Nelson George: ‘Funk is the Link Between Soul and Hip-Hop’

Nelson George discusses his film 'Finding the Funk' at the opening night of Atlanta’s BronzeLens Film Festival.   (Photo Credit: DJ Blak Magic)

Nelson George discusses his film ‘Finding the Funk’ at the opening night of Atlanta’s BronzeLens Film Festival.
(Photo Credit: DJ Blak Magic)

Black pop culture curator Nelson George screened his upcoming VH1 Rock Doc, Finding The Funk, on opening night of Atlanta’s BronzeLens Film Festival. Finding The Funk, narrated by Questlove, examines the genre’s ties to the Bay Area, Detroit, Minneapolis and especially Dayton, OH.

Airing in February 2014 on Vh1, the travelogue explores how bands and their pulsating bass riffs, rhythmic drumming and danceable grooves not only transformed black music but American pop culture.

“Funk is the missing link. It’s the link between soul and hip hop. At its essence is blues. The musicians were influenced by psychedelica and African rhythms. It’s serious music, but it’s fun music. No one really celebrated it. We were doing an archaeological duty, and we wanted to get the story back,” says George during a talkback at Woodruff Arts Center.

George is joined onscreen by D’Angelo, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Digital Underground’s Shock G., Beastie Boys’ Mike D., Michael Eric Dyson, Sheila E., Stuart Matthewman, Arthur Baker (also the film’s producer), Vernon Reid, Marcus Miller, Steve Arrington, Nile Rodgers, James Mtume and Sly Stone (and George was especially proud to interview the elusive musician).

George thinks back to being in high school and reading a Rolling Stone review on a Brothers Johnson album written by a white journalist. The writer’s inability to connect with the duo’s sound resonated with George. The experience encouraged the Brooklyn native to embark on a successful career articulating black cultural production to the masses.

“I’m part of the culture. These people didn’t have a connection to the culture. Our culture needs to be defined through our eyes. We need to be a part of that dialogue. You have to go and dance to it to judge it. It’s about rhythm,” says George.

The veteran journalist and editor for Billboard and Village Voice wanted to include Cameo’s Larry Blackmon and Earth Wind & Fire’s Verdine White in the film but had to cut a lot of footage. He wanted to also include Jimi Hendrix but couldn’t get clearance.

George offers, ““We weren’t making a film about funk. This film is not the history of funk. It’s too big. We were making a film about a generation of creative people. They’re eccentric, interesting men. So many of their songs were about space. They were fashion forward, very adventurous and pushed the envelope,” he says.

George’s transition into filmmaking stems from constantly being asked to provide commentaries for other films. His perspective and writing was often exaggerated or altered. “You never know where stories are gonna come from. I got tired of people messing up stuff I was writing. I had to take control of my own narrative,” he says.

The Grammy award-winning writer is developing an e-book to include all full-length interviews and commentaries from the performers. “We couldn’t get it in there. [Funk] is a participatory culture, and we are aware of our absence from the official record. I want to do stories embedded in our music culture. We should have fun with that,” says George.

Not certain if he will produce another music documentary, George is currently working on a film highlighting dancer Misty Copeland. One of the authorities on black culture, George believes it is important for black content providers and creators to own, create and think outside of the box.

“Do things that you’re not comfortable doing. You will get better by challenging your skill set,” says George.

This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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