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Hip Hop Reflection: George Clinton Funkin’ Up the Hood

January 3, 2013

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Delores Fisher:

Sonic Tapestry Hip Hop Reflections

Continuing our very narrow look at Hip Hop culture and Rap Music origins, a brief excursion into the mind altered world of George Clinton and his many emanations of Funk is in order. Like R&B, Soul, and Funk’s bigger than life foundational ground musician James Brown, George Clinton’s musicality also flowed through previous and co-existing Black music (and also Rock) genres way back from R&B into his nascent alternative universe experiments which resulted in what we now refer to as Funk. Brown and Clinton exchanged musical personel-Maceo Parker(sax Solos), Bootsy Collins (bass) and Phelps “Catfish” Collins.1 Clinton also added the genius stylings of synthesizer wizard Bernie Worrell who stacked thick “bumpin'” bass lines.2

Hip Hop may have emerged in the Bronx, but its roots are linked to James Brown’s Macon Georgia a musicality of southern roots blended with his interactions with African music during several tours, that resonated with third generation Black urban American migrants and first generation Black Diaspora immigrants.Both political and community minded innovators used their band the way Duke Ellington (who also toured Africa several times) did in Jazz–to craft aspects of a new sound. George Clinton’s music vision was and continues to be one of th most widely sampled pump it up jams in the business.

The “birth” of Soul, Funk, and Hip Hop was assisted by harsh socio-cultural realities of urban and rural oppressed. Dawn Norfleet comments on America’s reality during this time. Ironically Her haunting comment and those of other scholars, echoes eerily across our present 2013 tumultuous American socio-political terrain:

The emergence of Funk paralleled the transition of the American society from the era of the sanctioned racial segregation known as Jim Crow(1890s-1960s) to the 1970s decade of “integration” and “equal opportunity.” For many Americans, the 1970s represented a paradox of social unrest and ubiquitous optimism.3

It is during the 1970s that Hip Hop culture and rap music grabbed notice on America’s national music radar, “charioted” in on the Mothership of Funk whose signifying call/response lyrics, raw vocalizations, and polyrythmic layerings poured sweaty stage libations to its African heritage. Note, this in no way simplistically suggests a neat causality for America’s downward spiral in addressing the lives of its poor, but I posit here that it does acknowledge a nexus of unresolved issues beyond the political buzz word “entitlements.” African American usages of music “on the real” SHOULD foreground the narrative real life voice of countless invisibilized socially, economically, and politically oppressed peoples whose creativity finds a way to audibly signal their frustration through structural spaces meant to obscure their reality. 4

Black music sheds refracted  light on Black lives, however it NEITHER PRESENTS NOR REPRESENTS THE TOTALITY OF ALL NORTH AMERICAN BLACK EXISTENCES. During the 70s and 80s, Funk injected some of the Civil Rights generation’s frustration with constricting cultural stereotypes into Hip Hop through inter-aural memory texts that accidentally or purposefully gave props to cultural elders through sampling reference-yes even into the G-Thang genre. Funk often was/is a coded musical declaration.

Norfleet states, “Juba to Jive: Dictionary of African American Slang defines the word lufunki(of Central African origin, translated as ‘bad body odor’) as the probable origin of the word funk.” 5  For Clinton this has several connotations. When something isn’t right, when it’s foul smelling you call it out. Conscious Rappers call out foulness from the hiding places of stinky pseudo-community ” I.” Other Rappers will call out the foul who have offend them. Often, rural and urban oppressed have small spaces to represent and signal their “I-ness,” who one is. 6 One of Clinton’s most referenced songs still on playlists in 2013 is one such party anthem “Flashlight.

“Flashlight” can have many plausible interpretations. It is a signifying party song. One doesn’t need a flashlight in broad daylight. One needs it in the dark, even on often defacto segregated “post-civil rights” 1970s dark or dimly lit contested clubs dance floors. As an “older club kid” my friends and I frequently talked about which white global vision clubs (Is I now refer to them) welcomed Blacks, Arabs, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and a few brave Asians to get their groove on.

For the hip, Funk’s “Conscious Party” concept was about being in community, sharing identity, universal positive energy transfer, dancing oppositional protest survival. One could also shine one’s creative light through physical appearance, corporeal presence, traditionally or as outrageously as majority counter-culture would tolerate-as long as you were real to what you were portraying as your musical stage self in the moment of the music. This corporeal presence resonates in P-Funk. It still resonates in the attire of Funkstar Grace Jones, and today’s Nikki Minaj. Clinton’s mega dance hit “Flashlight” references this I/we selfhood. It hollas back to the Spiritual “This little light of Mine”7 and in doing so becomes a powerful homage not only to the resiliency of African American and like minded elders, but also to ongoing generations joined in positive familial connectivity.

George Clinton’s P-Funk social vision takes several steps beyond the dance floor as oppositional contested space to explore the flip side of 1970s Black experience—Black political hope. In his innovative, prescient pre-rap controversial treatise  “Chocolate City.”

Commenting on its significance, Marcus Reeves posits:

Black political struggle seemed finally to produce some black political leverage(or at least some folks with some political clout). And with black political leadership overwhelmingly pledging its loyalty to the Democratic Party, it seemed the black liberation movement now had a political party to protect its interests. “You don’t need the bullet when you got the ballot, rapped funk pioneer George Clinton, on Parliament’s 1975 hit, “Chocolate City,” celebrating the black urban population’ boom and asking the inhabitants, “Are you up for the down stroke?”8

Despite conflicting community and scholarly views on the 1970s status of achieved vs believed social opportunities for the Black community, despite seemingly decreasing wealth against the backdrop of increasing wealth for a few middle class Blacks, despite fluctuation in real as opposed to perceived political power, and despite manifestations of a critique of systemic educational neglect and deterioration in education for urban and rural oppressed–especially in the arts, Rap and Hip Hop still emerged out of the cargo hold of several innovative music elders,  including George Clinton’s successfully landed Mothership.


Delores Fisher


1. Dawn M. Norfleet, “Hip Hop and Rap” in African American Music: An Introduction, Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby eds (New York: Routledge, 2006),305.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., 293

4. Commercialism and marketing of one genre as the only perspective through which to view African American culture has resulted in much media coverage that presents a basal myopic portrayal of Black lived experience reminiscent of what was done to North American Blacks during the eras of Ragtime, Jazz, Blues, early Black Rock, R&B, Soul, Disco, and Funk.

5. Dawn M. Norfleet, “Hip Hop and Rap” in African American Music: An Introduction, Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby eds (New York: Routledge, 2006),294.

6. Disco songsters refer to them as not real for example The Drammatics’ “Whatcha See is whatcha get” or The Ojay’s “Backstabbers.”

7. Refers to the Negro Spiritual, “This Little Light of Mine.” One verse states: “Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.” It is a song of guiless spiritual courage, a declaration of purposeful existence to flash your ight to help guide and comfort others.

8. Marcus Reeves, Generation Remixed: Post-nationalism and the Black Culture Shuffle in Somebody Scream! Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power (New York: Faber and Faber, Inc., ), 12.

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