The Collegian
Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Music Mondays | 'Mothership Connection.' Pure funk, the whole funk and nothing but the funk

<p><em>Graphic by YounHee Oh</em></p>

Graphic by YounHee Oh

Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.   

The space race ended in 1975 when the USSR Soyuz 19 craft docked with a U.S. Apollo module. Both crews boarded each other’s vessels, shook hands and effectively initiated the decline of the Cold War. Or at least, this is what they want you to think. In reality, the mission’s original intent was hostile until it was intercepted by a massive, lampshade-like flying saucer known as the Mothership, who broadcasted a transmission that funked both parties into unity. That transmission, unbeknownst to the public, was released later that year under the guise of Parliament's fourth studio album, “Mothership Connection.” 

True story. With “Mothership Connection,” George Clinton, the funkxtra-dimensional being and mastermind behind the record, would not only capture the sound and feelings of a generation but would go on to inspire other music deities to alter their respective music landscapes. 

It’s one thing to have incredible individual performances from the genre’s greatest instrumentalists — especially the diamond-cutting basslines of Bootsy Collins — yet, it’s entirely different to have each performer clicking together on such a high level, as if they all shared the same brain. While full of classic, well-oiled funk jams, “Mothership Connection” takes a second to build on the sound of the 70s: the record’s horns aren’t the genre’s typical long howls, but staccato fanfares tap-dancing atop its deep grooves. On “Handcuffs,” the blaring trumpets cycle between adding flavor to the layered group vocals and bass, and acting as a scat solo in the background of the wailing verses. The intricate and anticipatory horns on “Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples” lay down the red carpet as they announce the arrival of some giant, funky beast (maybe a Thumpasorus…or whatever). 

The revolutionary nature of the project, however, is not limited to its technical aspects. Being a quite direct example of Afrofuturism, with the album cover depicting Clinton as a space pimp emerging from a UFO, Parliament set out to “put Black people in situations nobody ever thought they would be in,” Clinton states in an interview with Scene. Parliament aimed to liberate Black people of the 70s of their post-civil rights era perceptions, instead depicting a group of “extraterrestrial brothers” on the top of the “Chocolate Milky Way,” as Clinton’s character Star Child states in the second track. This creates an image of Black people as post-citizens, free from the confinements of American society and embracing the autonomy — and funk — of outer space. 

Parliament labeled themselves as “P-Funk,” meaning pure funk: funk in its most raw and uncut form. The distinction intentionally separated the group from its contemporaries, almost like a marketing scheme, giving the impression that their sound had an innate funk-eriority. Seventeen years later Dr. Dre would release “The Chronic,” the West Coast gangsta rap album to end all others and bring upon the dawn of “G–Funk” (I’m sure you can guess what that one stands for). Interpolating “Mothership Connection” three different times, the album appropriates Parliament's carefree grooves to create a sound palette, not of sharp, in-your-face funk, but smooth yet trunk-knocking beats to serve any Los Angeles beach party. With 90s hip-hop production oft stemming from rock samples, Dre distinguished his sound, and consequently his entire coastline, from the rest of the nation by using a certain f-word as his inspiration. Other West Coast greats, such as Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube, take obvious inspiration from Clinton’s work. Cube’s “Bop Gun”' is a 10-minute ode to Parliament and its sister band Funkadelic, quoting famous hooks within its verses and even featuring Clinton for some additional vocal spice. When you zoom out on what makes the West Coast sound so West Coast, the paper trail floats up towards a familiar lampshade. 

“Mothership Connection’s influence can also be seen south of the Mason-Dixon, specifically with Atlanta’s electrifying duo, Outkast, where indication of the group’s Parliament runoff is both direct and indirect. For one, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” the title of Outkast’s debut album, sounds like it was written by the same visionary who penned “Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication,” the fourth track on “Mothership Connection” (unless the two groups both coincidentally forgot the spacebar existed for a sec). More importantly, Outkast’s record “ATLiens” partakes in a similar Afrofuturism as Clinton did. The album portrays the pair as mysterious aliens, this time not as friendly and inviting as Star Child, but as cunning and omnipotent beings. Despite the differing presentation, the theme of empowering Black folks to realize their own worth through sci-fi imagery remains the same. 

Revolutionary ideas and generation-defying influence aside, “Mothership Connection” still remains one of the greatest funk releases of all time thanks to its timeless tunes: if you ever need a soundtrack to strut down the ave in boot cuts and star-shaped glasses, do I have the record for you.

Listen to Cam and his buddy Brett talk about music at 8 p.m. Fridays at WDCE.net

Contact columnist Cam Mackinnon at cameron.mckinnon@richmond.edu.

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