George Clinton’s career is the stuff of novels; the stuff of biopics; the stuff of legends. From Doo-Wop and Motown to Parliament Funkadelic to P-Funk to Hip Hop (Techno coming soon), “Uncle George” has literally seen it all and breathed it all. Many artists make great songs. Clinton makes great genres. Half a century-in and the P-Funk All Star is still pushing the margins off the page and off the charts.
Aleon Craft grew up idolizing George Clinton. The Atlanta-native splashed in the mainstream early as part of Da Backwudz in the mid-2000s. Nearly five years later – sans record-label abandonment – he’s creating some of his freshest material and feeling better than ever about it. Taking a nod from his idol, he released Craft Singles in 2011 – an eight-track adventure through Craft’s own original genre, Solar-Hop.
In a sense, Aleon Craft and George Clinton teaming-up on Mothership: The Decatur Connection is a reunion of sorts. The two worked together on the Da Backwudz‘ Wood Work. But beyond the obvious, Craft and Clinton seem like kindred-spirits: two musical minds that only see the boundlessness of sound, separated by decades only.
HipHopDX spoke with Aleon Craft and George Clinton individually in this interview, discussing the origins of their collaboration, Clinton’s current legal battles over copyright issues and his memories of Afrika Bambaataa, Beyonce, Eminem, Dr. Dre when they were teenagers, and what surprises them both about Hip Hop.
George Clinton and Aleon Craft Discuss Collaborating Together
HipHopDX:Mothership: The Decatur Connection. How long were you thinking about this concept? Where did it come from?
Aleon Craft: When we came up for the concept for [my mixtape] Motheship Decatur, it was always in the back of my mind because I grew up on the Funk. It was always in the back of mind. I always wanted to do it since I came up with that project for my mixtape. It was always in my mind like, “What if I did a Mothership project with George [Clinton]?” Shout out to SMKA. If it’s an idea and it’s a good one and it’s not too far fetched, we try to make it happen. Mike Walbert put it in motion and here we are right now. It’s a blessing. I had the idea when I came up with my mixtape. Mothership Connection is like a staple for me. I idolize George. The Funk is alive and well inside of me.
George Clinton: It started with some friends of mine. They were doing some stuff and I liked what they were doing, so I said I’m down with it. I’m down with anything that’s real and that gives me a chance to put some music out. I’m ready.
DX: George, After a career as extensive as yours, you’re still on the button, ready-to-go whenever it’s time to make some music?
George Clinton: Oh hell yeah! That’s the shit that’s keeping me alive.
DX: How did you guys record this project? Were you in the studio together?
George Clinton: The friends of mine that I mentioned, they came by and did some things. Then I did some stuff on theirs and sent it to them. Then they did some stuff and sent it to me. We just kind of did it like that.
DX: Aleon, was it intimidating getting working with George on this project? He’s worked will all the greats.
Aleon Craft: That’s true, but naw, it wasn’t. I worked with George before on Da Backwudz’ [Wood Work] album so it was good to see him again and be able to chop it up with him and talk to him. It’s deeper than the music when it comes to dealing with George. I try to get as much advice as I can from him and let him know that whatever he goes through, I’ve got his back as far as the copyright issues go. That’s one of the reasons behind wanting to do this project. We heard what he was going through also. We just wanted to pay homage to him and let him know there’s people out here that respect the Funk for what it is. It’s its own genre of music. It’s a blessing, man.
DX: Were there any differences between working with him on Da Backwudz album and working with him this time around?
Aleon Craft: There really wasn’t a difference. It was actually better this time because you don’t have the whole label thing going on. It’s crazy wackiness. We can create it how we want to create it and not have to answer to nobody. As long as it’s jamming and funky with it, we’re riding out.
DX: When I saw the press release for the project, it kind of made sense. Coming off Craft Singles, which were remixes, but it was Solar-Hop. That’s the genre you’ve created. It felt like an obvious but yet unexpected next project.
Aleon Craft: Thank you! I appreciate you listening to your boy and kicking it.
DX: When I think of George Clinton, P-Funk, Parliament Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins and everything you guys pioneered, you were always light-years ahead of what everyone else was doing. Your 1982 album was called Computer Games.
