Bootsy Collins is a firm believer in the creator, or as he likes to say, the one. His faith, paired with drive and patience have kept him sane in an ever changing world. During our hour-long conversation, his verbosity is appreciated as we discuss World Wide Funk, his first musical offering in six years and what the one has in mind for us.
“They told us we were naked. They told us we had big noses. They told us this,” he says about white societal standards. “We have to embrace what we are. It’s what the one wanted us to be. No matter what they say. They're going to act a fool, but that doesn't mean we have to.” Bootsy, born William Earl Collins, keeps the art of self-love close to his heart. It’s what drove his music during his time with James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic, his new album and of course, funk music.
“Funk is making something out of nothing. We had to make due with whatever we had,” he said about his early days in music. Little did he know that his position would go on to spawn gangsta rap’s G-Funk era and R&B’s recent gems like Thundercat’s Drunk and Childish Gambino’s Awaken My Love!. Unbeknownst to many, funk has found its way back to mainstream music and to a new generation who probably may just know Collins as the guy with the colorful outfits.
“To take that away, that's our lives, it ain't just the music,” he adds. “That's why a lot of other people don't understand what we go through. The music is there to say it all. You put all your emotions and your feelings into that.” His sentiments are felt through World Wide Funk. Made with a balance of yesterday and today, Collins reminds us all of who did it best. Acting as a family reunion of sorts, the celebratory album brings together OG’s like Big Daddy Kane, Snoop Dogg and Doug E. Fresh as well as fresh faces like Kali Uchis, October London and funk bassist Alissia Benveniste.
But it’s not always a joyous occasion. With today’s political climate hard to ignore, Collins admits the news cycle loops through his mind. In true black uncle form, Collins refers to Donald Trump as "that mug," while admiring Colin Kaepernick for throwing a wrench into American’s issue with modern athletic activism.
“When I came up, we had a lot of athletes that stepped up to the plate,” he says about black sports icons like Muhammad Ali, Althea Gibson, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. “They didn't care about sponsorships or none of that, just stepping up for the people. Kaepernick did that. Mugs have joined him and it's the best sign I've seen so far.
With so much playing into funk today, VIBE speaks with the music legend about World Wide Funk, questioning the status quo and why funk will always rule the universe.
World Wide Funk sounds like a fun family reunion. What was the creative process behind it?
Bootsy Collins: You get to a point where you don't want to keep repeating yourself. I asked myself, ‘Do I do this album the same way I've done the rest?’ So this time, I worked with a lot of young people and they inspired me. Watching them push themselves made me feel like doing music again.
When making the album, I didn't know exactly what it was going to be or how it was going to turn out, but I'm used to taking chances. That's what funk is.
It was great to hear so many artists, especially the presence of older and new acts like Big Daddy Kane and Kali Uchis.
We were just on the road last year with Kool and The Gang. Man, these cats still have an audience! They were at the top of the charts. They helped started it up. So I put the youth and the hip hop guys who brought it to a head together. I thought, ‘Well now I need to put all of this on one album and see where it goes.’ I kinda overdid it. Instead of doing ten songs, I did about 40.
With older age things are hard to get started but once you do, you can't stop that mug. I picked out about 20 tracks and then settled on 15. I wanted to make a platform for young artists and musicians because they don't have it like we had. We had clubs and a lot of exposure and nowadays they don't really have that. They have social media, which is good, but there’s nothing like hearing music live. Plugging music into social media is a saturated thing now.
What I loved about the album are the length of the songs. You're able to soak it all in while jamming out at the same time.
Everything goes out so fast that you barely get to feel it. I was hoping that apart of this would sound that out. You have to start feeling within yourselves because that's what's missing. I really think we’re losing our feeling. We need to bring about a balance where you can still feel. We're on a mission to just take feelings away and it's kind of sad.
I do that sometimes too; passing off my emotions as the ‘case of the feels.’ Why not catch feelings? We're human. It adds to your life experience.
Some of our best entertainer’s music stem from tragic moments in life. They live from that. The funk is that. It's the way we came up. It's the music. Funk is making something out of nothing. We had to make due with whatever we had. To take that away, that's our lives, it ain't just the music. That's why a lot of other people don't understand what we go through. The music is there to say it all. You put all your emotions and your feelings into that.
It really is. So after you finished the album you have these 15 tracks. What was something you learned about yourself while making these songs and how did you feel when you finished it?
That’s a heck of a question. I never really thought about how I felt afterwards. I always feel like I could do something different. I've always had an old perfectionist type of vibe, but you know, overall I'm very satisfied. Not just what I did, but what everybody did.
