Why George Clinton Matters
[Editor's Note: Kris Needs is the author of "George Clinton and the Cosmic Odyssey of the P-Funk Empire," Clinton's first in-depth biography. It was released in June on Omnibus Press. Needs wrote this essay about Clinton's cultural impact exclusively for Heard Mentality.]
Photo By Groove House
By: Kris Needs
Let me tell you all about the one and only George Clinton, who can be placed alongside James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone as the most visionary and influential black music pioneer to emerge from the incendiary 1960s but is now the only one of those figureheads still taking it to the stage.
While America was embroiled in war and socio-cultural revolution during the '60s, Clinton was reinventing funk by mating it with rock and changing rock by mixing it with funk, giving birth to the influential psychedelic soul style that has made him the most sampled artist in hip-hop. His synthesized funk of the late 1970s and early '80s created a new strain of techno-soul that laid the foundations for today's electronic dance music.
But Clinton's colossal impact on popular music is often overshadowed by his infamous and outrageous reputation and antics. Known for getting naked onstage, recording studio albums while tripping on LSD and emerging in incredible costumes from huge, illuminated spaceships on stage during his arena shows in the 1970s, Clinton's music has often taken a back seat to his actions.
From guitarists sporting oversize nappies to kamikaze drug-guzzling contests, Clinton's seven-decade story is dominated by tales of unfettered excess and marked by moments of incredible musical brilliance.
Clinton's far-reaching influence is clearly seen in much of the music of today: the powerful electronic groove by P-Funk in "Flash Light" (released in 1977) marked the beginning of disco music's evolution into boogie, served as a foundation for Prince's breakthrough releases of the 1980s, and was the musical basis for the New York electro and early Detroit techno music trends.
Once deemed strange and quirky, Clinton's influence is now main stream. Stoked by P-Funk, dance movements started around the world beginning in 1982 with Afrika Bambaataa's 'Planet Rock' and have permutated through today, most notable in influencing the most popular music of the 1990s that drew deeply from the Clinton discography including N.W.A. Ice Cube, Dr Dre's (his gangsta-funk, genre-defining The Chronic album even featured a video containing the Mothership landing footage) and Snoop Dogg's massive selling Doggystyle, among many others.
In 1989, Clinton mused on the future of rap and hip-hop in an ironic and prescient way.
"Rap has really saved The Funk but it's the DNA for hip-hop. We put our own DJs on the records and that was like the birth of hip-hop....Chuck and Flavor listened to the Parliament live LP from beginning to end and they've said that...I'm their mentor and that came at a good time because I was giving up," he said.
"Now I feel so good. I don't mind if they sample me because I get back more than they do....I get paid in a different way because I know how to appreciate the fact that they used the music. If they're hot with the kids and the kids like them then they'll like me. Everyone's into the "One Nation Under A Groove" concept. So I'm glad they sample the shit....now if I took 'Knee Deep' to the radio stations they'd tell me it sounds like De La Soul!"