George Clinton: Right. [Laughs]
DX: Your music seemed to predict the technological course of history before it actually arrived. Is it easier to make music now that you’re in the technological age?
George Clinton: You’re absolutely right. Whenever I hear something, if parents or older musicians say, “Man, that ain’t music. That ain’t shit,” that’s when I jump on it because that’s gonna be the next music. As soon as older musicians start dissing or parents start dissing, I try to jump on that because that’s what actually gives it the energy to become the next music. When old folks hate it, kids are gonna love it.
DX: When you were coming out of the Doo-Wop era and were honing in on the Funk sound, were you met with that same resistance? Parliament Funkadelic is beloved by people of all ages and races now. Were old people saying, “That ain’t music?”
George Clinton: Yeah. When we stopped doing Motown [Records-sounding music], they said, “What the fuck are y’all doing?” It was too White for Black folks and too Black for White folks. I saw all these rock and rollers from England coming over here. We were already at Motown at that time. We were already cool and slick. Then things started to change. Things started to look like the Ink Spots, which I had seen in the 1950s – The Platters and things – just started looking like things got old all of a sudden. So then we started doing the Funkadelic stuff, for the kids in college, that was like the new Rock & Roll. Then after we did that, after everyone else started doing [what we were doing], we started doing Mothership Connection, Chocolate City, you know. Deejays stopped talking on the radio. Radio stations stopped talking and just played the music and you didn’t know who was doing it. So we just started talking on our own records. We started becoming our own deejays on the record. Before you knew it, Mothership Connection was out and went platinum. Even though Sly [& The Family Stone] and all them were around, they still weren’t doing it with the Funk in it. They were being slick, but they were being too slick. Sly [Stone] was my man. He was funky as hell, but he could do both sides of it. We was already at Motown, which was the slickest shit that you could do. You couldn’t get no slicker than the shit we was doing over there. So we said, “Stax Records was already around with the horns and stuff, could you imagine it’s gonna be as funkier as they are in New Orleans and still have the slick horns and things?” So we started doing Mothership Connection.
Then we started doing plays and shit but still being funky with our costumes – expensive costumes. Then you could see Hip Hop coming along. It was catching on with the deejays. There weren’t no deejays on the radio so they started putting deejays in clubs. Deejays became artists all of a sudden. That’s what we were doing. We did “Atomic Dog” with knowing what sampling was gonna be like and sure enough, “Atomic Dog” is almost the premier sample record. We was actually playing that shit to sound like it was sampled, but we was actually playing it. You’ll have a Rock band like Rage Against The Machine who sampled then had to learn how to play it.
All of that stuff keeps going on and now you have Techno. So working with real high volume Techno is something we’re experimenting with now. That’s gonna be our next one, but still funky. We’ll probably have some Doo-Wop mixed in it because we always have everything mixed in it. You have the history of the Big Band and the Jazz sound but you also have something for the kids. You’ll have Jazz on one end and Hip Hop on the other end and we just keep crossing the line back and forth. New technology, sampling, that’s the reality.
George Clinton Disassociates With Parliament Funkadelic Sample Lawsuits
DX: You did an interview in 1997 with Natasha Soleil and she asked you about sampling when you did “Clones of Doctor Funkenstein.” You said that you wanted to people to sample your music to “save the Funk.”
George Clinton: We knew that sampling would keep us alive and we also related it to cloning. If you take a look at how someone is cloned, you take a piece of them and make something new out of it, sampling is the same thing. You take one piece of music and you clone a new song out of it. Sampling kept us alive. That’s the bridge between Hip Hop and Funk. It kept us alive. It kept Hip Hop alive. The only thing that fucked it up was the record companies trying to steal the copyrights from each other and make it hard for somebody to sample by suing them and charging them so much. That almost killed it.
That’s what we’re fighting for in the copyright thing. We want Hip Hop to survive. We want them to make it cheap enough so artists can sample stuff and not get sued. The record companies are pretending they’re getting sued and keeping the other artists royalties and they ain’t get sued for shit. That way the artists say, “Man, I can’t make no more Hip Hop records or else I’m going to get sued.” [The record companies] didn’t pay that much money for the sample. They paid a little bit to the guy pretending to be my publisher but they weren’t paying him that much money. Puffy got charged for a record of ours [that The Notorious B.I.G.] used. They didn’t pay that much money to nobody, but they charged Biggie and them that much money for the sample like they got sued for that much money. They didn’t pay that much money. That’s the game that they’re running on all of Hip Hop. The game they run is, “Yeah, you got sued for that.” Bullshit. Right now, they’re trying to sue Lil Wayne. I’m trying to get in touch with him to tell him to call me as a witness. I guarantee you they’ll drop the charges. Don’t let your lawyer and manager tell you any other bullshit because your lawyer and manager help the record labels do that. They give them a kickback.
