Not content with being hip-hop’s guardian bogyman, funk progenitor George Clinton has landed his still-intact Mothership right in the middle of the present. Hey Man … Smell My Finger is Clinton’s clearly stated “Here!” at contemporary pop music’s roll call. It is also his declaration of survival.
There’s no “Flash Light” or “Atomic Dog” or “Aqua Boogie” on Hey Man, and Clinton’s hard line has softened some. But lines like “I’m gonna reach way up/And out/And touch everybody,” from the exuberant “Way Up,” update the good vibrations of Clinton’s “One Nation Under a Groove.” And the song he co-produced with Prince, “The Big Pump,” is an incendiary club groove – the goofy lyrics writhe and fall, caressing the funk, enticing listeners to the dance floor.
Spotted with appearances by the likes of Ice Cube, Yo Yo, MC Breed, Flavor Flav, Dr. Dre and Digital Underground’s Shock G, the album goes beyond what would have been a patronizing move: the use of the artists solely as flashing emblems of hip-hop. Instead, like some intriguing musical macramé, allusions to the featured artists’ work are woven throughout Hey Man. The words paint the White House black recently appeared in MC Breed’s pounding “Ain’t No Future in Yo’ Frontin’,” and with Breed rapping on Clinton’s “Paint the White House Black,” the song’s concept (defiance, mostly) feels multigenerational and even possible. Then in “Martial Law” the snatch of sound that Shock G sampled for “The Humpty Dance” turns up, and a few songs later, Shock lights up Clinton’s “Rhythm and Rhyme” with some quick rhymes of his own.
A textured mesh of what-belongs-to-whom and who’s-signifying-whom, Hey Man … Smell My Finger reeks with confidence. In the worthy quest for the ultimate hip-hop jam, the featured artists and their contemporaries have ravenously picked Clinton’s recordings to the bone. So the mutual admiration flowing between Clinton and the folks who think him sacred is compelling. The bond may be cultural, or it may come from true love for the true funk. Or it may originate in the commonality only few can relate to: the distinct high that comes with the power of creating something new.