DAR Legends: Rick James

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal 
-Every now and then, an artist comes along who you don't really appreciate until it's too late. For many, Rick James was just a radical, outlandish musician who made hits, slept with tons of women, and did drugs. At the core, sure, those are the main things that we know about him, but in his essence, Rick James was more than just the drugs and sex. He was a genius. A trouble genius, but a genius nonetheless. The greatest legends of music were mostly troubled and of course Rick was no different. The Buffalo, New York native came into music in the 60's and with a tough life and jail stints plaguing him, he ended up fleeing to Toronto. He would start to make waves musically and build up friendships, but the most interesting part of this all stems from the measures he took to evade military authorities. Long before all of our information was easily accessible, Rick lied about his age and enlisted in the Navy. After deciding he wouldn't go to Vietnam, he ended up in Toronto with a changed name to avoid the military and arrest. He got with a group The Mynah Birds, and they would begin to gain interest from record labels. This led to Rick going to do recording for Motown and meeting his musical idols Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

Soon, Motown would learn of his status of being on the run essentially, and would attempt to work out a deal where Rick could surrender and then resume his career after. That would end up leading to Rick becoming a top tier songwriter for Motown, writing songs for the Miracles and The Spinners in the late 60's. After some rough luck, and a few short lived bands like Hot Lips and Stone City Band, before embarking on a solo career. That's where the legend really began. Today, we are here to take a look at the legend that is Rick James, his career, his impact, and why he's a legend. Let's get into it.

*Why He's A Legend 
(w/ @SpeedOnTheBeat and @JADBeats)
-For me, and others, Rick James was one of the biggest rock stars we'd ever seen. He was the epitome of what we loved about the best stars of that particular era. He was arrogant, flamboyant, wild, crazy, but still immensely talented and able to bring the world great music throughout his numerous albums and songwriting contributions. Why is he a legend? I'll pass the mic over to Tonio and Speed and let them spell it out for you if you're unaware.

JADBeats- In the late 70's, Rick James brought life back to a failing Motown records by singing, writing and producing, bringing in a new bad boy image and a "punk funk" style that ruffled feathers. He had a 10 year run with them pushing out hits like "Give It To Me Baby", "Super Freak" and "Mary Jane". He also had "All Night Long" with the Mary Jane Girls, the epic collaboration "Ebony Eyes" with Smokey Robinson, and who could forget his classic duet with Teena Marie, "Fire and Desire". James eventually parted from Motown after realizing they would never see his vision, but instead wanted to go in a new pop direction.

Personal issues with women and drugs problems eventually got him in a lot of trouble landing him in jail a few times. In the 90's, his career would never recover and flourish like it once did. He was yet another legend plagued with drug issues who was taken too soon by bad health. He suffered a massive heart attack and passed in 2004, but before he left, he had one last iconic moment on the BET awards, as someone apparently got his name wrong or didn't realize who he was, so he got back at them by getting on stage and letting the world know "I'm Rick James Bitch", which was legendary.

SpeedOnTheBeat- Rick James. DO we remember Rick more for slapping a bitch, as Common once opined? I think it's because, by the time I came along listening to music, Rick had made his mark and his influence was all around. People tend to forget about the originators, especially if the originators aren't dropping music just for the sake of dropping music. See, Rick didn't need to do that to stay relevant. You turn on the radio TODAY and that Young Thug song comes on. You know the one. That shit was influenced by folks like Rick James.

Overall, if you haven't listened to Rick, don't keep reading this. Well, keep reading DAR, but do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the definition of both legend and crazy wrapped into one superfreaking package. You'll understand why I don't need to say many words about Rick then. His voice? Impeccable. His style? Unfuckwithable. His ability to find white women who "sound black" and make THEM into stars? Legendary (RIP Teena Marie while we're at it). His antics may precede his music at times, but it was all part of who Rick James was as an artist. A crazy legend.

*His Albums And Songs
His greatest work album wise seemed to be the magnificent Street Songs in 1981, but he was able to make classic tracks before that and very solid albums after going solo in 1978. For me, my favorite track was of course the anthem for weed smokers all over the world "Mary Jane", which showcased the infectious nature of Rick's songs. The catchy hook draws you in and was the perfect introduction to Rick and his image, along with the single "You And I". In this era, Rick was like the precursor to the wild outrageous funk tinged music of Prince. It sounds crazy in a way, but I've always felt that Rick was an inspiration to Prince in a way as his career progressed, despite their eventual issues. Those two singles seem to help this belief, as they are mixed with funk, soul, rock, and electric vibes. There's nothing more soulful however than "Bustin' Out", the title track essentially from his "Bustin' Out of L Seven" sophomore solo album. It's one of the most soulful and funky tracks of his entire career.