DX: Is that the nature of your current legal battle? Universal is named in the case.
George Clinton: Yeah! Universal [Records], Bridgeport [Music], Capitol [Records], BMI [Publishing]. We had to go to Congress because the copyright police was involved. We had to go all the way through there and bust them. We’re taking this all the way.
DX: In your view, the record labels are colluding against the artists?
George Clinton: Against Hip Hop. Against samples. The artists that are getting sued, they have to be careful about their own managers and lawyers. They’ll give him a piece of it and tell him, “Look, you want to bring another act to this label, don’t you?” All of them together. You have to be really careful. All you have to do is make sure they take you to court. And when they take you to court, call me as a witness. I guarantee you they’ll drop the charges.
DX: I’d expect a lot of artists will be hitting you up.
George Clinton: I’m trying to get that out but see it’s harder because they’re own managers won’t let them hear what I just said. The lawyers get a piece of it. Bullshit.
DX: Aleon, a couple years ago you worked with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and it was a dope fusion between Hip Hop and Classical which I don’t think you see very often. And the this year, DJ Premier studied Classical music and collaborated with the Berklee Symphony Orchestra and then Nas got on the track. I don’t know if you’ve heard the joint, but it’s ill and it reminded me of what you did a few years back.
Aleon Craft: That was a beautiful experience, man. The whole program that they were doing with teaching the kids about melodies and how the foundation of music. All music is melodic. That’s where it all ties into each other. Then they did a segment on how people take pieces of a song and explained sampling to them. It was just teaching the kids. We did two a days for eight days. I did 16 shows. It was cool man.
DX: A lot of people refer to James Brown as the “Grandfather of Hip Hop.”
George Clinton: Him and ourselves, we’re pretty much the same thing, you know. You’ve got Fred [Wesley] and Maceo [Parker] and them, which was a great part of his band. You’re talking about them as the same people.
DX: Initially, James Brown wasn’t that happy with Hip Hop sampling his music.
George Clinton: No he wasn’t. People will tell you at first, “Man, they’re stealing your shit.” I’d rather for it be done that way than be on TV and you don’t get shit. I may not get paid right away, but I know how to keep my own career alive by [them sampling my records]. Now, we’re waiting to get paid for all of the shit that was done. But in the meantime, we’re out here performing and ain’t never stopped.
DX: Do you have a collaboration with an emcee, deejay, producer that’s your favorite? Do you have one that stands out? My personal favorite is “Bop Gun” by Ice Cube.
George Clinton: That was a good one because we actually did that live. We went in there and played that song over again with him. I like all the stuff. Him and Del The Funky Homosapien, I liked all of their stuff because they were really clever. And then Hank Shocklee and [The Bomb Squad]. They did shit with samples that was un-fucking-believable. They were like the Motown of Hip Hop. They made whole arrangements out of the samples. It wasn’t just some loop. I mean, some of the loops were good. [Digital Underground’s] “Humpty Dance” is probably one of the best loop’s there is from one of our songs. But Shocklee and them put in all kinds of little pieces of shit. They made arrangements.
DX: They were Rembrandt with it.
George Clinton: That’s what I’m talking about! That shit was artsy-fartsy like a mutherfucker. [Laughs] You can go back and write the charts out. They had tone in that shit. Like [Public Enemy’s] “Bring The Noise” – which is basically what it sounded like. That’s like what we did on “Free Your Mind…And Your Ass Will Follow.” We were saying shit like, “Turn that guitar down!” right in the middle of the record because we knew the noise was the woo in the shit. We called it a joyful noise. It’s like church and you get into church and they start going, “Wooo-wooo-wooo!” That’s beautiful noise. Jimi Hendrix made that noise religious and sexy.
DX: And patriotic.
