Rick James, the King of Punk Funk
*Rick James was born on this date in 1948. He was an African American singer songwriter and producer.
Born James Johnson, Jr. in Buffalo, NY he was the third of eight children of an autoworker and a former dancer. He also was the nephew of Melvin Franklin, the bass vocalist of The Temptations. At age 15, he ran away from home to join the Naval Reserves. James then ran away from the Navy to Toronto, where he was in a band with future Buffalo Springfield members Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, and with Goldy McJohn, of Steppenwolf. With the group the Mynah Birds, a contract was signed to Motown, though no record was ever released.
James developed an outrageous reputation as the King of Punk Funk at Motown as a staff songwriter. He was signed as a recording artist after submitting a finished album: Come Get It. Powered by his first hit single, "You And I" (1978), the album eventually sold two million units. In 1981 Rick James released Street Songs, which surpassed three million units, and launching his biggest pop hits: "Give It To Me Baby" and "Super Freak." Rick James produced Teena Marie, the gold-certified Mary Jane Girls, Eddie Murphy, and others. James turned his production attention to resuscitating the career of the Temptations, recently returned to Motown, and "Standing on the Top" (1982), credited to the Temptations Featuring Rick James, was an R&B Top Ten. James' follow-up to Street Songs was the gold-selling Throwin' Down (May 1982), which featured the hit "Dance Wit' Me." The title song of Cold Blooded (August 1983) became James' third R&B number one, and the album also featured his hit duet with Smokey Robinson, "Ebony Eyes." James' greatest hits album Reflections (August 1984) featured the new track "17" (June 1984), which also became a hit. Glow (April 1985) contained Top Ten R&B singles in the title track and "Can't Stop," which was featured in the movie Beverly Hills Cop. The Flag (June 1986) featured the hit "Sweet and Sexy Thing" (May 1986).
James left Motown for the Reprise division of Warner Bros. Records as of the album Wonderful (July 1988), which featured his number one R&B hit "Loosey's Rap," on which he was accompanied by rapper Roxanne Shante. Yet, his "punk funk" didn't seem to rest comfortably with the trend toward rap/hip-hop. In 1989, James charted briefly with a medley of the Drifters hits "This Magic Moment" and "Dance With Me." In 1990, MC Hammer scored a massive hit with "U Can't Touch This," which consisted of his rap over the instrumental track of "Super Freak."
That should have made for a career rebirth, but James was plagued by drug and legal problems that found him more frequently in court and in jail rather than in the recording studio. He experienced a revival in the Old School movement. Rick James died in his sleep sometime during the morning of Friday, August 6, 2004. He was found in bed by his personal assistant. His cause of death has been determined to be pulmonary/cardiac failure with his various health conditions of diabetes, stroke, and pacemaker being listed as attributing factors.
ACSAP Biographical Dictionary
R. R. Bowker Co., Copyright 1980
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