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"We call it playing obsolescence," he remarks dryly of this low period. "It's the time when things are supposed to become obsolete. We thought it was kinda late. We were suspecting it long before that. But we kept getting hit records, 'cause we had so many different names. When one would be over, the other would still be getting a hit record, so we were actually allowed to hang around a little longer than we thought we were supposed to hang around.
"They were catching on to one group at a time. By the time they got all the way around to everybody, we had been there long enough. So we were really ready to change things up, or go fishing, to take a rest. When 'Atomic Dog' hit, we were ready to come back, and they said, 'No, shit, you just left here. You all go back and sit down some more.'"
In the late '80s Clinton again connected with a new generation, producing the Red Hot Chili Peppers and becoming, along with James Brown, the primary source for hip-hop samples. Unlike many whose tracks were sampled, Clinton always seemed to welcome it, believing it would give his music extra life. On Dope Dogs he samples himself, using old P-Funk live tracks and outtakes from vintage albums such as One Nation Under a Groove. He thinks Dope Dogs marks the point where he fully mastered sampling's potential.
"We learned what to do with the samples, and how to make them different to even what hip-hoppers do," he says. "We'd sample and then play on top of it. Right about now they're catching hell, 'cause they hate to keep sampling old tired people's loops. So why sample that when they can sample some new stuff? We used samples and played over the top of them, which I think is gonna happen for a lot of groups, 'cause I liked Public Enemy and Anthrax when they were together. I like rock 'n' roll and hip-hop together."
Another maverick with eclectic tastes, the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, has often collaborated with Clinton, and the two men plan to record together again in Minneapolis. When asked what it's like to record with the Artist, Clinton merely says, "Quiet," and laughs. But his awe for the former purple monarch's talent is clear.
"He's a bad little motherfucker," Clinton explains. "I mean, believe me, he knows what the hell he's doing. He's loaded with energy. You think I've got energy? This motherfucker will stay up all night long, go to sleep a couple of hours, wake up and put a fresh suit on. I ain't got enough energy to put on no fresh suit.
"He's just now getting hip to the social thing. He's just now realizing he's black, so he's getting really political now. I told him, 'Now don't get too mad, 'cause if you get too mad, you're gonna fuck up. Take it as a joke, and keep moving.'"
Clinton displays a similar mix of affection and irreverence for one of his own primary musical influences, Sly Stone. "I talked with him two weeks ago," he says. "His publishing reverted back to him, so with the Toyota commercials he's got big bucks in his pocket. And he never stopped recording; he just won't put the shit out. I think he's scared. He wants to be assured that he's number one. I told him, 'You don't even go to clubs; how do you expect to be number one?'"
Citing Stone's penchant for profane, cutting studio banter, Clinton says, "He'd have no problem being down with the hip-hop crowd. He'd have to work on his Ebonics, but his tone would let you know that your feelings are supposed to be hurt."
Unlike Stone, Clinton seems comfortable in the role of an underground music figure. Alone among rock and R&B artists of his age group, he seems forever fascinated by new sounds, grizzled but oddly childlike in his openness to ideas. He's excited about the Internet's potential to market music (he says he encouraged the Artist to go that route), and he seems well versed on the latest happenings in the worlds of hip-hop and rock.
"My theory has always been, anytime I hear somebody say, 'I hate that, I wish they'd stop doing that,' I gravitate to that," he notes, "'cause that's the new shit. When I heard people talking about how they hated hip-hop, this is the shit I'm gonna be up on because kids love what their parents hate. And they love to piss them off. It seems like that's their duty to piss your ass off every five years."
George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars perform at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 20, at Tobacco Road's (626 S Miami Ave) 87th Anniversary Celebration. Also appearing are Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band, Manchild, and Iko-Iko. Tickets cost $25 in advance. For more information call 305374-1198.