George Clinton: And patriotic! They been fucking up “The Star Spangled Banner” ever since. [Laughs] He still held true to the song and it was the craziest noisiest one of all. He left you with all the innuendos of the song. That song was a fighting song. He let you know what you were listening to. “Bombs is bursting in the air…” His was patriotic as a mutherfucker!
DX: When you did “Can’t C Me” with 2Pac, was that live also? In retrospect, it sounds like it.
George Clinton: Yeah, I did that one live. I was saying, “You can’t see me,” and I was Doo-Wopping. I was doing it from a Doo-Wop stand point. At the same time, people didn’t know what they were looking at with [2Pac]. I knew what I was looking at. I knew that his reign was also a patriotic thing. He was basically saying the same things as everyone else was saying, but his came off as religious. I knew him when he was dancing! He wasn’t even in [Digital Underground]. He was just a dancer but he did his part when it came time to rap. His was almost religious. People could hear shit in his songs that he didn’t even hear. Biggie’s another one. Biggie was a big nice guy but sounded like the most horrendous street thug you ever want to meet.
DX: How’d he do that?
George Clinton: You feel that shit! We did the same thing. We were pretty much a straight ass group. Straight as hell. When people think of Funkadelic, they think of the craziest mothers in the world. And we were basically lame when it came to being hardcore. We weren’t like our friends we knew in the streets in New Jersey. All my friends went to jail. I knew how to make that vibe come through on Mothership Connection. The language we used was all dope talk. Everything we said was “step on this,” “uncut,” “the bomb.” We didn’t do none of that shit. We didn’t do none of that shit until later on. When we did do it, we did the fuck out of it, know what I mean? We did acid. Acid was as good as you could possibly get. When we got to it, oh yeah we laid it down. When crack came on, that wasn’t shit. We had already done the crazy shit. I couldn’t handle angel dust. Believe me, ain’t nothing got nothing on that shit. A crackhead is a punk compared to a sherm. So when it came time for me to get my money from this shit, I didn’t have to go to no rehab and shit. I didn’t even look back. I ain’t bragging about it because I wish I could do it. I wish I could do it and take care of my business but I can’t. It just can’t be done. I don’t miss it, but I’m not repenting and shit because I wish I fucking could have it.
Sly’s in rehab now. He said, “You don’t need to come to no rehab.” He ain’t gonna let me do nothing he ain’t gonna do. And we’re working on some bad ass shit together and he knows that when we’re done that they can’t waste time talking about, “He’s a crackhead.” The shit ain’t no good no more anyway!
DX: It’s been stepped on.
George Clinton: It’s been run-over! They don’t even give you no dope no more in that shit. The shit is so commercial now that they give you whatever they need to to shake your things up to make you think you had something. You ain’t getting shit.
DX: So, for you it was all about prioritizing. You didn’t need rehab to hang it up.
George Clinton: When it comes to fucking with the music, ain’t nothing gonna get in the way. Nothing is going to get in the way. It just so happens that dealing with these record companies, they could use that and people won’t take you serious at all. So I was like, “Fuck that. I ain’t getting hit with that shit.”
George Clinton Recalls Work With Hip Hop Elite Like Outkast, Ice Cube and Afrika Bambaataa
DX: Another one of my favorite joints you were a part of…And when I say favorite, I’m 30-years-old. I was born in 1981 so just growing up in a household where my parent’s played P-Funk all the time, George Clinton all the time. Your music was literally was the background music to my action figures. But the 1990s was when I really started selecting music on my own and developing my own appreciation. George Clinton was still there, only now you were coming through Hip Hop. And another one of my favorites was “Synthesizer” by Outkast.
George Clinton: Yeah! Like I said, that was back in those times where they were just moving their name. Outkast and Dungeon Family and Big Gipp.
DX: Would you consider them musical geniuses in your opinion?
