If you’re looking for a super niche genre of music, P–Funk is calling your name. This little–known genre is a subcategory of psychedelic funk, which is a subcategory of funk, which is a subcategory of jazz, R&B, and soul. So yeah, you can say it’s pretty niche. With its space–like vibes, trippy voice changes, and uplifting beats, P–Funk kind of just makes you feel as if you’re floating through an utterly unfamiliar dimension of music.
The word P–Funk refers to the style of George Clinton’s groups Parliament and Funkadelic. If you don’t know who George Clinton is, he was a huge funk artist in the '70s and '80s who now has rainbow hair, looks kinda insane, and spreads his musical wisdom to any current artist willing to listen. Funkadelic released Maggot Brain in 1970, which featured prominent singles such as “Can You Get to That” and “Hit It and Quit It.” Clinton’s other band, Parliament, released Mothership Connection in 1975, containing “Give Up the Funk,” which you may know better as the song that catchily drills into your brain the fact that they “need the funk, gotta have that funk.”
Although this genre somewhat peaked in the '70s, its impact on music is still seen today. Plenty of contemporary and old school hip–hop artists sample their beats and work with Clinton on their production.
Arguably, the first to use P–Funk in rap was Dr. Dre in 1992 on his album, The Chronic. His intro to that album uses the same screechy beat often found in P–Funk. The end of the song features a monologue from an eerie, high–pitched voice. The use of this type of voice is similar to one on “Funky Worm,” a song by another artist associated with P–Funk, the Ohio Players. These songs also share the use of the synthesizer. Although the assigned genre and lyrics are totally different, the stylistic similarities are quite apparent.
Dre’s use of synthesizers also clearly replicates that of Parliament and Funkadelic. The shared use of the synthesizer is heard most prominently when comparing Dre’s “High Powered” with Parliament’s “Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication.”(Yes. That’s the actual name of the song.) Although the frequency and role of the synthesizer are different, the resemblance is there.
Dre’s interruption of a song’s typical flow with almost spoken–word interruptions also hearkens back to Parliament–Funkadelic. If you listen to Chronic after Parliament’s Mothership or Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, the parallels in style and sound become even more clear despite the genre difference.
Dre’s use of P–Funk opened the door for a whole new genre of rap known as G–Funk or Gangsta Funk. Known to feature samples from P–Funk artists and mimic the sounds of Parliament and Funkadelic, G–Funk found a place in '90s West Coast Rap.
Today, Kendrick Lamar is the most notable rapper who utilizes P–Funk. On To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar strove to weave all types of music into one contemporary rap album. He samples old jazz artists, blues artists, and R&B artists to unite all these distinct genres into one masterpiece.
Collaborating with Clinton on To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar adds P–Funk to this tapestry as well. On “King Kunta,” one of the objectively best songs on the album, we can clearly hear Clinton’s influence at work as the beats in the background are quite reminiscent of Funkadelic’s “Back in our Minds.”
A few years ago, Funkadelic, Kendrick, Clinton, and Ice Cube released a remix of “Ain’t that Funk Kinda Hard on You.” This intergenerational song shows the coming together of P–Funk in its various forms. We get Clinton with his P–Funk roots, Ice Cube filling the role of the West Coast G–Funk rapper, and Kendrick as one of the newest rappers to use P–Funk. This remix really showed how a genre can traverse generations and remains important years after its conception.
Most recently, Childish Gambino’s album Awaken, My Love basically sounds as if it was produced during the peak of P–Funk in the '70s. The album has P–Funk written all over it, with Gambino admitting that P–Funk was a major influence, and the fact that it sounds radically similar to the works of Parliament and Funkadelic. The style, instrumentally and vocally, immerses the listener in the funk of the '70s. Gambino may even be trying to reference this with the somewhat similar album covers of his album and Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain. Both covers just have one face in the center of the cover. Clinton has even spoken on the similarities and admires Gambino’s attempt at a P–Funk renaissance.
While you may have never actually heard of P–Funk, it’s kind of everywhere. It has influenced artists for decades and has shaped some of the most important hip–hop albums of the last few decades. The music's also really fun, so it’s worth listening to the originals to see what P–Funk is all about. To make it easy, we even made a playlist for you.