George Clinton stays hip by thinking young

Patrick Dunn
Special to The Detroit News

At age 74, George Clinton can’t help getting old. But he refuses to be out of touch.

Since his heyday in the ’70s as the bandleader of the legendary funk collective Parliament-Funkadelic, Clinton has gone on to work with major younger acts ranging from Red Hot Chili Peppers to 2Pac. But his newest collaborator, hip-hop wunderkind Kendrick Lamar, ended up earning Clinton the first Grammy nomination of his career.

Clinton, who will play the Sound Board on May 5, appears on the opening track of Lamar’s critically lauded 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly.” He was one of eight featured artists formally nominated alongside Lamar for Album of the Year at this year’s Grammys.

Clinton says he agreed to work with Lamar partly because his grandchildren endorsed the younger artist, but that it’s always been important to him to stay on top of new trends in music. He recalls his mother being disdainful of the early rock ‘n’ roll he listened to as a young man in the ’50s. Clinton notes that each new generation of young people always wants to change music “radically,” but that that change is “usually something really simplistic.”

“If you’ve got something to offer, you can hang with the youngest of them,” Clinton says. “It might sound silly to you, but you’ll end up still having fun. You ain’t got to copy them and look like an old fool ... but you have to respect what they do.”

P-funk master George Clinton, leader of the famed Parliament-Funkadelic, earned his first Grammy nomination this year for his collaboration with hip-hop’s Kendrick Lamar.

Clinton says he developed an early appreciation for rap music in the ’90s as artists like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg made heavy use of his work for samples. Now, he comically refers to Dogg as “Uncle Snoop,” noting that more current artists like Lamar represent a “new level of hip-hop.”

“I watch the progression,” Clinton says. “The sounds change and you just have to pay attention to it. You might not like it at first, but you pay attention to it and you’ll get used to it like anything else that’s heard on the radio a lot.”

Although Clinton expresses appreciation for the way sampling has kept his older music alive, he’s long been embroiled in a series of legal battles over the rights to many of the records that featured in those samples. Clinton claims that his signature was forged on a number of documents in the early ’80s that turned publishing rights to many of his classic songs over to Bridgeport Music, a publishing company well known for its many lawsuits against artists who sample its holdings.

“Most people don’t know the real story,” he says. “They think I’m out here being litigious ..., but they’ve actually been the ones suing people on behalf of me and keeping the money.”

Clinton is currently in the early stages of development on a documentary about his legal woes. He’s also prepping a new Parliament album, entitled “Medicaid Fraud Dog,” for release this fall. He describes the album’s sound as “socially engineered, anarchy-induced chaos.”

The Tallahasse, Florida-based Clinton says he keeps a busy touring schedule that regularly brings him back to Detroit, where he lived and wrote songs for Motown in the ’60s. When he’s in the area, he enjoys visiting United Sound Systems in Detroit and going fishing in the Brooklyn area. Clinton says he’s enjoyed seeing Detroit’s turnaround in recent years.

“I’m glad they’re actually doing something for the city now,” he says. “It suffered the same thing a lot of cities have been suffering ... but I’m glad to see it’s on the upswing again.”

Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.

George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic

with Alise King

8 p.m. May 5

Sound Board

2901 Grand River, Detroit

Tickets $30-$45

(313) 309-4614