George Clinton: All of them! Yeah! They saw what we were doing then they made it theirs. They were true to it and they made it theirs and it was legit. People were like, aw, that ain’t music. It’s music. It’s just 21st century. Especially when you say it ain’t music, that’s when it’s gonna be music for real because kids are gonna make it music. They love when grownups hate. Look at Little Richard and all them. “Tutti Frutti / Oh Rudy.” They just raped the lyrics off so many songs. But you see how dumb the [haters] were? Rock & Roll became a mountaintop at Woodstock. That shit stopped a war! That stopped the world from getting bombed with another nuclear bomb. Rock & Roll became that. Then the music got so sophisticated. Jimi Hendrix, and all them – they all made it so slick. Then it was time to go back and start all over again. Then we come along with “Whoa Ha Hey,” just chanting. We took ours all the way to Funkadelic and sophisticated, and had to go back. So when we made “Atomic Dog” we just said, “Fuck it. Let’s not wait for it to get slick. Let’s just start the shit off. Let’s start this shit off slick and still be what Hip Hop looks like it’ll become.” “Atomic Dog” is the beginning and the end of that shit.
DX: “Atomic Dog” came out the same year that Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “The Message” released .
George Clinton: That’s what I’m saying. We said, “Fuck it. This is what they’re looking for.” On our third album, R&B Skeletons In The Closet, we’ve got a song called “Mixmaster Suite.” We took a real orchestra and made a symphony of Hip Hop shit. Auto-Tune samples. And just sung “There is a deejay in your town who calls himself ‘Mixmaster.’” When we sampled, we sampled “One Nation” – ourselves. You couldn’t tell what it was until the song was over.
DX: You mentioned how Rock & Roll saved the world; stopped another nuclear attack. The world is in a crazy place right now. There are major protests going down on four continents…
George Clinton: It’s gonna take another something to do it again.
DX: Does Hip Hop have a roll in that in your opinion?
George Clinton: It’s got to because it’s the only music that all race of people get along with. Think about it, [Hip-Hop] has more effect on race relations than any music that ever was. Everybody’s got some rapper slang in every language. They all know that vibe and feeling no matter what language it is. You can feel it if they’re writing in Japanese. We practiced that shit early on so we wouldn’t have to kill each other. It’s called “Playing The Dozens.” We practiced that shit just so we could figure out a way how to talk to each other in each other’s face without killing them. We practiced how to take it without being offended. Then we’d do it until it gets to “Yo’ mama.” When it gets to “Yo’ mama,” if you can take that, you can take anything else. Nigga ain’t shit. When it get to “Yo’ mama,” you’re alright. [Laughs]
DX: Aleon, “When those blue skies turn to grey and people always got something to say / It ain’t time to be timid / It’s time to get wit it.” “Make It Out” is an empowering joint. That song speaks to right now. It’s almost like a battle cry. It’s almost like it would fit on a soundtrack to Occupy Wall Street or something.
Aleon Craft: That was one of them songs that was real personal for me. I’ve been dealing with a lot mentally, just trying to get myself together. That was a real-ass song. You go through things, you’ve just got to know that it will be greater later. Sometimes we’ve just got to hear it from other places. My mom doesn’t understand how instrumental she was in me making that song. I told her, but she doesn’t understand. Me and my mom are like best friends. We’ve got a funny mother-son relationship. It’s not the average mother-son relationship. She’s like my homegirl. We talk like we’re best friends rather than mother and son, but she’s still my mother. It’s cooler than a mother-son relationship because she’s like my best friend. She was very instrumental in me getting out of that funk I was in. She helped me make that song. It’s real, man. You’ll be at a certain point in your life and it’s like a rollercoaster. I was at the bottom of the hill. And then you sit up and you watch the news and you see other stuff that’s going on and then you remember that there’s always someone that’s worse off so be thankful for what you do have and it will get greater later. Then that song came out.
DX: Is it liberating to have evolved as much as you have over your decade-plus doing this? Is it liberating to have creative freedom?
Aleon Craft: I’m going to straight up and tell you. I haven’t felt this good doing music in a long time. I tell the boys at SMKA that I appreciate them all the time for just helping a brother feel good doing music again, man. I ain’t felt this good in a long time. I’m out here in California with my homeboys and we’re out here just writing songs and elevating. I’m growing and it feels good. And I’m noticing the growth.
DX: Are you thinking about your next project at all? Are you thinking about who else you might want to collaborate with or are you focused completely on this project now?
Aleon Craft: Man, I’m always recording, man. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeves that I’ve got coming for 2012. I’m just trying to stay working, man. We’re going to max this project out to its full potential and keep doing it all the while I’m still recording and making songs. I’ve got a few nice things coming up that I think the people are going to enjoy.
