Remembering Blowfly, Music's XXX-Rated Superhero

Miami's smutmaster general influenced countless musicians and turned dick jokes into an art

Clarence "Blowfly" Reid influenced countless artists with his X-rated lyrics and groundbreaking music Credit: Catherine McGann/Getty

Blowfly — Miami's smutmaster general, the pioneer of pottymouthery, the original ol' dirty bastard — passed away on Sunday at age 76.

A gifted, groundbreaking, one-of-a-kind artist, the XXX-rated superhero quietly known as mild-mannered songwriter and soul singer Clarence Reid did most of his most acclaimed works in the worlds of parody, satire and turning Chubby Checker lyrics into songs about fellatio. Juvenalia was his paintbrush — the legend goes that he got his nickname as a child when his grandmother found out he was singing naughty Ernest Tubb covers to white folk, saying, "You’re the most disgusting thing ever — look at you. … [Y]ou’re no better than a blowfly."

His album covers proudly proclaimed "for immature audiences only." But in exercising his First Amendment rights in the funkiest way possible, he paved the way for the more unfiltered strains of hip-hop. In his own freaky way, Blowfly was to American popular music what Pier Paolo Pasolini was to film, what Henry Miller was to literature, what Ron Jeremy was to blowing yourself in front of a camera.

Let David Bowie explore Mars. Blowfly knew there was plenty of sucking and fucking to inspire right here on Planet Earth.

To call him "ahead of his time" would be a monstrous understatement. Blowfly records meant that locker-room jokes could not only be art, but business; yanking taboo talk from the shadows and putting it in the spotlight. Let David Bowie explore Mars. Blowfly knew there was plenty of sucking and fucking to inspire right here on Planet Earth.

In 1973, his album The Weird World of Blowfly was the funky answer to foul-mouthed "party records" by African-American comedians like the jazzier pimp-slam of Rudy Ray Moore and the spoken-word stand-up of Redd Foxx, recorded with a crowd to hoot, holler, laugh, scream and register shock.

Here, Blowfly was already détourning the world's most popular songs through his fleshy kaleidoscope: "Hole Man," "Shitting on the Dock of the Bay," "My Baby Keeps Farting In My Face," "Spermy Night In Georgia." This was 20 years before 2 Live Crew had to go to the Supreme Court to fight for their own right to play grab-ass with "Pretty Woman" in 1993.

Statements that say Blowfly "invented rap music" aren't too far off from the truth: "Rap Dirty" appears on his 1976 album Butterfly. Inspired by the slick-talking radio DJs, rumors abound of self-released versions dating back more than a decade earlier. But it is unquestionably a rap song by any measure, released years before the agreed-upon "first" hip-hop 12-inches in 1979 like Fatback Band's "King Tim III" and Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight."

Well before the infamous 1990 ruling from a Tennessee judge that got 2 Live Crew and N.W.A records declared "obscene," Blowfly's 1978 record Porno Freak got an Alabama record store in legal hot water. Its title track revealed an obsession with porn stars that named names long before L.L. Cool J's lyrics were "as freaky as Seka." (Sample line: "This prick of mine get hard as stone/And it's three times bigger than John Holmes.") 

Rappers have not been shy showing how his say-anything approach influenced the most raw-spoken art form in American history — in the wake of his death, Snoop Dogg, Ice-T, DJ Quik, Pete Rock, J-Zone, R.A. the Rugged Man and others took to Twitter to pay their respects. West Coast bard of freaky tales Too $hort credits his style as a cross between Grandmaster Melle Mel and Blowfly. Chuck D told Rolling Stone the climax of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" — "motherfuck him and John Wayne" — was directly inspired by a line in "Rapp Dirty."

"I am so sorry to hear about the passing of one of the greatest entertainers of all times," Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell tells Rolling Stone. "No Blowfly, no 2 Live Crew. My condolences goes out to his family. R.I.P, my brother." 

Had they lurched into any status past aficionados and cratediggers in the Eighties, his songs would have been "pornographic." In the Nineties, they would have been "misogynistic" or "un-P.C." And today, they would be dubbed "problematic." But reading Blowfly's tales of "faggots" and "bulldaggers" and "Jew bastards" and "nigger dudes" and "cracker guys" and "fine hoes" as sexist filth avoids all nuance. Blowfly's music was strangely inclusive; a spread-open freak tent ready for "ACs and DCs and nymphos and weirdos" and "cocksuckers and meat-beaters and rump eaters and fart sniffers."

His music made hard statements against racism ("Rap Dirty" has Blowfly driving a semi truck over a gaggle of Klansman) and by the Aughts, he was taking fearless stances on the celebrity industrial complex with multiple songs bagging on R. Kelly ("I Believe My Dick Can Fly" is vicious, beautiful, disgusting and completely addictive). 

"Blowfly records meant that locker-room jokes could not only be art, but business."

But before all of that, he was a man with a silky voice and a gift for songwriting. As Clarence Reid, he co-founded Deep City, the first black-owned record label in Florida. He co-wrote Betty Wright's 1972 Top 10 hit "Clean-Up Woman," a song that lived a long second life in the early Nineties anchoring R&B hits like SWV's "I'm So Into You" and the Biggie-assisted remix to Mary J. Blige's "Real Love." He helped invent the hard-grooving "Miami sound," the glossy-yet-grimy strain of late-Sixties/early-Seventies soul, R&B and funk centered around artists like George McRae, Helene Smith and James Knight & the Butlers — ultimately paving the road to K.C. & the Sunshine Band and Miami bass.

A master of groove, his samples and interpolations lived on in hip-hop as much as his attitude, most notably in Mista Grimm and Warren G's "Indo Smoke" (Number 56, 1993). But his music was also embraced by Pharcyde, Jurassic 5, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Eazy-E, DJ Quik, DJ Shadow and more. Beats on his 1984 electrofunk parody Electric Banana would reappear in new mutations on iconic 1988 Miami bass album The Bass That Ate Miami. The breakbeat in 1974's "Sesame Street" ("A!" "Ass!" "B!" "Bastard!") ended up sputtering across tons and tons of drum'n'bass and jungle techno records.

Over a career that spanned more than 40 years, his music proved almost as durable as the Isley Brothers. Pop changed from the days of Clarence Reid writing songs for Sam & Dave, and he followed it into the sinister funk of Blaxploitation movies (At the Movies, 1976), the merciless grooves of disco (Disco, 1977, and Blowfly's Disco Party 1978), the hard throb of the first wave of hip-hop 12-inches ("That's What Your Pussy's Made For," 1982), the alien grooves of Cybotron's electrofunk (Electronic Banana, 1984), the venomous conversations of the second wave of hip-hop 12-inches ("Blowfly Meets Roxanne," 1986), the giddy swing of go-go ("Pop the Cherry," 1988), the moshpit funk of Fishbone's Alternative Nation ("Shake Your Ass!," 1991), the unavoidable pulse of house music (2001: A Sex Odyssey, 1997) and even punk rock nostalgia with an album of gob-slobbin' Ramones and Clash covers (Blowfly's Punk Rock Party, 2006). Though he was working with avant-skitterer perv Otto Von Schirach, it's a deep shame Blowfly didn't live long enough to make an EDM album with something else for Diplo's beats to lean on.

"Nothing freaky in my experience with Blowfly," Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea tells Rolling Stone about working with him for the mid-Nineties aggro-funk turn "Shake Your Ass!" "He was a kind man, a great musician, with an outstanding sense of humor which he enjoyed indulging to bring us joy."