Fifty years ago, in a true-life science-fiction story wilder than anything concocted by an Area 51 conspiracy nut, a neon-colored interplanetary vessel lifted off of a top-secret launchpad somewhere in Michigan. Of course, the P-Funk Mothership only existed as an LSD-induced pipe dream back in 1970—it took a few years before audiences got to see George Clinton’s Afrofuturist UFO in all its cosmic glory at halls, stadiums, and arenas around the world. (Visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture can still check out a 1990s-vintage rebuilt version.)
But Clinton’s almighty vision of psychedelically charged funk and soul was already soaring sky-high, judging by the first three long-players—Funkadelic and Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow by Funkadelic; Osmium by its twin enterprise Parliament—to emerge from his ever-more-sprawling P-Funk collective at the beginning of the ’70s. The surreal and exhilarating contents of those albums and the many that followed would ultimately comprise one of the most inspiring and influential bodies of American music ever made.
They’d also prove to be a seemingly limitless resource for several generations of musicians, producers, DJs, and anyone else who ever saw fit to sample the grooves, riffs, beats, and assorted whatnot concocted by Clinton and such pivotal P-Funk collaborators as bassists Bootsy Collins and Cordell “Boogie” Mosson, guitarists Eddie Hazel and Garry Shider, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, drummer Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey, and the Horny Horns. Indeed, P-Funk’s importance in the history and development of hip-hop is incalculable, the Mothership Connection being the force that binds iconic jams by Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy, and EPMD to the best of Dr. Dre’s G-funk era to modern-day journeys into parts unknown by Kendrick Lamar. Here’s a set of essential tracks by rocket-powered travelers in the universe that Clinton created.