Corey Parker didn’t initially choose to pursue music. Rather, music chased and eventually caught him. When your father is a famous and critically acclaimed musician named Maceo Parker, the musical deck is somewhat stacked in your favor anyway. From the time he was born, music was in Corey Parker’s blood. It just took him a few years to embrace it.
And now that’s he’s released his first CD, Subliminal Souls, the former N.C. State University engineering student can’t see himself doing anything else–now or in the future. “This is it for me,” he says. “Music is where I want to be and I see myself doing this for life.” This album is another step in Parker’s evolution from being seen just as the musical progeny of a famous father to a serious solo artist in his own right. Subliminal Souls blends hip-hop lyrics and live musical instruments to create a sound that’s both soulful and funky–or, as they’re calling it these days, neo-funk. Parker puts down a confident rap vocal that evokes memories of Cameo’s Larry Blackmon during the Atlanta-based funk group’s heyday back in the mid-’80s.
“I kinda get off on writing my stuff as well as rapping to it,” says Parker, who not only wrote all the lyrics but also produced most of the CD’s tracks. “I think it’s an initial glimpse into my musical makeup: I’m several parts funk, several parts hip hop with a little jazz and R&B sprinkled into it.” Parker’s musical guests for the album include–besides Rodney “Skeet” Curtis and Bruno Speight–punk/folk singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, who contributes vocals and acoustic guitar to the socio-political hip-hop track, “Pump Ya’ Fist.” (The MPB toured with DiFranco in ’99; they’ve also toured with such high-profile acts as Ben Harper, The Roots and the Dave Matthews Band.)
Parker wasn’t immediately drawn to music–in fact, he says it was quite the opposite. Growing up in Kinston, Parker spent his childhood picking up books instead of musical instruments. While he understood that his father, who regularly played his saxophone in the house, was a famous musician, it wasn’t really that big of a deal to him and his five siblings.
“If he had become a famous musician when we were growing up, it would have seemed more exciting, but he was already famous,” the younger Parker says of Maceo, who was James Brown’s right-hand man during the Godfather’s heyday, and who’s also played with the likes of Parliament/Funkadelic’s George Clinton. “So he was just Dad to me.”
Corey Parker was born in Brooklyn and lived there until age 7. After that, Maceo, a Kinston native, returned the family to North Carolina.
“There were so many great musicians living in New York at that time, and I had to chance to be around a lot of them,” he says. Music legends like Clinton, James Brown, Fred Wesley, Bootsy Collins, Eddie Hazel and Bernie Worrell as regular guests in the Parker household. Maceo would also take young Corey out on the road when he was touring.
Maceo stressed academics for his children, but he kept musical instruments all over the house just in case Corey or his siblings decided to play around with them. Corey managed to learn the trumpet, and later on joined his high school jazz and marching bands.
But Parker still wasn’t sure that music was what he wanted to do with his life. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at N.C. State as an engineering major. “I excelled in math and science in high school, and it was suggested by my teachers that I should be an engineer,” he says. It was at State that he began to focus more on music.
“I saw music as an on-the-side thing at first,” Parker says. “I wanted to be an engineer. But as time went on, I started going to school for a semester and then taking a semester off.”
While Maceo never pushed any of his children to follow in his musical footsteps, he offered his son the chance to join him on the road in 1995 (the MPB does 200 shows a year). “I went out [with my dad] to clear my head and get away from Raleigh,” he says, not realizing it was the opportunity that would change his life. Playing and performing live lit an internal fire for young musician. And when Maceo, always one to be on the cutting edge of music, asked his son to write a rap for his group, Corey responded by writing “Maceo’s Groove.” He joined the band soon after.
But it was stepping into the spotlight that made his mind up once and for all. “My dad asked for me to be a guest rapper for him when he was out in Colorado,” Parker says. “And that’s when the music bug hit me.” Besides “Maceo’s Groove,” Parker also wrote and performed “Uptown Up” and did a remake of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” for his father’s Funk Overload CD.
And other musicians started to recognize his talent: Ani DiFranco, after asking Parker to join her onstage during one of her performances, asked him to collaborate on a song for her To The Teeth CD, where they trade rhymes on the turntable-scratchin’ track, “Swing.” He also wrote and recorded “Black Widow,” along with a remake of an Isley Brothers classic, “I’ve Got Work To Do,” for his father’s Dial Maceo CD. On “I’ve Got Work To Do,” Parker sang for the first time–on record. “People have been telling me that I should sing more,” he says. “I’m starting to get more into the singing aspect.”
Although he plays both the keyboards and trumpet, Parker doesn’t yet consider himself a “musician.” “If you’re not on the level of guys like my dad and his group, then you’re not really playing,” he says. “I’m in the process of teaching myself the chords and learning how to really play.”
And though he’s come a long way in a short amount of time, career-wise, Parker knows that he still has a lot of ground to cover.
“I think for a music genre to become a legitimate art form, it has to become a household name,” he says. “You look at guys like James Brown, Bootsy, George Clinton and Prince. It’s all about the music with them, and it shows.”
For now, Parker still tours with his dad; the group just performed last Saturday at the House of Blues in Anaheim, Calif. Besides promoting his CD on the Web and in local record stores, he’s also in the process of putting together his own band for a solo tour.
“I’d like for everyone in the world to hear my music–not necessarily buy it, but hear it,” he says. “I didn’t make up my mind on music; music made my mind up for me. I’m here now, and I think my music has something to say. I want it to be heard.”
You can order Subliminal Souls online at www.coreyparker.net or buy it in person at Schoolkids Records, Millennium Music, Mr. Freeze Records, Sam Goody and The Record Exchange.