Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Parliament Funkadelic

A movement that was pioneered by jazz musician Sun Ra, who claims to have been born on Saturn, Afrofuturism was the artistic manifestation of the idea that the only way to cope with the present human condition of the African American was to look to the future not the depressing “futureless future” of segregated 1950s America, but a hopeful future out in the stars. Twenty years later in the mid 1970s, one of my favorite groups expanded off that idea.

Space is the place. Recently artists like Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu have brought the aesthetics of ancient mythology, sci-fi and black-American struggle to the forefront of their music. This kind of revival of “Afrofuturism” from the 70s made me revisit some of my favorites from that era. A movement that was pioneered by jazz musician Sun Ra, who claims to have been born on Saturn, Afrofuturism was the artistic manifestation of the idea that the only way to cope with the present human condition of the African American was to look to the future not the depressing “futureless future” of segregated 1950s America, but a hopeful future out in the stars. Twenty years later in the mid 1970s, one of my favorite groups expanded off that idea.

George Clinton and his ‘extra-terrestrial brothers’, Parliament-Funkadelic, represented the “out-of-this-world” musical experience known as P-Funk. Decked out in colorful sequin clothes, braided rainbow hair and black shades, Clinton and his band were the Funk (with a capital F). Coming from the 1975 album Mothership Connection, “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)” begins the album by ‘interrupting’ your radio station to bring you a message from way out.

It’s almost as if outer space has a different groove. A funk that Earth lacks. An appeal to the stars takes on a more profound dimension than just hallucinogenic trips (which Clinton and his band were heavily into). Clinton removes the stigma of being black in America and utterly transforms it from a cry of sorrow to a cry of joy. This sense of celebration and happiness is evident in the upbeat, bouncy nature of Parliament-Funkadelic’s music. The track “Flash Light” from the 1977 album Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome has one of the catchiest bass lines, produced from three synchronized Minimoog synths, on top of swirling guitar licks and cheerful chorus vocals.

My favorite song from the group has to be “(Not Just) Knee Deep” from their 1979 album Uncle Jam Wants You. A defining feature of their music is captured in the track’s hilarious, almost nonsensical lyrics. It’s this playful, upbeat tone that ‘liberates’ from brutal history and discrimination. Playing over a dominant synth melody, the lyrics repeat over and over again about how “something about the music got into my pants.” And, in the end, it got into my pants too: it’s the freak of the week, the mothership connection: it’s “P-Funk, uncut funk, the bomb.”

Words: Scott Silberberg