'Weird World of Blowfly' Shines Light on Rap/Soul Hero

 

[caption id="attachment_79898" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Variance Films"]Weird World of Blowfly[/caption]

It's a testament to Clarence Reid that many of his best-known songs are unprintable on this site. In 1971, Reid, already a prominent soul singer and songwriter, adopted the alter ego Blowfly, a foul-mouthed character whose sexually explicit songs and outlandish costumes enthralled and disgusted in equal measure.

With a combination of classic song parodies and original tracks, Blowfly’s sing-rap style, recorded years before Sugarhill Gang’s "Rapper’s Delight," laid the template for hip-hop and influenced everyone from Chuck D to Ice-T to Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Reid has always remained a cult figure in music, though in the new documentary "The Weird World of Blowfly," director Jonathan Furmanski chronicles the past and present of the 72-year-old's career. Still rocking crowds. Still dressing up. Still disgusting and perverse in the best way possible.

Blowfly chronicles a year in the life of Reid, a still-touring musician whose venues range from a near-empty bar in Oregon to an 8,000-capacity arena in Germany. Furmanski injects some celebrity testimonials — Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra notes Reid’s "delicious degenerate attitude toward the world" — though focuses more on Reid's day-to-day world of budget motels, long van rides and inter-band tensions, all made bearable once the Blowfly persona is on stage.

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Furmanski deftly shows the historical importance of pre-Blowfly Reid, showcasing the songwriter’s catalog that produced some of the biggest songs of the '60s and '70s. When disco imploded in the late 1970s, so too did Reid's TK Records, reversing the years of good fortune the label had. In 2003, due to growing financial hardships, Reid sold the rights to his catalog, foregoing all future royalties from the myriad of rappers and musicians that sampled him.

While Blowfly doesn’t shy away form the facts, it wisely celebrates a man whose records may have been hidden under the mattress, yet wielded enormous influence. In an interview with Public Enemy’s Chuck D, the rapper notes that Reid’s 1965 proto-rap hit "Rap Dirty" was an inspiration for "Fight the Power," a sentiment echoed by numerous rappers. But the film also includes poignant interviews with Reid's ex-wife and children, who clearly love Reid, yet frequently mention how his musician lifestyle clashed with familial responsibilities.

Most artists Reid's age would have given up the road by now, much less worked on new music as Reid does, but as "The Weird World of Blowfly" shows, Clarence Reid isn’t ready to pack it in just yet.