The nation’s capital is not the same town that George Clinton dubbed “Chocolate City” in the early 1970s. Blacks in D.C.—then about 80 percent of the population, Clinton figures—embraced the title with pride. In Clinton’s Chocolate City, President Muhammad Ali called the White House home with Aretha Franklin as his first lady. Richard Pryor formed education policy. Stevie Wonder was secretary of fine arts.

Fanciful stuff, a world so enchanting that it blurred the song’s most foresightful line: We Didn’t Get Our 40 Acres and A Mule, But We Did Get You, CC.

The federal government failed to compensate freed former slaves for their labor, Clinton sang, but 100 years later the emerging majority-Black populations in D.C., Atlanta and other cities were electing waves of African American mayors and council members. Those first-time Black pols in turn began steering to those Black voters government contracts and municipal jobs that previously had gone largely to Whites.

“I knew things would change once we got that strong vote,” Clinton said. “You get control, and you can actually get some significant things. We got those cities. Native Americans got casinos. In a while, they could just buy back what was taken from them.”

In 2012, the Black population in D.C. is estimated to be on the short side of 50 percent. Just as “Chocolate City” has changed, so has Clinton—a little. Gone are the multicolored hair and stage costumes that often consisted of a bed sheet with a hole cut to fit over his head, sometimes with nothing underneath. Now onstage, Clinton dons a fedora and natty, double-breasted suits. Tailor-made, of course. He’s about business and with good reason.

Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars headlined the opening free concert of the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on The National Mall on June 27. The National Museum of African American History and Culture sponsored the “Bring Back the Funk” show. Only Clinton—aka Dr. Funkenstein, whose string of hits in the 1970s and early 1980s defined funk—could hold top billing for such a theme, even if he takes issue with the premise.

After all, Clinton tours almost nonstop, either under his name or appearing as a “special guest” with the 420 Funk Mob, an ever-changing amalgamation of past and present P-Funk All Stars and other players whose live sets reach deep into the 50-years-plus catalog of Parliament-Funkadelic. Current P-Funk All Star Michael “Clip” Payne leads those sessions.

“We’re still here. Still going strong,” Clinton told the AFRO during a telephone interview from his Florida home a few days before piloting the mothership to Chocolate City. His trip home was an overnight stop wedged between two West Coast concerts and stops in D.C., Kentucky and Europe. “We can’t get on the radio no more, but the fans still come to see us live. We still sell out all over the world.”

Funk needs no comeback, the 70-year-old Clinton said, because funk never disappeared. It was repackaged—sampled—by dozens of artists like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Tupac, Jay Z, the Black Eyed Peas and Kirk Franklin. Some music industry experts say artists have sampled more from Clinton’s body of music than anyone’s, whether originally released under his name (Atomic Dog), Parliament (Aqua Boogie, Mothership Connection) or Funkadelic (Knee Deep, One Nation Under a Groove). Industry experts estimate the sampled work should have generated licensing fees worth tens of millions of dollars.

Clinton knows this well. Now.

He did not know it back in the early 1980s. He had financial problems, so he signed rights to his music over to Armen Boladian, who owned Westbound Records, the first label to which Funkadelic was signed. Boladian says the deal was a permanent transfer of ownership. Clinton says it was temporary.

The two sides have battled in court over this issue for years. Clinton has been on the losing end of several judicial decisions in the fight, although at one point a judge found that some of the contracts central to the legal battle had been altered, as Clinton had alleged.

In 2005, Clinton was awarded ownership rights to four Funkadelic records: {Hardcore Jollies}, {One Nation Under A Groove,} {Uncle Jam} and {Electric Spanking of War Babies}. Clinton said he set up a trust so that 25 percent of future earnings from those four records would go to the Barack Obama Academy, a public high school in Plainfield, N.J. That is the city where Clinton’s first doo-wop group, The Parliaments was formed around 1960.

“It’s a good deed, yeah,” Clinton said. “But it’s also some protection. Anybody try to take those records, it won’t be just us. It will be those kids, too.”

Clinton also now is suing the attorneys who represented him in another lawsuit against Universal Music Group regarding exclusive rights to Parliament and Parlet records. He alleges malpractice and negligence on their part. In May, Clinton settled a lawsuit with the Black Eyed Peas. He had claimed that the group sampled without his permission parts of his song “Knee Deep” for use in the song “Shut Up.” A mediator awarded Clinton damages in the case.

“I’m trying to get the word out,” Clinton said. “Yeah, it’s about us. But I want young artists to know and understand their rights.”

Clinton plans a book that will detail his career as well as his lengthy legal fights. His crew operates a blog, www.funkprobosci.com, that informs fans and offers free downloads. He’s preparing a youtube.com channel that will feature old cuts, live clips and new music. Recently, he quickly raised $50,000 over the Internet from fans to renovate his music studio.

“We got some music in the can. We’ve got to make sure we release it the right way. Wait until you hear the (stuff) me and Sly have been working on,” he said, referring to recent collaborations with his buddy Sly Stone. (Clinton said about recent reports that Sly is homeless and living in a trailer: “Sly has a house. He just don’t want to live in it.”)

“It’s hard keeping everybody in the group together, keeping them happy,” he said. “The industry, they want us to go away. But we’re not going away. Still a whole lot of money out there.”

Keith Harriston

Special to the AFRO