• Black Entertainment History: Happy Birthday Rick James!

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    Rick James (February 1, 1948 – August 6, 2005) was an American singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. James was a popular R&B and funk singer in the late 1970s and 1980s, scoring four #1 hits on the U.S. R&B charts. Among his best-known songs are “Super Freak” and “You and I“.

    Rick’s breakthrough was “You and I“, an eight-minute single from his 1978 debut album Come Get It!. The album also featured his ode to marijuana, “Mary Jane”

    In 1981 he recorded a concept album entitled Street Songs, which included James’s signature song Super Freak“. The song featured guest vocals by The Temptations, and was sampled for MC Hammer‘s 1990 Grammy Award-winning song “U Can’t Touch This“, as well as Jay-Z‘s “Kingdom Come“, released in 2006. Other hits from Street Songs included “Give It to Me Baby“, “Fire and Desire” with protégé Teena Marie, and “Ghetto Life”.

    The stream of hits continued into the mid-1980s with “Teardrops”, “Cold Blooded“, “17″, “You Turn Me On”, “Can’t Stop”, and “Glow”. His last R&B hit was “Loosey’s Rap” in 1989, featuring a rap by Roxanne Shante. During this period, he also helped launch the Mary Jane Girls and produced and wrote Eddie Murphy‘s one hit, “Party All the Time“.

    While he is best known for his up tempo songs in pop circles, the R&B world also remembers him as one of the premier soul balladeers in the late seventies and early eighties. He recorded an early eighties hit with Motown legend Smokey Robinson entitled “Ebony Eyes” that captures his voice almost as well as “Fire and Desire”.

    During this time, he guest-starred on an episode of The A-Team entitled “The Heart of Rock N’ Roll”, in which he played himself and performed at a prison concert singing “Super Freak”. Isaac Hayes also guest starred in this episode.

    James attempted a comeback with a new album and tour in 1997, but suffered a mild stroke during a concert in Denver, Colorado, effectively ending his musical career. In 1999 he appeared on Judge Joe Brown as a plaintiff suing Jerome Turner (J.T.) for a guitar and amp. His last song recording was a re-collaboration with his protégé Teena Marie with the song “I Got You” on her 2004 album La Doña, which was Teena’s first studio release after a 10-year hiatus in her music career.

    In 2003, James was a part of a skit on Chappelle’s Show called “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories”. He, along with Charlie Murphy (brother of Eddie Murphy) recounted humorous stories of their experiences together during the late 1980s. During the Skit, Rick James’ character, played by Dave Chappelle, utters the famous and ubiquitous catchphrase “I’m Rick James, Bitch.”

    At the time of his death, he was working on an autobiography, The Confessions of Rick James: Memoirs of a Superfreak, as well as a new album. The book was finally published toward the end of 2007 by Colossus Books. It is quite comprehensive and features a picture of his tombstone. He was also supporting Teena Marie’s tour of her album La Doña.

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