Matty Lear gives an insight to the genre of Funk, exploring its legacy and modern form.
“If you fake the funk, your nose will grow” – said the great Bootsy Collins, implying that conviction is imperative whilst identifying the significance of feeling in his line of music. Since then, the introduction and widespread popularity of sampling and sequencing has influenced such ‘feeling’. Perhaps the introduction of such inventions into music are less personal, despite a more exact and larger sound. The decline of funk seems to correlate with the modern day technological progressions in music – other than throwbacks to Prince, James Brown or Zapp and other such acts, funk receives relatively little radio play – especially on stations catering for younger audiences. Even modern day commercial successes of raw funk rely on former greats. Reunions and tours from Parliament-Funkadelic and Earth, Wind and Fire begin to appear as a mere novelty only prolonging the death of funk. In this day and age, has the true ‘feeling’ and revolutionary makeup (so evident in funk) been disposed of forever?
No way. It seems that we do in fact very much want the funk (“Give up the funk, Ow”…). It may not be everyone’s go-to genre but the huge popularity of Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk’ and Daft Punk/Nile Rodgers’ funk-informed ‘Get Lucky’ (sound of the summer) in recent years only points to its widespread approval. Plus, chuck ‘Play That Funky Music White Boy’ or ‘Superstition’ on and try to stay still. I dare you. That’s right. Virtually impossible.
Funk hasn’t just stayed for drunken grooving; it has influenced much of house music as well as drum and bass. But more notably it has had monumental impact on hip-hop – still felt in the present day. Though the issue of sampling is detrimental to poor Bootsy’s ‘feelings’ in the funk genre, it has undoubtedly helped the music’s longevity with George Clinton even admitting that “that’s the way we’re able to stay around”. This can be demonstrated just by looking at Dr. Dre’s 1992 triple-platinum selling classic ‘The Chronic’, featuring five George Clinton/Parliament affiliated samples and thus lending itself to Dre’s G-Funk sound.
George Clinton, the extraterrestrial brother and founding father of the P-Funk empire helped not only with lending samples but with production on Hip-Hop records too. Outkast’s ‘Synthesizer’ and Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Wolves’ were both products of Clinton’s funk-infused production methods. Clinton (the ‘Atomic Dog’) even inspired Snoop Dogg. Especially in terms of character; with the creations of ‘Star Child’ and ‘Dr Funkenstein’ motivating Snoop’s creative enthusiasm. Bold attitude is very much a part of modern day rap and hip-hop, the ganged swaggering and full-frontal way of dressing and addressing and it derives from funk music. Even Clinton’s affiliation with Organized Noize in turn (through Outkast/Big Boi) lead directly to the encouragement of future hip-hop stars including such artists as Killer Mike.
Funk was involved heavily with black empowerment in the face of racial adversity in the 60s and 70’s, an issue still unfortunately applicable today. Clinton, himself, said that “funk is in the DNA of hip-hop”, and in this manner, the previously mentioned Killer Mike lyrics in Run The Jewels’ ‘Early’ exemplifies this. It still channels the principles and attitude of original, uncut funk in addressing American police brutality. Kendrick Lamar directly references the P-Funk motto in King Kunta’s conclusion, speaking of racial discrimination beforehand and on the Clinton-produced respective album opener of ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’.
However, the legacy of funk is certainly not lyrically exclusive. Whilst rhetoric is importantly influenced by funk, other elements are just as affected. Chic’s Nile Rodgers and his funkified, albeit ‘Disco’ (eugh!), guitar strokes have become a staple for funk guitarists all over, and one cannot forget the magnificent chops of Funkadelic’s demi-god Eddie Hazel. His notorious, gut-wrenching 10-minute utter face-melter that is ‘Maggot Brain’ is unparalleled even after 40 years, inspiring countless guitar players with his frenzied shredding of pure psychedelic and acid-drenched emotion. The late great Bernie Worrell’s wizard keyboard/synth skills and Zigaboo Modeliste’s driving drumming are undeniably great, but perhaps the greatest product of funk, instrumentally speaking, is the slap-bass technique. Sly and the Family Stone’s very own Larry Graham is responsible for this, bringing bass suddenly to the forefront and doing so in definitely the coolest way ever. Rock bands such as Primus, Mudvayne and Red Hot Chili Peppers (who could forget Flea) all owe a great deal to funk and Graham in particular. In recent years, even Muse of all bands used, albeit rather comically, a slap- bass riff in Panic Station – it is inescapable.
Whilst there continues to be a market for the some of the essential elements of funk (especially in rock) contemporary bands like Brother Strut and Papa Grows Funk still churn out their own unforgiving funk to this day, surely demonstrating the undeniable survival of the genre. The last few years have seen hip-hop stars continue to lap up and embrace the funk with George Clinton, Ice Cube and Kendrick Lamar all collaborating on Funkadelic’s ‘Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?’ (2014) and rather excitingly, just a few months ago, Childish Gambino released ‘Awaken My Love’, an album packed with outright authentic funk punch. The album’s second single ‘Redbone’, echoing the vibes of Bootsy Collins’ delectable ‘I’d Rather Be With You’, is Gambino’s most successful commercial single to date. If all this is anything to go by, then the funk will always live on, the Mothership shall stay – well, for the foreseeable future anyway… Long live the funk.