DX: George, how do you still resonate? How do you still make music and reach generations that didn’t exist when you started? How do you stay relevant?
George Clinton: When you get that big, you start wanting to straighten out. You start wanting to straighten up. But Eminem always finds something to say that’s just hilarious. You’d think that after all the success that he’s had, all the craziness he’s been through – and you can tell that he’s repented about a lot of shit – he still knows that the music is for fun. And he’ll find the wrongest thing to say, but it’ll still be alright that he said it.
DX: That’s a thin line to walk.
George Clinton: I’m telling you that’s a thin line. Now my son, he’s another one that can do that. He’ll say some shit and I’ll be like, “Holy shit. I wouldn’t touch that with a 10 foot pole.” But he can do it just so matter-of-fact and everybody thinks he’s cute. Certain subjects you just can’t say nothing about or somebody’s going to call you out on it politically or socially or something. We used to have that space.
DX: Aleon, you’ve had a roller coaster career so far. Going from working with Dallas Austin with Da Backwudz to the solo lane and finding your own sound and creating your own sound. What still surprises you about Hip Hop?
Aleon Craft: The amount of negativity that comes along with it. Not just from an artist standpoint but from a consumer standpoint. People have to realize that you can’t please everybody and everybody’s not going to like everything. I’m a fan of music first. That’s why I make songs, because I’m a fan of music. I think that from a consumer standpoint, we have to learn that…especially as a race of people, man. We shouldn’t be hating on the next brother or disliking them or dissing them because they make a certain type of music that you don’t necessarily care for or just don’t listen to. It’s all art. You shouldn’t judge somebody on the way that you feel about the music they make. If a nigga ain’t out robbing or selling crack to one of my family members or trying to rob somebody or kill another black [person], I’m not tripping, man. Make them songs. It’s still just so surprising that people can be so – for a lack of a better term – mean, man. [Laughs] And it’s sad that when someone sees someone else doing better than them, they try to find all the wrongs for what they’re doing rather than saying, “Brother, just keep doing your thing.” Not to say nobody’s name, but I’m not mad at the Waka [Flocka Flames] and the Soulja Boys. It’s all art. You’ve got to look at it like it’s painting. You’ve got one person that paints portraits. You’ve got another person that paints nature. You’ve got another person that paint’s urban imagery. It’s all art. You might not like the urban imagery. You might like the nature. But don’t diss the urban shit because you don’t like it. We as a people have got to get out of that and hold each other up as opposed to tearing each other down, man.
DX: It’s interesting to hear you say that given how competitive Hip Hop is by nature. It’s founded on being nicer than someone else. Has Hip Hop, in your opinion, evolved passed the point where the competitive nature is at or should be at the forefront?
Aleon Craft: I mean, it’s always going to be competitive. That’s why nine times out of 10, Rap groups don’t last long. That’s why groups like The Wu-Tang Clan and Outkast are still persevering through the negative. It’s always going to be competition but it should be a friendly competition. Not like, “I’ma hate on this nigga.” That whole Rap beef shit, man. It’s wack to me. I’ve never been into it. Never. A friendly Rap beef is cool. That’s one thing. Like you said, it’s a competitive thing. But it’s never that serious to me. Us as black men, we can just come together and hold each other up, we could be so much more powerful.
DX: George, you’ve created musical genres. Your music has changed the world. What still surprises you about Hip Hop? What surprises you about music?
George Clinton: I’m still surprised by which things work; which ones get through. Like Beyonce, I recorded her when she was 13-years-old in a choir. And then [Destiny’s Child] came out and I thought they were reminiscent of Motown – Destiny’s Child. But she managed to do something fresh every fucking time. She’s at the top of the Pop sound. That’s when you usually run out. It’s good that her and Rihanna and Eminem got it together because to me they’re all the same thing in different directions. When Eminem and Rhianna came together, I thought that was good thing because I was a Rhianna fan when that first album [Music of The Sun] came out. That was crazy. That was more than that. That was a movement and she’s been living up to it ever since. To see her, Eminem, and Beyonce together, that lets me know that I still got my ear on this. I’ve still got the pulse that lets me know what’s going to work. I predicted them to the point that I got on everybody’s nerves around my camp.