On Saturday’s (Feb. 25) episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN sat down with legendary musician George Clinton to discuss his impact on funk and hip hop, The Jackson 5 pulling inspiration from him, and all things Funkadelic.
Born in 1941 in Kannapolis, North Carolina, George Clinton is a name synonymous with funk music. He grew up in New Jersey and started his musical journey in the 1950s. Clinton served as a member of several doo-wop groups, including The Parliaments and Funkadelic, which later became Parliament-Funkadelic, or P-Funk for short. The group’s unique blend of rock, R&B, soul, and funk, with a heavy dose of electronic instruments and sounds, revolutionized the genre and made them one of the most innovative and influential bands in music history. In 1967, P-Funk released its debut song, “(I Wanna) Testify,” which instantly became a hit. Among several hit records, 1971’s Maggot Brain, 1975’s Mothership Connection, and 1978’s One Nation Under a Groove also subsequently served as just a few of their highly praised albums.
Not only was Clinton’s music revolutionary, but it also carried a strong political statement. His songs often reflected strong stances on social and political concerns as they related to the Black community. Notably, one of the most famous songs, “Chocolate City,” was a tribute to African American political power and the election of the first Black mayor of Washington, D.C. Beyond his work as the lead singer, Funkadelic was also sampled by countless hip hop artists, including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Kendrick Lamar, to name a few. Back in December 2018, Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic were also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by The Recording Academy.
REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from Clinton’s “Drink Champs” interview. Check them out below, and watch the full episode here.
1. On the doo-wop genre and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers
The early ’50s found Clinton in New Jersey, where he first discovered the doo-wop genre. Clinton created The Parliaments in 1955 after being inspired by Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, holding rehearsals in the back of a Plainfield barbershop, where he also worked as a hair straightener.
Regarding The Teenagers, he expressed, “All of them were under 16. They were like our little brothers. We were like 19 and 20, and they were like 15 and 16. So we had a hell of a band that nobody could keep up with. We were doing psychedelic music with a Black man.”
2. On P-Funk laying the groundwork for hip hop
While P-Funk reached its pinnacle in the 1970s, its influence on music is still felt today. Clinton has worked with and been sampled by a wide variety of hip hop artists from both the contemporary and older generations. Earlier in the conversation, he described how much of an impact the genre has on today’s music. “P-Funk was the DNA for hip hop,” he stated.
“The whole LA dream team and all of that, we were right in with them providing beats. I made an album called Sample Some Of Disc, Sample Some Of D.A.T because I saw it coming. They was getting into so much trouble trying to sample and not get caught or hide it. We made it available,” Clinton revealed. “It still didn’t work; the record companies beat us anyway, but we made it available.”
3. On Parliaments and Funkadelic members being on every record label
During the 1970s, George Clinton was producing records for both the renamed Parliaments and Funkadelic, who were effectively the same band that was releasing music on several labels. As he said, this created a big uproar among the record companies when other bands started doing the same thing. Clinton pointed out that several labels were worried that the artists might band together to form their own record company.
“We was on all the labels. Matter of fact, that’s what got us in trouble. They looked around, and we had somebody on every label, and they thought we would eventually start our own label and call everybody back to the label,” he explained. “They were so scared we was going to become Motown again because Motown took over the damn floor. They owned s**t… The industry was never trying to let that happen again.”
4. On labels not paying him for his work with Red Hot Chili Peppers
Clinton and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have collaborated with one another several times throughout the course of their long and fruitful relationship, which dates back several decades. Their second album, 1985’s Freaky Styley, was produced by the funk legend, and he also made an appearance during their performance of “Higher Ground” as a part of the group’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction.
“It’s in the billions because almost every major hip hop artist, along with the artists I produced like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, we never got paid for any of that on that big side of that. I got something to look forward to right now because I’m having fun,” Clinton stated. “I try to look at it on the bright side of things. Fault is the easiest thing in the world to find; that’s why it’s so easy to make hip hop music.”
5. On sample culture in contemporary hip hop
Clinton is widely considered to be one of the most sampled musicians ever with bits and pieces of his music being used hundreds of times over the course of several decades. Despite not producing any new music, his influence lives on, largely thanks to his significant relationship as a sample source for many of hip hop‘s most inspiring figures.
According to him, “I didn’t wait for them. I made a record called Sample Some Of Disc, Sample Some Of D.A.T. I made sure that you could [sample]. I moved the drums out the way. I moved the horns out the way. I isolated different things and we made five versions of that.”
6. On embracing the next generation
Despite being 81 years old, Clinton continues to remain in touch with all things music. Later in the interview, he acknowledged that while sampling kept his earlier songs alive, he also wanted to welcome the current generation of musicians. In addition to his support of artists like Dr. Dre and Lamar from the beginning, Clinton also recounted instances when he had premonitions that Cardi B and Rihanna would become household names.
“When Cardi B came out, I could tell that vibe. I wondered, ‘Who is she?’ You don’t get that serious of an agreement that you shouldn’t do this or this ain’t that because it ain’t that important to most people if you ain’t that. That’s how I always pick the right ones — I got a good record. I tap myself on the shoulders for picking who’s next.”
7. On Prince having a relentless work ethic
While thinking back on his time spent working with the late Prince, George Clinton recalled his extraordinary work ethic and uncanny knack for making the most of every opportunity to elevate his craft to heights only he could accomplish at the time. “He used to get his money’s worth,” Clinton shared.
“He worked all day every day. Prince will have you up at seven in the morning to seven at night when you’re on his tour. He’ll pay you for it. Everybody in the band will tell you he pays you good, but your a** gon’ work,” Clinton stated. “He’d be wanting me to go to the radio station with him and curse ‘em out. I’m not going with you. But I always had his back and he always had mine.”
8. On Funkadelic inspiring The Jackson 5’s wardrobe
The Jackson 5’s signature look was instantly recognizable and made them a fashion phenomenon during the height of their career. Their coordinated ensembles were designed to reflect their youthful, energetic, and fun-loving image. Interestingly, Clinton said that the group’s aesthetic was influenced by Funkadelic, the only other Black group in Motown at the time.
“Mike and [The Jackson 5] came to Motown during ‘(I Wanna) Testify.’ We were probably the reason they were wearing what they were wearing. We were the first Black group that was looking like that. Besides, Sly [Stone] came out right behind us.”
9. On initially not embracing the West Coast
While early G-Funk — which dominated the West Coast at the time — may have taken some cues from rock, Clinton’s P-Funk was unquestionably the genre’s primary influence. Artists like N.W.A., Too $hort, Ice Cube, and Dre all sampled his records, namely songs such as “Atomic Dog,” “Mothership Connection,” and “Flash Light.” Toward the end of their conversation, Clinton told N.O.R.E. and EFN that he wasn’t really fond of rappers in the West Coast until he spent time out there.
“I wasn’t even into the West Coast being hardcore gangster rap. They had grass in the front yard and both parents at home. I’m from New Jersey where it’s concrete everything,” Clinton explained. He later found out, “They was like that. It was popping off and to me, I began to be more afraid of being there.”