The Mothership has landed…again!
With what’s being billed as the band Parliament’s first new music in 38 years, P-Funk’s maestro George Clinton returned last weekend with a new single, “I’m Gon Make You Sick O’Me” and in it he assures us he has the antidote to make it feel better.
Assuming that the antidote (and perhaps the sickness itself) is his legendarily outlandish, sometimes cartoonish brand of kaleidoscopic and comedic funk, consider it mission-accomplished for the multi-band leader who spent years delivering sick hits left and right before a hiatus and various legal woes sidelined his recording career in the 1980s.
Most of us funkateers who grew up on Clinton’s legendary bands felt robbed in the early ‘80s when Clinton stopped producing new music under the Parliament-Funkadelic brands (although rest assured none of us likely felt as robbed as Clinton himself, who famously lost the legal rights to his own music and the Parliament/Funkadelic names around that time).
But coincident with his problems, Clinton’s legacy also had the dubious benefit of being boosted by hip-hop, largely as his P-Funk classics or their many adaptations made him one of the most sampled musicians in history, alongside James Brown and perhaps the Isley Bros.
This was particularly true during the 1990s, a time when hip-hop’s expansion was at its greatest thanks to big name producers like NWA’s Dr. Dre who borrowed liberally from Clinton to give West Coast rap its identity and expand hip-hop beyond the confines of its East Coast origins.
Those samples kept Clinton’s name on our minds as the lingering popularity of his classic ‘70s jams lined other people’s pockets with millions in royalties while he fought just to be able to use names like Parliament and Funkadelic again. About the only justice given to Clinton during that time may have been his 1997 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – along with 15 other members of his P-Funk all-stars, which was a small consolation when you consider the only thing that grants an artist is prestige and bragging rights.
But now Parliament is back, just three years after the return of the Funkadelic half of Clinton’s famous double-moniker band (Funkadelic’s first official album in 33 years was 2014’s First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate). And judging by the slick throwback sound of “Sick O’Me,” it’s safe to say that the Funk has never left this Mr. Clinton.
In the new single, a quirky love jam from the forthcoming concept album Medicaid Fraud Dog that has Clinton singing at one point, “I got that mess for your ass…bend over,” the protagonist (“Dr. Love”) proclaims he’s gonna make his love object sick of him, and then he’ll provide the antidote to cure her ills. It’s a funny refrain he repeats over and over, lest we forget the tune’s title.
Musically, the song has essential P-Funk elements and even employs some of Parliament’s original musicians like the late Junie Morrison, who died in 2017. There are enough horn blasts, synth chords and programmed hand claps to give the song a classic Parliament signature. The distinctive bass line is reminiscent of old Roger Troutman and Zapp, while the reverberated drums recall those of “Atomic Dog,” even if the pace is slowed seemingly just enough to allow the 76-year-old Clinton to keep up.
“I’m Gon Make You Sick O’ Me,” which features former Geto Boys rapper Scarface, certainly isn’t Clinton’s or Parliament’s best work, nor does it pretend to be. It’s no “Flashlight” or “Aqua Boogie” (although it has guttural yowls reminiscent of the famous “hrrrahh! hrrrahh! hrrrahh!” that made the latter song famous). Despite their dated sound, it’s elements like those that you actually want Clinton to include in his music no matter what decade it is.
Yet it’s likely that this waaaay overdue single will probably not even dent 2018’s charts. Music has gone through too many generational changes since Parliament’s heyday. Even ‘90s hip-hop, with which Clinton enjoyed a kind of symbiotic relationship and which he channels by invoking the talents of a 47-yr-old Scarface, is at least three music life cycles old by now.
For their parts, neither Clinton nor Scarface – both with very distinctive sounding voices during their respective heydays – sound the same as they once did. Few people do after a multi-decade absence. Clinton’s more dynamic yowl from the ‘70s and early ‘80s has morphed into an older, more gruff (but still convincing) version of itself. Scarface’s notorious ‘90s baritone is now barely distinguishable from that of your Average Joe.
And if Scarface’s inclusion was meant to bring a more contemporary audience to the Funk party, Clinton probably could have done better (but he also could have done worse…none of today’s more popular trap rappers are qualified to fit the bill). Plus, it’s clear from his many references to Parliament-Funkadelic’s earlier hits that Scarface has the requisite knowledge and respect of Clinton’s work to do the new song justice.
All that said, “Sick O’Me” is actually pretty contagious upon a few listens (especially if you’re a real funkateer like yours truly).
And it’s still refreshing to have George Clinton back and making new music, even if it is three decades late and it serves as a sad reminder of what could have been. In an era when most of our ‘70s funk and R&B icons, particularly the male ones, have left us, we’ll take almost anything we can get.
Especially from a living legend like Clinton.
And who knows? Maybe after repeated listens to “I’m Gon Make You Sick O’Me,” you’ll have the kind of addiction Clinton is aiming for and you’ll be singing its refrain right along with him.
You can hear “I’m Gon Make You Sick O’Me” by clicking this link.
ps. To see a ranking of George Clinton’s 25 best P-Funk jams, click here.