Very few bands in history can say their impact on music spans over five decades. One group that can undoubtedly make that claim is George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic.
Long before To Pimp A Butterfly, before Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre popularized “G-Funk,” and before The Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded “Dani California,” there was George Clinton. Without Clinton, none of those things would have come to fruition.
In 2016, George Clinton isn’t necessarily a name that’s heard everyday – which is unfortunate, because he has influenced too many artists to count since mastering P-Funk in the 1970s.
What kind of group is Parliament-Funkadelic? They’re the group that became the largest band ever inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with 16 members in 1997. They’ve been listed on Rolling Stone’s “Top 100 Artists of All Time,” and made it onto Spin Magazine’s 2002 list as one of the 10 greatest bands ever.
Parliament-Funkadelic’s origins begin in New Jersey in 1956. Clinton, then 15, formed a five man doo-wop group and named them after his favorite cigarette brand, Parliament Cigarettes. The Parliaments quintet performed in barbershops, and eventually jumped around to different record labels. They released a number of R&B albums, but found no major success for several years.
In 1964, Clinton assembled a backup group of musicians to tour with The Parliaments. Around the same time, Clinton was engaged in a legal battle in which he temporarily lost the rights to use the name The Parliaments.
The five members of The Parliaments and their touring band recorded an album together, with the musicians being listed as the main group members, and the members of The Parliaments were considered featured guests. Clinton named the band Funkadelic, and their debut album Funkadelic was released in 1970.
Combining the psychedelic rock popularized by The Jimi Hendrix Experience in the late ‘60s with James Brown’s style of blues, George Clinton and Funkadelic pioneered funk music.
As Funkadelic grew in popularity, Clinton regained the rights to the group name The Parliaments. He rebranded the original Parliaments as simply “Parliament,” and they released their debut album Osmium the same year as Funkadelic’s debut album.
While Funkadelic focused on a psychedelic style of music, Parliament’s music was smoother and more heavily influenced by R&B. With George Clinton as the face of both groups, and several band members recording for both Parliament and Funkadelic, the two groups became known collectively as Parliament-Funkadelic. It was then that the term “P-Funk” was coined.
P-Funk’s popularity reached its peak in the late 1970s. Parliament’s 1975 album Mothership Connection and Funkadelic’s 1978 One Nation Under A Groove both became platinum-selling albums.
P-Funk became more than a massive group: it became a subgenre of funk in itself. More than 20 bands grew out of Parliament-Funkadelic to create psychedelic funk. From 420 Funk Mob to Bootsy’s Rubber Band, George Clinton’s vision of one band grew into one of the most popular genres of the decade.
Clinton released numerous solo albums, and toured with the P-Funk All-Stars into the 1980s, but the massive commercial success that funk received in the late 1970s began to fade as rap became the new staple of black music. By the 1990s, it was time for funk to undergo a makeover yet again, like it had in the ‘70s.
Through the emergence of gangsta rap in the late 1980s, funk was introduced to a new generation. West coast rappers like E-40, Snoop Dogg and Warren G mixed the sounds of P-Funk with gangsta rap to create what they called gangsta funk, or g-funk. In the early 1990s, Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre brought g-funk from the streets of Los Angeles to a national audience. Dr. Dre’s debut solo album The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle were both wildly popular and sampled numerous songs by Parliament-Funkadelic and George Clinton.
G-funk, the direct descendant of P-Funk, is alive and well in current music. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly was praised for its fusion of hip-hop, smooth jazz, rock, spoken word, and most notably, funk. The first track “Wesley’s Theory,” was co-written by and featured George Clinton, and “King Kunta” asks the listener “if I give you the funk, you gonna take it?”
For years, P-Funk seemed it was going to be nothing more than a memory. Clinton occasionally worked with various artists, and toured on and off throughout the years, but he hadn’t released music with Parliament or Funkadelic since Funkadelic’s 1981 album The Electric Spanking of War Babies.
Fans doubted Funkadelic would ever release new music, but in 2014, 50 years after P-Funk had started, Funkadelic released a brand new album called First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate. The album has 33 songs, one for each year since their last album had been released.
P-Funk has one of the most unique sounds in music. Five decades after Clinton revolutionized funk, new music is being released by the iconic P-Funk entity, and Clinton continues to tour with Parliament-Funkadelic. On February 20, 2016, Funkadelic released a remix to their 2014 song “Ain’t That Kinda Funkin’ Hard On You?” which features Kendrick Lamar and Ice Cube. It’s the perfect blend of original P-Funk and hip hop.
Fortunately for P-Funk fans of the 1970s, and people who have never heard funk before, the 52 year old Parliament-Funkadelic collective is just as funky as ever.