Funk, Hip Hop and Blues & Soul

ARTS, Music
img_georgeclintonA short primer on George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic, Jurassic 5, and Charles Bradley.

In late March and early April, New Zealand will host some exciting funk, soul, and urban talent. Funk legends George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic, socially-conscience hip hop collective Jurassic 5, and blues and soul revivalist Charles Bradley will all perform here.

The performances are likely to be incendiary. George Clinton treats funk as religion with endless enthusiasm, Jurassic 5 are at a renaissance-peak, and Bradley’s soul odyssey is alive and thrilling. As a collective, the three acts offer a glimpse of the far-reaching influence and longevity of traditional blues and roots, and a culture that relies on the past to move forward.

Widely recognised as a shareholder of the ‘Godfather of Funk’ title alongside James Brown and Sly Stone, George Clinton is a force of funk to be reckoned with. Beginning as a staff songwriter for Motown in the 1960s, by the 70s Clinton would become the principal architect of Parliament and Funkadelic. These two bands, comprised mostly of the same members, would blend elements of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and James Brown while exploring new sounds, such as spacey synthesiser melodies, electric bass lines, jazzy horn sections, and spoken verses characterised with sex and drug-related humour. The term ‘P-Funk’ was coined to refer to this breed of music and the two bands as a singular entity; a sonic movement led by the funk-shaman Clinton. Between them, Parliament and Funkadelic released over 20 albums in the 70s alone; Funkadelic performed guitar-based funk with heavy psychedelic influences, while Parliament employed a smoother, rhythm and blues-infused funk. Parliament’s concept album of P-Funk mythology, 1975’s Mothership Connection, is a highlight, as is Funkadelic’s 1971 Maggot Brain, but the P-Funk Earth Tour of ’76-‘77 retains the greatest acclaim. Tribal funk, exuberant colour, absurd costumes, and years of well practiced peace, love, and acid all enveloped by an elaborate afrofuturistic stage show; it was P-Funk’s visionary triumph.

Through the 1980s George enjoyed a solo career and began to see the influence of Parliament and Funkadelic. The Red Hot Chili Peppers recruited Clinton as a producer for second album, the jittery, funk-punk Freaky Styley, and from the late 80s and beyond, the Godfather of Funk would find his music recontextualised for a new culture: hip-hop. Dr. Dre’s groundbreaking 1992 album The Chronic openly emulates fat, blunted P-Funk beats, this time marketed as G-Funk, and on Snoop Dogg’s iconic 1993 Doggystyle, Clinton encourages the rapper’s outrageous, humorous street tales with similar class (“we travel in packs and we do it from the back, how else can we get to the booty?” ). Later in the decade, Clinton would appear on the techno-funk cut ‘Synthesizer’ from Outkast’s critically acclaimed 1998 Aquemini, an album with other nods to P-Funk (Outkast’s ‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’ bears striking resemblance to Parliament’s ‘Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication’). Some see Clinton holding another title—the Godfather of Hip Hop—due to the admiration and influence shown by key players in the game, a title hard to dispel when other credits include tunes with Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, and Wu Tang Clan.

img_jurassic5After a six-year hiatus, American alternative hip-hop group Jurassic 5 returned to the touring circuit at Coachella Festival 2013, and have since embarked on a successful world tour reminding many why the six-piece collective inhabit a class of penmanship and beatmaking all their own. Rappers Charles Stewart (Chali 2na), Dante Givens (Akil), Courtenay Henderson (Zaakir), Marc Stuart (Marc 7), and disc jockeys Mark Potsic (DJ Nu-Mark) and Lucas Macfadden (Cut Chemist) formed in 1993 Los Angeles and went on to cement a position in the 1990s alternative hip hop movement alongside Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Kool Keith, and The Pharcyde. Jurassic 5 released four albums from 1998’s Self Titled through to 2006’s Feedback, characterised by four deep voices ebbing and flowing through complementary vocal tones, with raw beats constructed from early soul, rhythm and blues recordings. 2000’s Quality Control and 2002’s Power in Numbers display the group at their peak, as each rapper takes turn swiping scathing lyrics at the media, the concept of freedom, and the responsibilities of adulthood , all directed with spirited precision by DJ Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist. The hits ‘Quality Control’, ‘Jurass Finish First’, ‘Freedom’, and ‘What’s Golden’ are as consuming and energetic a decade later.

img_charlesbradleyCharles Bradley revives and celebrates the heart of funk and soul music from the 1960s and 70s, and does so with the aching pain of a man whom toiled to the stage. Witnessing James Brown perform at the Apollo Theater in 1962 left a profound effect on the impressionable, 14 year old Charles, who began to mimic Brown’s style of singing and stage mannerisms. Charles fled home for two years due to poor living conditions, and was adopted at day by the streets and at night by the subway. Charles later found work as a trainee chef, and after a 20-year string of odd jobs and moonlighting as a James Brown impersonator, he found recognition and a record deal. 2011’s debut album No Time for Dreaming was met with critical acclaim, as Bradley flexed his funk-muscle and topped it off with excellent Neil Young and Nirvana covers, while 2013’s Victim of Love offered a bolder, confident sound; a man with the soul of Motown reclaiming his voice decades later.

Blues and roots reads like a cyclical walk through popular music history. Examined as a splintered snapshot of the genre, George Clinton’s music and its phenomenal impact on future generations offers a pattern of recontextualisation. P-Funk paved the way for beatmakers, for the likes of Jurassic 5 and Charles Bradley to spit rhymes and scream soul, and as urban collectives continue to reform, and lost soul relics continue to revamp the past, blues and roots will live long and its lineage last. Perhaps Bradley said it best himself, in a conversation with Alexander Bisley last year: “The classic will never die, because when you want to really get into real music, you’ve got to go back to the classic.” 

George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic, Jurassic 5, and Charles Bradley all perform at Auckland’s Powerstation: Bradley on March 26th, Clinton on April 8th, and Jurassic 5 on April 11th and 12th. Jurassic 5 play Wellington on April 8th, too.
Filed under: ARTS, Music


James Manning is a music contributor. He also writes for other national music publications including Rip It Up, Groove Guide, and NZ Musician.