I’m gonna keep it 100. The R&B game on a mainstream level is stale at the moment, With the exception of Usher, Trey Songz, The Dream, and a few others. Theres not a lot of guys really putting in work and keeping consistency. I miss the old days of R&B or music in general when artists use to release albums every year or at least once a year and they usually range from hot to classic. But for the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to a lot of old Rick James material, I’ve always been a fan of his dating back to when my parents use to throw his music on at the house parties. I appreciated his music, jammed to it but never truly listened to it. But after really listening to some of his albums(Throwing Down is my shit!). I have to say that Rick James deserves his due as an extravagant musician and that’s why I’m gonna give SuperFreak his due here.
Rick James was different from any of the artists that were out around his time period. Even though he spent 7 or 8 years writing songs for artists on Motown and trying to find his niche in the game. He was signed on a label which consisted of Smokey Robison, The Temptations, Debarge, Lionel Richie and many others. So for the next couple of years prior to his solo debut, He kept on performing with his Stone City Band and at the same time developing his new style musically. It wasn’t until 1978 where he broke through with his first major hits You and I and Mary Jane which was his popular ode to marijuana or what the hip hop culture would claim The Chronic”. This was the first bold approach Rick would take with his career and it would reap with many rewards. His second album titled Street Songs which was released in 1981 crossed Rick James into superstardom. He cranked out hits such as SuperFreak(Which would later be sampled by Hammer and make him a fortune) and Give it To Me Baby which promoted Rick’s promiscuous side with the women. These songs may have not been looked at as a big deal today with his bold sexual approach back then but it was a major deal and it made Rick stand out from his peers.
The Street Songs album was probably his best album to date and possibly his most diverse. He also showed that he had an eye for talent by recruiting Teena Marie for the classic Love Ballad Fire and Desire, He talked about his childhood growing up in the projects on Ghetto Life and covered Police harassment on Mr Police Man. Street Songs would probably be looked upon as a funked out hip hop album with the exception of Rick not rapping but he still spoke on issues effecting his community so it was one of the main reasons why Rick James would never be considered a pop artist. With the success of his Street Songs album. Grammys came along, Millions of dollars, sell out tours, and ALOT of women. Rick James was king of his domain and he KNEW he was a star and he showed it from the way he dressed, his politically incorrect attitude and his bold approach to express his Rock & Roll lifestyle on record. That type of mentality is what kept Rick in the lime light for a while and helped him maintain his stature as a credible artist.
When he’s not doing solo albums, he’s also showing that he had a unique eye for talent. Rick would then produce and write songs for Teena Marie, The Mary Jane Girls and Val Young(Who was gonna be the Marilyn Monroe of R&B) These acts may have not gotten that worldwide recognition but they were very well-known in the R&B world and the songs would remain as classics that Rick James put a stamp too. He even did a song for Eddie Murphy which may have been looked upon as a joke right now but was big back then. The song itself is very funny with Eddie trying his hardest to carry a note but Rick’s funkfied production is what make the song really take off. Rick was on top of his game but things was starting to change in the Industry and Rick was starting to feel it.
One of the changes being the rise of The Artist formerly known as Prince. For those who don’t know, Prince use to open up for Rick James and the Stone City Band in the early 80s for Rick’s Fire it Up Tour. Its been debatable for years if Prince copied Rick James’s style and blew up off it or Rick seemed kinda of resentful towards Prince for blowing up with Purple Rain. Even going as far as accusing Prince of music becoming “Too White”. It was a rivalry that very many today don’t know about and Rick may have been salty about the fact that Prince blew up with Purple Rain over night and seemed to have takened his shine from him. But with Michael Jackson blowing up with Thriller and Prince with Purple Rain. It seemed that Rick faced the possibility of being loss in the shuffle. His music was still funky as ever but it seemed with the release of his Glow and Wonderful that he was trying to keep up with Prince and MJ musically.
But another change that Rick had to battle with his career was with his label Motown. Motown tried to pull the typical shady business practices on Rick by not paying him what he was owed and possibly cheating his protegé Teena Marie out of millions. Label battles can break an artists career so Rick finally left Motown and cut a deal with Warner Bros where he have more creative freedom with his music and receive more of his points. His last solo album of the 80s titled Wonderful was a good album but it wasn’t as funky as his previous
After Rick’s last album, His career began to fastly dwindle as the 90s approached. His cocaine habits increased, his spending on lavish parties and consistent legal problems(which included an incident where he was accused of burning a woman with a crack pipe) along with other bizarre events surrounding his life problems overshadowed his musical accomplishments in the 80s. Rick was headed for a heavy fall and was sentenced to prison for assault on the woman but cleared on the crack pipe incident which would have most likely sent him to prison for life.
Rick kept on writing songs and released two magnificent albums under the radar which proved he was a talent but it wasnt until 2003 where he participated on a skit on the Chapelle Show titled Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories which stands out as possibly one of the funniest skits of all of comedy. Dave played the younger and wild Rick James on the skit and just like that the parody helped Rick connect with a new generation of fans along with him stamped with his new signature: “I’m Rick James Bitch!”
Even with Rick’s untimely death, He’s made a major impact on not only black music but music period. The man was a trendsetter, a mack, and you can feel the authenticity within every jam he created. Everything from his albums to his singles remain timeless as well as his flamboyant anti establishment attitude. Rick James was everything that an artist should be and that’s why he should be respected as one of the best to have ever done it. R.I.P. Super Freak
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