Born in 1973, I consider myself a product of the 70s, which makes me a Child of Production; a clone of Dr. Funkenstein. Yes, I’m a ‘flawless testimony to the attainment of the P-Funk, endowed with conceivement of true groove.’ As a full-grown production living in another millennium, I am here to proclaim that the Funk still matters and there is just as much of a need to ‘blow the cobwebs out your mind’ today as in 1976. In spite of the freedoms that we enjoy at the expense and bloodshed of those known and unknown, there’s far too many of you with a molecular structure that resembles Sir Nose d’VoidofFunk.
As a matter of fact, if the above paragraph loses you, then my point has been proven. It means you are not a Funkateer…and that’s alright. Hopefully, this post will be the spark that ignites your conversion.
On July 22nd, George Clinton celebrated his 68th birthday. Sir Lollipop Man aka StarChild alias the Long Haired Sucka is still bringing funk to the masses as he is currently on tour with a new album featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sly Stone, The RZA, and Santana among others. You would think that Dr. Funkenstein doesn’t have anything left to prove so I suppose he’s just out here ‘doing it to death’ for the love of the fans. I can dig it. Clinton is regarded as the third major figure in the funk music genre, originated by the late Godfather of Soul, James Brown and fueled even more by the success of Sly and the Family Stone.
Just for the few of you who don’t know, Funk is a style of music that centers everything on the ‘One’ beat, better known as the downbeat, instead of the melody. It tends to infuse heavy bass grooves with fierce horns and Hammond B3 organ chords. The arrangements could range from tightly constructed with something in every pocket to loose and off-center. But that’s not Funk entirely because it takes on several variations. You just know it when you hear it. From ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’ to ‘Thank You (Falettin’ Me Be Mice Elf Agin)’ to ‘The Mothership Connection’, Funk is guaranteed to hit you somewhere deep because you got to feel it in order to move to it.
That’s why it still matters.
Clinton’s P-Funk movement was comprised of a few dozen musicians and singers, performing either separately or collaboratively as Parliament/Funkadelic and then spinning off to other smaller groups such as The Horny Horns, Parlet, and the Brides of Funkenstein. P-Funk rose to fame in the 70s, a groundbreaking decade in its own respect because it was the first full decade of legal integration. At the same time, African Americans were embracing their ethnic heritage, rocking Afros and daishikis as well as denouncing many Eurocentric ideals. Deeper still, the country was trying to recover and nurse the wounds from the tumultuous 60s, while dealing with the plight of rising oil prices, terrorist conflicts, and a volatile economy. Sounds like once upon a time called NOW, yes?
It’s quite easy to understand how the masses grasped P-Funk’s musical offering and adhered to the command of ‘giving up the funk’. The mantra is still quite relevant for a few reasons. Let’s start explaining it this way. P-Funk captivated legions of fans with their cosmic funk mixes, astounding stage presence, and outlandish costumes. Of course, the arrival of an actual Mothership descending on the stage is enough to mesmerize anybody, even if you’re watching it on DVD like I did, but their appeal was always a positive one. Gritty. Edgy. Sometimes Political. Sometimes Spiritual. But always positive. The music demanded attention and could coax even the most depressed person into the wildest frenzy of loose booty.
Unlike a lot of what’s passing for music today, P-Funk’s artistic masterpieces forced even Motown to update their bubble-gum and lollipop signature sound. Meaning, P-Funk was trend setting–definitely mainstream, but not faddish, unlike Disco. That’s the meaning of ‘walking underwater and not getting wet.’ Back then, it meant something to be mainstream; those artists could actually boast of being the cream of the crop. With live instrumentation and a compelling, gifted roster of musicians such as Glen Goins and Bernie Worrell, P-Funk became one of the definitive stamps of the 70s decade. What’s the definitive stamp for this era? Get back to me on that one, ok?
The most amazing aspect of P-Funk is its timelessness. Just take one listen to a joint like ‘Cosmic Slop’ or ‘One Nation Under a Groove’ and you will hear something that has been sampled several times by my generation’s Hip Hop genre, but it has yet to be duplicated. When I’m grooving, I have to remind myself that this stuff is well over 30 years old. I’m certain that most of the fly by night tunes of today will not be able to sustain such an effect.
I mean, really…approximately 25 to 30 years from now, it will not be acceptable to break out into a fresh chorus of ‘Do the Stanky Leg’. But in 2009, some 30 something years after the release of The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, it’s still pretty damn fly to quip, “The bigger the headache, the bigger the pill…and they call me the Big Pill.”
Lastly and simply put, P-Funk is critical because in spite of everything that’s going on right now, the best thing to do is dance our way out of our constrictions. We have way too many of them burdening us down.
Funk is its own reward.