When I spoke to George Clinton on the telephone the other day, there was something real funky going on with his vocal chords. Something so funky, in fact, that I could barely make out anything he was saying. It sounded like the man was gargling frogs. Between all the croaks and grumbles, I worried that I might not be able to make any sense of our conversation.
But by the time I finished transcribing the interview, it was as if the Funk had been magically decoded.
Of course, Clinton's been making perfect sense out of nonsense for more than 40 years. The legacy he's left in his wake is as much about the mythology of funk as it is the music.
So why was he the subject of a recent episode of TVOne's "Unsung" biography series? Turns out it's not recognition that he feels is long overdue, but royalties. If "funk is the DNA of hip-hop," as Clinton likes to say, his '70s-era Parliament-Funkadelic output is the spermatozoa that has impregnated well over 1,000 iconic rap hits and counting (from De La Soul's "Me, Myself and I" to, well, Dr. Dre's whole catalog, damn near).
Armen Boladian, the owner of the copyrights to most of Clinton's P-Funk catalog, is so uncompromising he makes Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk look like the Starchile. Clinton has been in litigation with Boladian for years to no avail, so he's taking his fight to the court of public opinion — where his own image has suffered from rumors of crack addiction.
Over the course of our convo, Clinton comes clean about the difference between his drug use and abuse, reveals his secret to "stay[ing] up on shit," damns his perceived role as the deity of Funk, and professes his confidence in President Obama's ability to shoot 'em with the Bop Gun if and when the time comes.
It's a heady trip.
CL: Everything seemed so funky in your era — from the music to the fashion, even the social conditions. Now we've got a black president in office and rappers who brag about their bank accounts; I don't know if we, as black folk, are as straight-up funky as we used to be. I'm curious what you think about that.
George Clinton: We're funky but funk has gotten sophisticated. We're still funky. The president is cool ... I know it's going to take somebody like him who has that attitude of funk and wholesomeness and is good at heart, but at the same time, he's still gotta know how to push that button if somebody fucks with us. And I have no doubts that he'll do that.
Everybody's funky man, that's what I'm saying. White people, too. The closest [music] you got to [mirroring] race relations in the world is hip-hop. We practiced [living] together for 75 years. We ain't practice that shit for nothing. We practiced that shit to keep from killing each other. 'Cause [African-Americans] were like that at one time, we couldn't say black or nigga to each other. But once we got past that we only had one thing left and that was "Yo mama." And once we got past "yo mama," shit, you my nigga. You my muhfucka. Ain't none of that shit so bad no more once you get past the point of being able to say it and know that you define yourself... .
You ever seen our Mothership show?
Yeah, I have it on DVD at home.
I used to step on top of that thing and think, "Now, I can believe I'm somebody up on this damn thang, 'cause folks look like they're ready to pass the bucket, they're ready to bow." I would tell myself "This ain't nothing but a party. I get paid for this shit." 'Cause I already know I'm 25 feet up in the air, I got on boots that's 9-inches, I'm higher than a motherfucker. I got every excuse in the world to fall my ass from up there. And so all I gotta do is give some entertainment to the thought that I'm Him. Hell no, I ain't the One. I ain't nobody. They tried to give me that guru thing — naw, hell naw, just some pussy and some drugs. And it wasn't that literal, but I knew I had to do something to keep that off of me, from letting that become something that I might entertain.
That spaceship cost enough money to make you wanna bow down to it. But it's got nothing to do with me. It's Him. I already got my excuse for how I'm gonna fall if I entertain that thought. That's enough reason to break your neck, thinking you're somebody.
Funny you say that, 'cause even as a kid, when I would hear people talking about the Funk on the radio it seemed like it was something deeper than music. I didn't know what it was — a philosophy or a religion or what — I mean as a kid I didn't even have those kind of thoughts but I realized it was ...
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