Back in 2005, the Sundance Channel aired a show called Iconoclasts that ended up running for six seasons. The premise was to put two “creative visionaries” in a room together to discuss their respective crafts, share stories and basically pick each other's brains.
The show was incredible and featured one of my favorite discussions ever between Dave Chappelle and Maya Angelou, and it’s a concept that I’ve always loved in any of its iterations. Two masters of their crafts finding common ground and letting us in on some of the more interesting parts of their lives, what’s not to love?
Recently, NPR had acclaimed Atlanta rapper/activist Killer Mike sit down with the funkiest man alive—George Clinton—at his barber shop, The Swag Shop, and the results are incredible.
I could listen to Killer Mike talk about anything and everything for days, but his strengths as an interviewer are something I first noticed last year when he interviewed then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Mike is thoughtful, asks great questions and is a great listener, all qualities that allow any interviewer’s subject to open up beyond face-value quips and yes or no answers.
One of the first bonds the two legendary artists share is the actual barber shop they’re sitting in—it turns out that before George Clinton flipped music on its head, he owned a hoppin’ barbershop at the tender age of 19. The two wax poetic about some of the life lessons they learned from their respective journeys as business owners before Clinton shares an absolutely insane story of coming into $1.2 million in counterfeit twenties through one of the shop’s clients.
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When Mike asks Mr. Clinton what that amount of (fake) money allowed him to do, it became clear that it’s always been about the music for George.
I actually started cutting sessions. I started using strings and horns, and I would pay the musicians and tell em, "You know, it's counterfeit." But instead of giving them, you know, $200, $150 for the session, I'd give them $1000-$1500 dollars. I'd tell em, you know, "You gotta get it off yourself."
It wasn’t long after that George and his band at the time scored their first hit single, “I Wanna Testify,” and the rest is history.
My favorite gem from their 15-minute conversation comes when Mike remembers George Clinton and Curtis Mayfield ran a mentorship program in Atlanta during the '90s, which housed students like Organized Noize, Jermaine Dupri and others that eventually went on to become fixtures in the industry. Mike points out that Clinton’s mentorship of Organized Noize played a pivotal role in their subsequent success with OutKast, which eventually led to Mike being discovered by Big Boi.
Talk about things coming full circle.
The two also cover fantastic topics such as the first time George Clinton heard hip-hop, the way both of them are able to inject their music with a healthy dose of politicism, and the types of people you meet in a barbershop. The two share such an immediate rapport that it's a shame their talk wasn't two hours long.
The entire interview is full of tightly-packed wisdom from both Mike and George and is a perfect example of how important it is for veteran artists to pass on their experiences to the next generation.