P-Funk bandleader George Clinton was raised at the center of the world’s pharmaceutical industry. His family moved to Plainfield, New Jersey only a few years after the Warner-Lambert pharmaceutical company settled in nearby Morris Plains, and in the decades since, 14 of the 20 largest pharmaceutical companies on Earth have called the state home. Naturally, Clinton has some choice words for the industry he’s watched drug the American public, characterizing Big Pharma as an untamable, parasitic beast, and everyone with a prescription regime as members of a dazed zombie horde: “It’s one nation under sedation, everybody is getting high on something.”
Parliament’s first album in 38 years, the deliciously zany Medicaid Fraud Dogg, is an indictment of what Clinton has called “bullshit medicine” and the system that produces it, suggesting, almost off-handedly, that you choose funk as your sedation alternative. “It’s about the real Medicaid fraud, which is the big pharmaceutical companies,” he told Offbeat magazine. It’s unclear if the album is meant as “Dr. Funkenstein” meets Doggystyle, but it frequently finds the seam where P-Funk and G-Funk meet. A revamped Parliament horn section—featuring band lifers Greg Thomas, Bennie Cowan, Fred Wesley, and another notable James Brown band member Pee Wee Ellis—along with an entirely new cast of players channel the Parliament of old for something decidedly modern. Clinton leads them marching into a new war on drugs with horndog funk jams less concerned about health care than general wellness. As always, Clinton and company’s antidote is clear: lewdness, absurdist humor, and opalescent funk refracting several decades of black music. It’s delightfully raunchy but also surprisingly tenderhearted.
Medicaid Fraud Dogg is over 100 minutes long, seemingly exploring every idea Clinton and his crew have had for the Parliament project since 1980’s Trombipulation. Written primarily by Clinton and longtime P-Funk member Tracey Lewis, the album honors Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, and “all that shit coming out of Atlanta” while staying truest to the soul at the Parliament core. New characters are introduced into the P-Funk mythology, like Loodie Poo Da Pimp, Oil Jones, and the eponymous Fraud Dogg. It is more grounded than his space funk of the ‘70s, but no less alien. The album doesn’t always hit the sweet spot, at times veering too far into the absurd or doing too much, but it’s never shy about trying. Sometimes, just as a song is kicking into gear, the bizarro lyrics will snap you out of the groove, as on “Kool Aid” (”Hump until you hiccup/Pump until the pussy poop”), evoking his role as a doctor in FlyLos’ gross mutant horror flick Kuso. (Clinton fittingly compared being in Kuso to being on drugs again.) If the objective of this excursion is simply to make a funky, spirited, low-stakes caricature of a dangerous, indomitable industry, though, then the album was worth the wait, the bloat, and the occasional cringe.
Clinton’s genuine concern for the medical system translates in both the messaging and the often soothing soul sound, which branches out in all directions. “The bigger the pill, the harder to swallow/She turns into something else with half a water bottle,” Tra’Zae sings on “Medicated Creep,” flipping a coined Parliament phrase into a commentary on pill addiction. The intoxicating title track gradually grows from golden horn riffs—played by Ellis, Wesley, and Whitney Russell—into a medley of electric piano, synths, and hip-hop drum programming. In keeping with the Parliament mandate, there is a concerted effort to provide music as a substitute through which to survive what ails you, especially on songs like “Psychotropic” and “Pain Management.” “Learn to deal with it!” Clinton implores on the latter, handing out a prescription for weed and funk.
The wildest and most wonderful songs on Medicaid Fraud Dogg understand P-Funk’s relationship to rap and embrace it. The Scarface-featuring lead single, “I’m Gon’ Make U Sick O’Me,” slaps P-Funk horns on a synth bass blaster fit for a low-rider, the song’s suspension springing forth as if on hydraulics. “I’m Gon’ Make U Sick O’Me,” which pledges to both make you sick and provide the remedy, is a satire of malicious pharma practices designed to keep people medicated and dependent. On “Set Trip,” Lewis and Clinton pose as gangsta rappers atop a Chuck Brown-conjuring go-go blend. The raps on “Insurance Man” channel Tupac’s flow on “Keep Ya Head Up” to directly address the country’s current healthcare crisis, standing with Obamacare and rebuking Trump’s opposition to programs like Planned Parenthood. “Mama Told Me” is like a vintage Jeezy trap epic if performed by the marching band at an HBCU homecoming.
These diversions only work because Parliament, despite all its new players and moving parts, is still in touch with what made the band so great in the first place. It allows the members to make something curious like the warped “Antisocial Media,” in which Clinton sings, “Bloggers are bitching, so I tweet/And my Twitter thing is twitching/Still scratching at the itch out of reach.” The seven-minute funk-rock epic “No Mos” and the infectiously horny “69” are two sides of the same coin, varying shades of the classic P-Funk experience updated. On the album, Clinton not only traces his band’s impact through the generations of music it influenced but suggests it still has the power to influence people today. At its best, most enthusiastic, and most optimistic, Medicaid Fraud Dogg proposes that funk is the panacea.