with P-Funk. The same thing is happening with Flying Lotus, and it's putting me in touch with so many new musicians. These are the new generation of funk musicians. So, it's educational working with him. It's a whole new version of ourselves.
George Clinton's high praise for artists like Kendrick Lamar is nothing new. He's been praising his abilities for years. When To Pimp A Butterfly came out in 2015, Clinton told Pigeons & Planes,
I wasn't surprised that the album came out sounding the way it did. I could tell from the song I did with him, the way he was talking and his interpretation of funk, that it was going to be something new. Kendrick told me respect was going to be paid to the funk. ...
He's number one right now! It's hard as hell to be in that position with so much attention, but he's got a good team around him. It's hard to deal with and still try to be creative at the same time, but he has that in check. The only other person I've seen do it like that before is Prince! It's a crazy amount of pressure, but for me, I learned the value of playing crazy-people think you're crazy, they don't bother you as much. Kendrick's got a mission set out for him, I don't know if he fully realizes it yet but it's there.
These days, the funk "genre" is thriving beyond the mainstream, with bands like Lettuce, Turkuaz, Galactic, The Motet, and many more continuing to make strides and earn consistently bigger audiences in their respective spaces. Pop artists like Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson have also garnered immense commercial success with their funk-infused brand of pop, and funk pioneers like the surviving members of The Meters still doing their thing on various projects. Most people wouldn't put artists like Kendrick and Flying Lotus in the "funk" category at all, let alone refer to them as its future.
But the way George Clinton has always seen it, funk is less of a genre and more of an approach, a feel. Clinton has always been one to move beyond the comfort zone of his "genre," and is fully aware of that aspect of music's evolution, particularly after moving toward psychedelia and away from more traditional "funk" as his career went on. As he noted in a 2015 interview with Noisey,
Any time you go pop or cross over, you already begin to lose the audience that you started out with. It just so happened that the black music became the pop music of the next generation. What's really black for ten years becomes really pop the next ten years. With rock 'n' roll, a lot of black people think it's white music totally. They don't know about Little Richard and Chuck Berry. The only thing they know is that Jimi Hendrix played some psychedelic. So yeah, you lose your audience if you go from one audience to the next. Most of the black music you get today-hip-hop-it's totally pop.
Considering his experiences and familiarity with "funk music," its constant evolution, and the artists he notes as representing its new guard, Clinton certainly makes a compelling point about the artists he sees as "the new generation of funk musicians."