Taken from Red Bull (May 12, 2015)
Five ways George Clinton changed the game. He changed music forever.
Ahead of his in-conversation show at RBMA’s New York Festival, check out Dr Funkenstein’s legacy.
by Sharon O’Connell
George Clinton at Red Bull Culture Clash LA
© Carlo Cruz/Red Bull Content Pool
Both George Clinton and James Brown were responsible for radically changing the landscape of popular music, but if Brown remains the undisputed godfather of soul/R&B, then Clinton is the original funketeer.
After starting out with a doo-wop quintet called The Parliaments, he went on to lead the sprawling “extra-terrestrial brotherhood” of Parliament and Funkadelic, developing a flamboyant, mutant strain of funk that ruled black music in the 1970s and is still the touchstone for so much groove-based music.
Ahead of his in-conversation appearance at the Red Bull Music Academy Festival in New York, we look at five ways in which Dr Funkenstein changed the world.
1. He grafted rock attitude onto funk and soul
In the ’60s, Clinton briefly worked as a songwriter for Motown’s publishing company, which is how he came to develop his own take on the style. Raw and riotous, P-Funk welded the psychedelic rock of Hendrix, Cream and Frank Zappa onto funk, gospel and soul, then cranked up the Marshall amps. Clinton himself describes Funkadelic as “loud Motown” – which is why the fact that the “P” in P-Funk actually stands for “Pure” is plain perverse.
2. He traded soul’s “realness” for prog fantasy
James Brown’s showmanship is the sweat-drenched, cape-draped stuff of legend, and borrowed heavily from the righteous testifying of the gospel church. With “authenticity” covered, in the mid ’70s George Clinton and Funkadelic instead opted for OTT fantasy. Rocking an intergalactic-Afro-psych-warrior look, Clinton would emerge onstage from The Holy Mothership, an iconic stage prop consisting of 1,200 pounds of aluminium, which descended from the rafters and was part of their bonkers cosmology which also involved an alien being called Starchild, who brought funk to the human race. James Brown testified; George Clinton tripped out – often literally.
3. His music powered the rise of hip hop
In 2013, Clinton ranked second on the list of the world’s most-sampled artists. Hip hop (G-funk especially) owes him a colossal debt: Dr Dre and Nate Dogg’s Let Me Ride, Warren G’s Regulate and Fiddy’s The Funeral all sample Parliament’s Mothership Connection (Star Child), Tupac’s Can’t C Me and Me Myself And I by De La Soul use Funkadelic’s (Not Just) Knee Deep as their base, and Snoop Dogg’s Who Am I? (What’s My Name) famously sampled Clinton’s Atomic Dog. Without the funk don, hip hop would sound hella different. No wonder the issue of misappropriated copyrights gets him all shook up.
4. He invented the song diss
Once upon a time, artists called each other out in the studio. But decades before Jay Z’s Takeover swipe at Nas and Nas’ response via Ether, Funkadelic dropped what was surely the earliest diss track. Their Let’s Take It To The Stage from 1975 was an outrageously cheeky challenge to the live chops of their funk/R&B peers: James Brown (who they tagged “the godmother”), Rufus (“Sloofus”), Kool & The Gang (“Fool & The Gang”), Earth, Wind & Fire (“Earth, Hot Air & No Fire”) and Sly & The Family Stone (“Slick & The Family Brick”). Mi-aow.
5. He gave Snoop Dogg his shtick
Without George Clinton’s Atomic Dog (from his 1982 LP, Computer Games), the artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg would never have left the conceptual pound. That track’s been sampled by everyone from Alexander O’Neal to Young Soldierz, but on his debut single, Snoop used it to introduce himself to the world, chanting his own name in the chorus instead of “atomic dog” and establishing his crude shtick – the meanest of bad dogs, leading his pack on the hunt for bitches on heat.