Prince would get mad when people called his music magical: “Funk is the opposite of magic. Funk is about rules.”
Here’s Bootsy Collins laying down the #1 rule of funk: Keep it on the one.
“It’s however you feel, you just gotta fit it in that little space that you’ve got…. Once you got it, you can do anything you want to do with it! Just keep it on THE ONE!”
(Lynda Barry shows this video to her comics classes.)
Collins learned about The One from his former bandleader James Brown. Collins thought he was “killin’ ’em” with all his wild playing, but Brown set him straight:
“Son, give me the one. You give me the one, you can do all those other things.” So, I started to understand: If I give you the one, I can do all these other crazy things.” James Brown was the one that told me: “Son, you need to give me the one.” […] He didn’t know the power of that. That changed my whole life. Once I learned where the one was at? It was on.”
“The ‘One’ is derived from the Earth itself, the soil, the pine trees of my youth. And most important, it’s on the upbeat—ONE two THREE four—not the downbeat, one TWO three FOUR, that most blues are written. Hey, I know what I’m talking about! I was born to the downbeat, and I can tell you without question there is no pride in it. The upbeat is rich, the downbeat is poor. Stepping up proud only happens on the aggressive ‘One,’ not the passive Two, and never on lowdownbeat. In the end, it’s not about music—it’s about life.”
The One is both practical and mystical. It’s about artistic freedom through the constraint of form, but it’s also about something bigger.
Here’s Miles Davis at the end of his autobiography:
I have never felt this creative. I feel like the best if yet to come. Like Prince says when he’s talking about hitting the beat and getting to the music and the rhythm, I’m going to keep “getting up on the one,” brother, I’m just going to try to keep my music getting up on the one, getting up on the one every day I play. Getting up on the one. Later.