With albums like Fire It Up and Garden of Love following up, Rick gave us classic tracks like "Don't Give Up On Love", one of my favorites of his, along with another great song on "Gettin' It On (In The Sunshine)", both from Garden of Love. Though Garden of Love wasn't the biggest album of his career, it is my personal favorite, and his most traditional soul/R&B album to me. I could listen to that album over and over because the songs there don't get old. The same of course can be said for the iconic album Street Songs and its infamous cover. The album is one of the greatest albums of the 80's, and it features some of Rick's most iconic songs like the infectious "Give It To Me Baby", the smooth and electric "Ghetto Life", the seductive yet soulful (and personal favorite) "Make Love To Me", the instant classic "Super Freak", and another all time classic duet, "Fire and Desire" with Teena Marie. This was the peak of Rick's solo success and this would never be duplicated. His highest height is greater than some of the legends we champion now and Street Songs was the perfect project to cement them.

Despite the questionable cover, I also enjoyed Throwin' Down, his 1982 album which featured some really great songs from the track Rick helped to gift to the Temptations, "Standing At The Top" to the smooth "Teardrops", the beautifully jazzy "My Love", and another Teena Marie duet "Happy" in addition to the raunchy "She Blew My Mind (69 Times)". Rick was unapologetically him and that's what made his music so amazing to listen to. The only negative against Throwin' Down is that it did sound a bit too much like Street Songs on some tracks, but overall it's another great album in his catalog. It was as if Rick couldn't miss, because the electricity in his music continued with the more eclectic vibes of "Cold Blooded", his 1983 album. The title track is one of his most iconic songs, and he has some very interesting tracks like "1, 2, 3 (You Her And Me)", which is self explanatory by the title, as well as a few of my favorites "Doin' It", the hilarious yet smooth Billy Dee Williams assisted "Tell Me (What You Want) and the amazing soulful collaboration with Smokey Robinson "Ebony Eyes". The track "Unity" was also featured here as well, and as we know, it would end up meaning a lot to his legacy after the Chappelle skit that would come a full 20 years after the song (that's how powerful his music is).

His albums after Cold Blooded would be successful like Glow, The Flag, and others, but that run from 1978-1983 is nearly unparalleled by any artist as Rick just couldn't miss. The only album of his that I wasn't a big fan of is Wonderful, minus the Macho Man Randy Savage looking cover, which is hilariously great. Though that album features the hit "Loosey's Rap", the album itself doesn't connect to me. Still, his run during that 5 year period is legendary and the biggest reason why he's a music legend.

*Work With Other Artists
With tracks written for artists like The Miracles, The Spinners, and The Temptations, Rick was prolific in his own right at the Motown headquarters. In reality, he was one of the most slept on talents that came out of Motown. While we talk a lot about Berry Gordy, The Temptations, The Jacksons, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye, the most underrated name and star from Motown has to be Rick. He kept the label afloat when the artists were leaving and the other hit makers fell off. His songwriting and producing abilities are what made him such a special artist and legend. I mentioned "Ebony Eyes" with Smokey and "Standing At The Top" with the Temptations, but the truth is, both of those songs helped revitalize Smokey and The Temptations in a major way. When you think of a songwriter and producer able to revitalize legends, that man is a legend in his own right.

His best work with other artists however comes from his assistance and discovery of two female acts in Teena Marie (a legend in her own right) and The Mary Jane Girls. Mary Jane Girls was a quartet of fairly attractive women (by the 80's standards in terms of clothing) and Rick would make them stars (word to Val Young) by writing and producing their albums, which included hits like "All Night Long", "Candy Man", "In My House", and "Wild And Crazy Love". In addition to that, he also produced and wrote the classic and infamous "Party All The Time" from Eddie Murphy, which is the most hilarious song of all time yet a true classic from the 80's. Still, the greatest work ever from Rick with other artists comes from his work for Teena Marie and making her a star. He managed to give her the game to become popular, wrote and produced her debut album, and let her become a legend in her own right. Sure, Teena had the voice and the talent, but Rick gave her the opportunity and a first album that set the world on fire. That, coupled with their duets together only raised up her profile. Rick was a solo artist and star for sure, but he also knew how to revitalize stars and make them during the 80's.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the infamous Chappelle's Show skit which changed his legacy in a way. It somehow normalized the craziness that was Rick and his antics, as it all just seemed like comedy. Some in today's era might question and disregard Rick for those same antics and his outlandish ways, but the reality is, Rick was one of those artists who did what many today wish they could. He lived life the way he saw fit. He helped to keep life in a struggling Motown Records when they needed him most and he would end up earning the right to be called a true legend when all is said and done. His musical history is not one to be slept on, and for 3 decades of his life, Rick was all about the music. The 60's saw him finding his footing, and the 70's were his coming of age decade before the 80's were his prime. Each decade featured a different vibe from Rick and that's exactly what you want from a legend: reinvention. When we look back at Rick James, we will remember him for many things. We remember his classic songs, his classic moments, his torment of Charlie Murphy, being the man to help Eddie Murphy make "Party All The Time", bringing us Teena Marie and The Mary Jane Girls, helping to revitalize The Temptations when they needed it, the antics, but most of all, we remember the man. A father, an artist, a lover, a fighter, a genius but flawed, Rick James was just him. And that's all you can ask for. From any artist, any musician, anyone period. The mark of a legend.



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