#My500Words: Day 22 of 31 "P-Funk: One Nation Under a Groove"

“We want the funk, give up the funk, we need the funk, we gotta have the funk”. Thanks to my Granddad and his music collection, from vinyl to cassette tapes, I ended up growing up on funk and soul music from the 60’s and 70’s. One of the bands that would end up influencing not only my music taste but also perspective is Parliament-Funkadelic. The creative spirit of Parliament is headed by and a creation of key members George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, and Bernie Worrell.

Parliament was ahead of its time in terms of not only music but also their vision, style, and overall expression. Unlike many bands at the time, Parliament was especially unique in the fact that they put an interstellar and intergalactic vibe to funk. That was their own distinct aspect of their brand. Their interstellar vision permeated from their album covers, costumes, and songs such as “Mothership Connection (Star Child) and Unfunky UFO”. From there album covers to costumes that they wore on stage, Parliament drew me in instantly just as much as a music video would.

The sound of Parliament-Funkadelic can be described as funk with a twist of psychedelic rock, Mo-town, and R&B and was often inspired by freaky costumes, acid culture, and science fiction. To me, Parliament holds the unofficial title of the originators of conscious and “woke” music, as their P-Funk was the epitome of anti-establishment, anti-society, and anti-normal.

They had perfected synthesized pop, r&b artistry, harmony soul, rebellious irreverence and all without compromising their sound or look. They were a fresh perspective on post-civil rights black America. Parliament was crazy, psychedelic, and black!

Being a kid at family outings, from camping trips to family reunions, I can still hear the rhythm and lyrics of one particular Parliament song in particular. That song is P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up) and as a kid, I would imagine myself at a Parliament concert and embracing the sonic vibrations of the P-Funk.

It’s funny, at the time I was convinced that instead of ‘funk’ they were saying the f-word. Correct lyrics or not, the song still had an undertone that was prevalent in all of the Parliament songs that I would go on to hear. I would feel it but didn’t understand what I was feeling. To be funk’d up is to embrace your own individuality and inner cool. It is an expression of your creativity without boundaries.

 

Funk music came out of the late 60’s and 70’s, a tipping point in America, especially for African-Americans. The 60’s and 70’s were a time of revolutionary and emboldened change, especially for the African-American community. However, revolutionary change just wasn’t restricted to civil rights but also music and art. Funk was a sense of community and freed to express your blackness. The music was about shared experiences, having fun, and just being funky.

George Clinton also wanted to knock down and obstruct the lines of what defined a black group vs. a white group. Parliament-Funkadelic didn’t have barriers and was as versatile in their music as in their style. Their music was filled with vibrations, had a purpose, and was a revolutionary funky voice for a culture waiting to be heard.

Bootsy Collins explains funk music as “funk is the absence of any and everything you can think of, but the very essence of all that is”. Giving greater context to the emergence of Funk in the 70’s you have to understand the socio-cultural climate at the time. The African-American community was overcoming segregation. While also at the very least just trying to survive in a country that didn’t care for them.

Music has always been a form of expression with African-American heritage from the old negro spirituals to today’s hip-hop. Funk in the 70’s was a metaphor of everything that the African-American community wanted to create but wasn’t given the resources to. Funk was creation but also inspiration and belief that you could do anything and be anything.

Today, you see Parliament’s influence in modern music ranging from west Coast rappers such as Dr. Dre, Warren G, and Nate Dogg. Where they created G-Funk in the 90’s, an infusion of funk with hip-hop. You also had Digital Underground out of Oakland (The Humpty Dance) that was a contemporary hip-hop version of funk. Even rock bands such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine have roots within funk and influence from Parliament.

Parliament’s Mothership Connection album is now 40+ years old but it still maintains its influence. Especially with Childish Gambino’s most recent album “Awaken, My Love!”. But before Gambino, it was Dr. Dre’s iconic and classic album The Chronic. On “Let Me Ride” Dre samples a snippet of “Mothership Connection (Star child)”. Even OutKast in their prime embodied the spirit of Parliament. Both stylistically and philosophically, especially Andre 3000 with his eccentric attitude.

Childish Gambino’s latest album is one with major funk roots. It can also be described as a modern release of Parliament-Funkadelic with its spirit of creativity and liberation. After listening even P-Funk founder George Clinton gave recognition “It sounded like a cross between P-Funk and Prince influence. I’m proud that he’s into the funk and glad him and others are bringing some new funk back”. Many hip-hop fans like myself expected a rap album, but like Parliament in the 60’s, Gambino is re-defining himself.

I need the funk, gotta have the funk, give up the funk. Parliament embodied and was a representation of black party music. As being an expression and escape from the hardships and oppressions of life being black in the 70’s. Parliament and other funk bands were a way for the community to jam out, get down, without concern or judgment. Parliament influenced an entire generation that anything goes and you do what you feel. You are free of possibilities under the influence of P-funk.