Bootsy Collins 2011 album “The Funk Capital of the World” was rightfully hailed as a return to form for Bootzilla, the top student, the Rhinestone rockstar, the promised one of funk. Such titles might sound like blustery braggadocio, but when you look at his career arc of providing top shelf funk for two of the pillars of the music, James Brown and George Clinton, as well as carving his own unique legacy as a player, personality and band leader, one must admit there has always been something extra special about Bootsy. “The Funk Capital of the World” as a whole was informed by Bootsy’s apprentischip in the James Brown band. While Bootsy spent the majority of his career expanding the horizons of the bass, developing his own thick, wet, effects laden bass tone, and hot rodding his bass so that he could solo with the guitar expressiveness of Jimi Hendrix, this album was all about him playing bass. Straight up bass lines that hit on “the One which we believe in.” Bill Laswell noted once when he produced Bootsy that he was not playing much bass anymore, a practice Bootsy feels began when the synth bass of Bernie Worrell began to take up more space, freeing the bass player to play accents instead of laying down the main part. On “Still the Man”, Bootsy’s appreciation of James Brown peaks, as he invites Al Sharpton to lay a James Brown style oration/toast/rap over a straight ahead funky J.B’s type of beat. The message of the song was sorely needed because again, Mr. Brown’s influence was so great it gets taken for granted at times, especially in the Black musical community he did so much for.
The song begins with Sharpton talking, followed by a classic J.B style horn hit from the band. The groove is serious, as Bootsy hits a bass line in the J.B’s style, somewhat reminiscent of the bass line on “Get on the Good Foot”. The horn line takes you back to lines such as “Give it Up or Turn it Loose”. Ladies croon “He’s still the man”, as the guitar player gives you a little bit of what Prince calls “Chicken Grease”, i.e sixteenth note chord strums. The track gets more and more complex, as the horn chart continues to develop, in a way that is still reminiscent of Brown’s great arranger Fred Wesley, but reminds you more so of his work with P Funk. The way the track hints and suggests various James Brown songs reminds one of a sample collage or pastiche of Brown songs, but it’s done here by a live band. After Sharptons rap we get an actual trombone solo, which definitely ups the J.B’s factor, in the style of Fred Wesley’s ‘bone solos.
Sharpton goes on to remind us why James Brown is still important and relevant to contemporary music and culture. This is very signifigant because Al Sharpton is a man who James Brown mentored and helped rise to his prominence on the national scene. Sharpton talks about J.B’s musical impact and how when he looks at many things artists do today, he sees James Brown, Brown is “Still the Man.” One of my favorite lines in the whole piece however is “whenver an artist goes into the studio and sings a song for a cause bigger than themselves, I say James Brown is still the man.” This of course brings to mind all the fabulously powerful message songs in The Godfather of Soul’s career. After Sharpton finnishes his praise song, Bootsy has his original Rubber Band keyboardist, Joel “Razor Sharp” Johnson play a riff similar to Brown’s piano playing on “Sex Machine”, using an organ tone. Bootsy even calls for “Some organ”, as James himself called out in their classic concerts at the Olympia Theater in Paris in 1971.
“Still the Man” is a funky interlude of a song on a great modern funk album by Bootsy Collins. “The Funk Capital of the World” takes an almost Quincy Jones style approach to album construction, inviting a number of guests, including Cornel West, Chuck D, Snoop Dogg, Flea, and others Bootsy have worked with over the years to deliver his message. Bootsy seems to be in a heavy musical big brother role, teaching about the beginning of funk as he knows it, and what it meant both musically and culturally. And why he feels that funky spirit is needed today. Of course, a big part of this is James Brown, and Bootsy does something that is fairly simple but somehow rarely done by paying direct tribute to James Brown. Bootsy teams up with one of Brown’s biggest protoges, Al Sharpton, to do it, as if to remind young cats of where their thing comes from. The result is a funky song that gives one a little bit of relief if they’re a James Brown fan and wonder what he would sound like in the present day, as well as making us feel validated in our appreciation of a man who had his first hit nearly sixty years ago. It’s hard to believe an artist who began so long ago is still vital and important in the direction of modern music, but so it is with James Brown. As he always said, put him with ‘Bach, Beethoven, and Brahams.” And I’m glad that people he inspired to funk like Bootsy Collins and Al Sharpton can still take the time out to celebrate and praise, and educate on the importance of Mr. James Brown.