George Clinton on Drugs, Recording With Kendrick and 50 Years of Funk

The P-Funk leader takes us on the mothership in a hilarious new Q&A

Fuzzy Haskins, Tawl Ross, Bernie Worrell, Tiki Fulwood, Grady Thomas, George Clinton, Ray Davis, Calvin Simon and seated Eddie Hazel and Billy "Bass" Nelson of Parliament-Funkadelic pose for a portrait in May 1971. Credit: Michael Tullberg/Getty

Between Parliament, Funkadelic and their offshoots, George Clinton worked on at least 37 different albums in the 1970s. "We had three studios going at once," says Clinton, 73, who offers a frank and entertaining look at his glory years in his new memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You? "We live and breathe and eat music. It was a movement, like Motown, but all one band." Clinton just finished a new album and also collaborated with Kendrick Lamar on potential tracks from the rapper's upcoming LP. "He's a clever kid," Clinton says.

Your career has gone from doo-wop with your original group, the Parliaments, to hip-hop and beyond. How do explain that kind of longevity?
Whenever I hear people – like older musicians – saying about something new, "That ain't music," I rush and find that music.

When did you first hear the word "funk"?
It might've been Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, James Brown or even Louis Jordan – jazz musicians used it, too. But we added the idea that we are gonna live the funk.

You smoked crack until about five years ago, but were productive the whole time.
That's what got me in trouble! 'Cause I was productive and I could do music, so wasn't nothing wrong. And that was far from the truth, 'cause the concept of getting high is you get fucked up. And when you get fucked up, you do fucked-up things! I'm trying to get my copyrights back [from former managers], and that made me clean up my act, because I couldn't concentrate on the courts and all that at the same time.

How did you end up in a diaper onstage?
Just a funky notion. Back then it was, like, psychedelic into punk – Iggy Pop was running with us. It was about rudeness at that point. So we did the same thing, but we did it with a joke. I knew it was outlandish. We just said, "Let's be stupid with it." 

How did LSD affect your creativity?
It changed my mind about a lot of things to the positive, helped me get out of the mentality of clawing and scratching and fighting over everything, jealous of everything. It helped us try new things that we wouldn't have never tried before. But that part of it was over in 1970. To me, Woodstock ended, and you had to start over again. By Chocolate City, and then Mothership Connection, we had a whole 'nother outlook. Now it's a spaceship with lots of expensive costumes as opposed to diapers and sheets.

In the book, the only music you seem to have a problem with is disco.
No, I just didn't like the fact they wanted to narrow it down to one beat. [Label exec] Neil Bogart used to try to match people's pulse rates – when you start messing with biological clocks, that kinda weirds me out. That's why we did [1979's] "(Not Just) Knee Deep" – to rescue dance music from the blahs.

You produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers' second album – other people might have been resentful of white boys taking their sound.
Well, I had already learned my lesson with that when I met Cream. I felt embarrassed that they knew more about blues than I did. Eric Clapton knew who Robert Johnson was, and I didn't. So if anybody paid respect to something, they have the right. And I think the Chili Peppers lived up to their funkiness – "Give It Away" is a very funky track.