PARLIAMENT/FUNKADELIC lives on with drugs and 420 funk Mob
Back in the late ’50s, a 5-man group presided by an idiosyncratic frontman – rabid-haired George Clinton-and a young cast of musicians unfamiliar with the rules of typical record-making, started to dabble with the conventions of rhythm and sound. Meantime, another group, produced by Clinton with naive recording techniques as well, was moving along the same vibe until the latter decided to fuse both together. Distinguished from the mainstream by erratic production, complex harmonies, funked-up grooves and booty-shaking melodies, supergroup Parliament/Funkadelic was born.
Their legacy is still alive today, especially with the formation of two spin-off bands in the late ’90s, DRUGS and 420 Funk Mob, both fronted by P-Funk’s “Man in the Box,” Mike “Clip” Payne, who sang, played keyboards and rhythm boxes (drum machines and triggers) with Parliament/Funkadelic for 26 years. While 420 is more of a jam band (including P-Funk members Lige Curry, Mike “Maggot Brain” Hampton and revolving guests such as Garry “Star Child” Shider, Greg Fitz from Bootsy Collins’ Rubber Band and B-52’s Zach Alford) that often plays some of P-Funk’s more obscure hits, DRUGS is an original studio project, composed of Curry and Shider as well as Robert “Chicken” Burke, Joey Eppard and others.
“It’s like a new-day Funkadelic,” says Payne. “We wanted to do something that would take us back to the ’70s-using analog, no fixing with computers-without doing covers of ’70s songs.” Clip’s been around music for decades and could have branched off P-Funk to do his own thing, yet instead chose to live it up more and create another effervescent portion of the movement.
“It’s my alternative to hustlin’ one night sit-ins at bars,” he says. “I mean, I don’t like the Top 40 machine. I’m just trying to have fun, just some good ol’ fashioned music hustlin’. Some people hustle shit they don’t even like. But I’m not Irv Gotti, I’m not trying to be the flavor of the week. At 21, I was with P-Funk and that was my time to shine.”
Although funk’s been generically described as an amalgamation of rhythm and blues, horns, jazz, gospel and rock, there’s something particular and distinctive that makes it what it really is. “Funk is the gritty part of the literature,” Clip explains. “It’s not really the groove, it’s the edgy part, what scares the socks off everyone it’s the innuendos, putting in the sexy and the nasty. When you make funk, you can dance around while investigating your options.”
Arranged with filtered voices, psychedelic melodies, gut-wrenching rhythms, wah-wah pedals, thick bass lines and Clip’s coarse, dense tone, DRUGS and 420 Funk Mob sound like a medley between some spunky Grateful Dead and a Jimi Hendrix-style jam session. By choosing these blatant names that manifest drug references, the groups did target a certain crowd and their fanbase is largely compiled of P-Funk and jam band followers.
“When Jerry Garcia died, P-Funk started getting an influx of deadheads at our shows,” notes Clip. “So we began using their vernacular. I had never taken mushrooms before then, but we started checking out the scene and all. We called the group 420, realizing the whole puff-puff party would come. You know, why not?”
At first, Clip says, the name DRUGS was a joke, but then they elaborated on it to purvey their message: entitling their album DRUGS: The Prescription for Mis-America, the band’s intention is to communicate the mishaps of the United States, its blemishes and defects. “America is missing its mark and drugs are something to keep the people from thinking about what they really need,” Clip says. “America supports and sells drugs in different ways. They sell drugs with 800 numbers on TV and they support wars so that we can have ‘peace.’ Instead, our DRUGS spill the dope on America about things like child abuse, molestation, old age, jealousy-the truth about American issues.”
Whereas “psychedelic” used to be an offbeat term in the ’60s, it’s more commonly depictive of contemporary music and Clip attests that his sound is still “dope music.” Additionally, the term encompasses a relative amount of intricacy and density in musical composition that is less embodied in popular music. Industry heads fear that complexity and would rather rely on a redundant, simple formula that is trendy and that sells.
P-Funk was never aimed to sound popular and was, at first, a divergent and oddball group. Clip says that if it hadn’t been for Clinton, he and other members may not have been hired by anyone since they were all too creative and unusual at the time. When “Atomic Dog” was released, it flopped, he notes, but then came back as a hit because the audience caught on. Rather than getting intertwined in the trends, DRUGS and 420 are also risk-takers.
“A new genre appears out of black folks’ pain as people are trying to get over a hump,” he says of the emergence of funk more than 4 decades ago, “and then the industry creates a template for it and [uses groups] to fill in the blanks, like, now, they put a Timbaland beat here, a Missy Elliot beat there. BET is one long song with all the same producers. When Clinton’s shit came out, it was gothic, it even had some classical stuff in it, but now the industry doesn’t take chances anymore. Rock ‘n’ roll would have never happened if no one took chances though.”
While ex-boy band member Justin Timberlake will pursue collaborations with hip hop producer Timbaland and the industry will cultivate the trends, whilst setting up specific modi operandi to sell their pop records, other artists, aberrant and on their own bona fide route, will keep advocating novelty in music and, hence, keep propagating the funk. Although Clip doesn’t foresee a surefire P-Funk reunion, he is assured that the legacy will live on:
“P-Funk is together and apart at the same time, but it’s impossible for it work now. We were the rebels of that day. 30 years from now, whoever’s gonna be the next misfit will bring on the new phenomenon and do his/her art in the most pure, ugly sense, then see how people will react. People will say, ‘You hear that groove? That’s some stankin’ shit.’ That’s what funk is.”
You can see 420 Funk Mob and George Clinton perform at Marley Fest tomorrow at Bayfront Park (see Calendar or go to www.wefunkrecords.com).
Omar Sommereyns can be reached at SOASIS@aol.com