They put their whole heart and soul into it. They didn't just come be on the track to be on it. Whatever you put yourself into, whatever you put your name on, you want it to be a part of you. And that's changed now. It's all about getting paid. We're losing our creativity, art form and losing it all. Back in the day, we were so happy to play. I would show up before the door opened. That was the times and this is different day. You can't expect people to do that. I just lived through those changes and I see where the changes are. We need some kind of balance before we end up just like them.
Even back to the cotton fields. We've always sung songs to get through. Nobody can do that. We had to do that because that was the funk and faith in us. Now we're throwing all of that away for money. It's a balancing act so I wanted to make a record from where I'm coming from. Where the young people can be coming from, even for today.
We hope to be part of the generation that changes that. Faith and love plays a lot into that. You feel a lot of love on this album. How do you define love in 2017?
It's not hard for me since that's I got a lot of love to give. Music is probably the secondary thing but my mom gave me love. That's where I got it from. I grew up in home without a father. She encouraged me so much and that's really all I got to hold on to. The music is the vehicle for my love to be shared. I can't do nothing or go anywhere without love happening first. No one can take that away from me.
I would hope that someone who isn't aware of funk would learn something from this album.
That's pretty much the key. I didn't know anything. I was 19 traveling around the world with James Brown. I couldn't believe it at the time. You just never know what the one has for you. You just take what you got and you do the best you can with it. You just have to keep moving. Just like you. You're a young head and there's no reason for you not to be good at whatever you do. Y’all got all the information. We had none.
I'm grateful that I had my mother to guide me and James as a father figure. He would give me lectures and taught me discipline. We were out ‘67 and ‘68 rioting, breaking into stores and lighting things on fire. I wasn't watching it on TV, were were doing it and he saved us from that. We got on the road with him and we couldn't do nothing but play and now I think of what he's done for me and what I can do for someone else.
It started becoming real to me. All I knew was that my brother played guitar and I wanted to play guitar too. He was my big bro so that's who I looked up to. If he wasn't there, we definitely wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Thank goodness he piqued your interest. If you had to introduce someone to funk with three songs from the album, which ones would they be?
"Bass Rigged Funk,” “Pusherman” and “Come Back Bootsy.”
What's “Come Back Bootsy” about?
It derives from a vibe that we have during our live show. People just get into the holy ghost thing. I go out in the audience and I touch folks. It's as real as one can be in this world. I figured this had to go on the album. It's one of the hardest things to duplicate; that live vibe. It's so magical.
Funk was a bad word and that was our whole mantra. We couldn't say it on the radio. But then people started coming to our shows and that's when we got on the radio. That's what people seem to forget, that people bring change.
Did today's world go through your mind as you made the album?
I'm aware. It's sad that we're going right back to the same mess. We have come along way but we still got that and it seems no one wants to do anything about it but us. And then someone does step up to do something about it, they get taken out. Either you do it together or it can't get done. You have to keep the faith and the fight. You hear about it everyday. It makes you sad, angry and makes you not want to deal with it.
You get caught up in the reaction.
It's something new everyday. Like what he said to the widow of the soldier (Sgt. La David Johnson) That mug really don't get it. Why is he up there? Why is this mug still here? No one seemed to care when the black community was battling drugs. Now it's an epidemic. With black people, it was shame on them because they were doing drugs.
The system was always broken. We just learned to wiggle in it. This isn't just happening, it's on purpose. They told us we were naked. They told us we had big noses. They told us this. We have to embrace what we are. It's what the one wanted us to be. No matter what they say. They're going to act a fool, but that doesn't mean we have to.
We're buying into it because of the paper god. Do you know what that is?
It's become so mighty that we want it so bad, we want it as bad as they do. We gotta bring it back.
People are doing that now, trying to bring conciseness in the public light. Even Colin Kaepernick. He's filing a grievance against the NFL. He's fighting the fight but being smart about it.
To me, that was the starting sign for everyone coming together. When I came up, we had a lot of athletes that stepped up to the plate. They didn't care about sponsorships or none of that, just stepping up for the people. Kaepernick did that. Mugs have joined him and it's the best sign I've seen so far.
Took them a year to get there, but I think they were scared.
Not just scared, but didn't want to lose sponsorships. Like I said, it's a different time. They get money and their addicted. I'm very proud, and although it took a year, at least these mugs clocked in! They might have never clocked in with the way this addiction is going.
Towards the end of the album, there’s the tribute to Bernie Worrell. How was it creating the song with Worrell’s own recordings?
That was my cat. He made me a complete musician. I didn't go to school for music. I didn't know how to read music, I just played what I heard and what I felt. I was like a receiver for the universe.
With Bernie, he was classically trained so when we got together you thought, ‘Oh they're going to bump heads.’ I needed him like he needed me and no one could've told me otherwise. Even when he knew I was making the wrong chord, he made it sound right. That's the way the world should be working.
You can stream and purchase World Wide Funk here.