The Weird World of Blowfly, a recent biographical documentary of the raunchy sexual humorist and self-proclaimed inventor of rap music, Clarence Reid (AKA Blowfly), will be a musical initiation for most. Whether viewers fondly remember getting a bootleg tape of his songs, or have no idea who he is, they’ll enjoy following Reid’s orbit as a wild cult personality onstage through five decades to the present day.
Now 70, Clarence Reid still maintains his drive. But his recent career revival on small-circuit tours in the U.S. and as a headliner for younger German acts can also feel like the decline of a formidable career. His identity as Blowfly was a B-Side to Reid’s work as a producer and arranger, an alter ego who could make parodies of the funk and soul songs that Reid produced. And, more importantly, Blowfly was free to rhapsodize on sex and bodily humor (like his prankish cover of Otis Redding, “Shitting on the Dock of the Bay” with Isaac Hayes on piano).
Reid’s career spans genres from soul to funk to rap, from the 1960s to now, with his first Blowfly album released in 1971. Yet later financial strains compelled Reid to sell his entire catalog, which left him without any future royalties even when mainstream artists like Beyoncé sampled his hooks. Despite this turn for the worse, in the movie Reid is artistically unimpeded and continues to get on stage, decked out in a glittery get-up with a cape, to sing his classic “Rap Dirty” and other anthems.
The film also gives respect where it’s due: Chuck D of Public Enemy and Ice-T pay homage to this progenitor of rap, along with the biographer of Ol’ Dirty Bastard (whose gravelly voice and nasty tirades were pure take-offs) and his family. The survey of Reid’s stylistic reach and output will impress initiates and devotees alike.
The periodically sluggish pacing of the documentary makes the physical limits and age of Reid weightier, despite his zeal for performance; the film wavers between invigorating and deflating. Weird World, like the recent documentary on A Tribe Called Quest, is a musicology travelogue that returns a far-ranging talent to the center stage once again—even if it’s stage B in some minor European music festival, or a tiny nightclub in Seattle.
Clarence Reid, without his cape, proves to be nothing short of fascinating. His XXX quips are provocative and political, but at the same time, he’s a bit of a germophobe and a devout spiritualist. “Ain’t nothing dirtier than the Bible,” he says in defense of those who would be offended by his songs, as he sits beside his mother with the good book spread out before her. Reid recounts how he first started to develop his humor as a farm worker at age seven, a kid satirizing the white landowners and performing for them with profanity because he was young and he could get away with it. Art was already his foil, and the outsized (and outrageous) lyrics stuck.
In the end, Reid proves to be an epic, hard-working musician who refuses to be ignored, and Blowfly is a richly complicated figure worth paying attention to.