Bootsy Collins' "Tha Funk Capital of the World"
Like metal, funk exists in its own universe -- always timely, always timeless. Bootsy Collins knows. Born and raised in Cincinnati, schooled by James Brown, turned loose by George Clinton, Bootsy helped define the sound of the music in the '70s, slid into addiction and career eclipse in the '80s, rose phoenix-like in the '90s and treads the boards as I type this, spreading the gospel of the funk. On his new album, Tha Funk Capital of the World, he's joined by everyone from Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Chuck D. to Rev. Al Sharpton and Dr. Cornel West for a sprawling mass of testimony and tribute to his funky forbears and familiars.
Funk embraces hip-hop the way a mother wraps her arms around her only child, so of course the aforementioned triumverate of rap eminences fit "Hip Hop @ Funk U" like a glove. Ditto Phil Ade and CandiSweetz on "Kool Whip." "Mirrors Tell Lies" features Hendrix interview samples, affirming Jimi's influence on Bootsy's spacey "Casper" persona. (When I was stationed in Korea, I had "The Holy Ghost" written on my helmet's camo cover.) Rev. Al Sharpton invokes the Godfather of Soul on "JB - Still the Man," sounding for all the world like John Sinclair rhapsodizing on, say, Bukka White. Former JB's trombonist Fred Wesley's on hand to add his signature sound to the mix. "The Real Deal" also boasts a JB's groove, augmented by Sheila E.'s guest percussion. Engaged Ivy League academic Dr. West adds an upful testimony to "Freedumb (When-Love-Becomes-A-Threat)": "Straighten your back up, because folk can't ride your back unless it's bent."
While listening to Samuel L. Jackson (!) spin a yarn about the role music played in his raising on "After These Messages," I'm reminded by the backing track of the way P-Funk slowed down the groove from JB's frenetic fury, same way rock tempos slowed down in the transition from club to ballroom to theater to arena. (Compare JB's "Sex Machine," which had Bootsy on bass, with, say, G. Clinton's "Atomic Dog.") "Don't Take My Funk," lead-sung by venerable eminence Bobby Womack (last heard on the Gorillaz' Plastic Beach), is an old school summertime single that'd be right at home in a mix with Sly's "Hot Fun In the Summertime" and War's "All Day Music" -- Earth, Wind and Fire horns 'n' all. And the closing "Munchies for Your Love" reprises a proto-"quiet storm" jam from Bootsy's second Rubber Band album, replete with Gary Shider guitar solo and Tom Joyner DJ spiel over the fadeout.
The ominously thumping "Minds Under Construction" is a showcase for shredding guitarist Buckethead, whom Bootsy first encountered in the Bill Laswell-led underground metal-funk supergroup Praxis. "The Jazz Greats" isn't quite jazz, exactly; while fusion funkateer George Duke and Miles Davis' '60s bassist Ron Carter are present, it's more for sonic seasoning than substance. (Compare with Tony Williams' guest appearance on Bernie Worrell's Blacktronic Science, which wasn't a good fit but at least represented a noble attempt at a legit connection between funk and straight-ahead jazz.)
Bootsy's persona being as lighthearted as it generally is, it's surprising to discover that mortality is an overriding theme on Funk Capital, starting out with his shout-out to ZionPlanet-10, the child prodigy singer of "If Looks Could Kill" whose talent was sadly nipped in the bud. Funkmeister Clinton actually sings (or declaims) the blues while joining Gary's widow Linda Shider in a sweet farewell to the late P-Funk guitarist on "Gary Shider Tribute." "Stars Have No Names (They-Just-Shine)" might seem like an insipid pop R&B trifle until you listen to the words and realize that Bootsy's singing about his guitarist brother Catfish, who passed last August. Then he gets down to the real nitty gritty: "Sometimes you question God and ask, 'Why? Why'd he have to go?' And God says, 'Son, you perform on the stage while I run the show.'" Bootsy will be 60 this October, and while he still continues to bring the funky good time with him wherever he goes, he's hip that when the party's over, grief and loss are what we're left with. Which just gives us even more reason not to stop the party.