August 6, 2004 by

Rick James

41 comments

Categories: Musicians

rjames.jpgRick James, a Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, died on Aug. 5 of a heart attack. He was 56.
Born James A. Johnson Jr., the Buffalo, N.Y., native joined the Naval Reserves at 15. When he received the news that he was to fight in Vietnam, however, Johnson went AWOL and moved to Toronto. There he became the lead singer for a band called the Mynah Birds, which also featured the talents of Neil Young and Bruce Palmer (Buffalo Springfield) and Goldy McJohn (Steppenwolf). The group signed with Motown Records in Detroit and recorded an album that was never released.
After a former manager told the Navy of Johnson’s whereabouts, he spent a year in the brig for desertion. Johnson was then hired by Motown as a staff songwriter. In 1978, the label offered him the opportunity to release an album so he recorded “Come and Get It” and turned the persona of Rick James into a star.
Known as the King of Punk Funk and the bad boy of Motown, Rick James was a raunchy sex magnet, a character that enjoyed living dangerously and partying all night long. He was also a talented singer who released hit songs, sold millions of albums and influenced numerous hip-hop artists. The single, “Super Freak” topped the R&B and pop charts, and was sampled in the MC Hammer song, “U Can’t Touch This,” which earned James and Hammer a Grammy Award for best R&B song in 1990.
The sexually graphic nature of James’s music eventually caused a rift with the conservative label. He left Motown in the 1980s and developed a $7,000-a-week cocaine habit, an addiction that made him violent. In 1993, James was convicted of assaulting two women and sentenced to five years at Folsom Prison. After getting out of jail, he cleaned up his life.
James released the album, “Urban Rhapsody,” in 1997, but was forced to cancel his comeback tour when he suffered a stroke during a performance. In recent years, he returned to the public consciousness as a character parodied by comedian Dave Chappelle on “Chappelle’s Show.” James performed with Teena Marie at the BET Awards last month and had just wrapped production on a new album when he died. A biopic of James starring Chappelle is also in the works.
Discography
Listen to a Tribute From NPR
Listen to the Rick James Radio Station
Super Freak Download “Super Freak”

41 Responses to Rick James

  1. Alice

    My sister and I used to sit around our Strawberry Shortcake record player and listen to Rick James. My sister loved his red knee high boots and promised to get a pair when she was old enough. I just thought he was so cute and creative. He will be missed. By the way, my sister did get those boots, but they were black.

  2. franscine watkins

    i watched slick rick when i was growing up. i always loved his singing,dancing,he was all that &more. my insprition.we will always remember you rick &love you. but god loves you more.you know we all remember the bad things never the good things, but i never forget the ones who brought me where i am today,and that is the only man i have ever known.he always listen to what i had to say.he never interputed me, he never did me wrong but rick i know you are in a better place

  3. Roxanne d Duvalier

    I am from Buffalo, New York too and am very familiar with the neighborhoods that Rick mentioned in past interviews. He was very well known in Buffalo and though I never met him, I used to see him hanging out in the same clubs I frequented. Talented he was, but he was also a deeply wounded young man who had been exposed to violence in the home at a young age. He observed his father beating his mom, and she in turn beat him. I think this triggered the rage/hatred toward women and ill treatment some received at his hands. It is sad, that he appeared unrepentant for his hedonistic and self destructive behavior. He even defiantly vowed never to stop. Well, God has a way of slowing us all down. I can only hope he made the right decision to ask Christ into his life. May God have mercy on his soul.

  4. tracy A.

    Well it is a sad time anytime someone passes on but that is a road we all must take. I don’t know if James aka Rick James repented or not thats something he’ll deal with. With his GOD!
    I just seen him last month on the awards show being himself oh my god it was so funny. My GOD you sure don’t know when its your time. Get right people! Get right! I especially remember when he told that woman back stage off for not knowing who he was. She knew and knows now.(smile) He was a very talented performer and produced real real great talent. “Slick” Rick you will be missed greatly. Thank you for all the SUPER FREAKNESS you gave us. We love you. Sincerely
    A Bonified SuperFreak

  5. bonified superfreak

    WE MISS AND LOVE YOU SLICK RICK WE MISS AND LOVE YOU SLICK RICK WE MISS AND LOVE YOU SLICK RICK WE MISS AND LOVE YOU SLICK RICK WE MISS AND LOVE YOU SLICK RICK WE MISS AND LOVE YOU SLICK RICK WE MISS AND LOVE YOU SLICK RICK THANKS FOR ALL YOUR FUCK AND ALL THE FREAK YOU GAVE US!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Lex

    It’s sad he’s gone at such a “young” age, but…i do believe he caused it himself. what does it take to say no to drugs? lol come on now

  7. Tina

    Obviously, you must not be a Rick James fan if you don’t know that “HE’S RICK JAMES, BITCH!” However, he will be truly missed and loved. I wished that I had a chance to see him in concert.

  8. Carman

    It’s too bad that most people only associate Rick James with Super Freak. That may have been his claim to crossover fame, but true fans remember that he was a true Funk Master. Who could forget “You and I”, Dream Maker, Fire & Desire, Bustin Out and so many others. He will truly be missed.

  9. Andra

    I was shocked to hear of Rick James’ sudden passing—I just saw him on the BET Awards a couple of weeks ago performing “Fire and Desire” with Teena Marie. I guess all of that hard and fast living in the past has a way of finally catching up, especially at the time when he was trying to live a healthier life today. His music and Funk legacy will live on. He will always be remembered for his many hit albums, including among many ‘Come Get It’, ‘Bustin Out’, Street Songs’ and among many hit singles “You and I”, “Mary Jane”, “Bustin Out of L Seven”, “Super Freak”, “Give It To Me Baby”, “Fire and Desire”, “Ebony Eyes”. And let’s not forget those he put on, including Teena Marie and The Mary Jane Girls. Rest in peace, Slick Rick!

  10. Stuff

    You know, I am so tired of hearing I am Rick James Bitch, Rick had a drug problem, blah blah blah !!!! Rick was a FINE,SEXY,TALENTED AND DEDICATED BROTHER. A SON,FATHER,BROTHER,HUSBAND,FRIEND AND WONDERFUL MUSICIAN. For those of us bless to grow up listening, dancing and making love to his music there will NEVER BE ANOTHER.
    Rest in peace Rick and continue to make beautiful music in Heaven. Love ya!

  11. LISA

    MAY RICK REST IN PEACE,I WILL ALWAY REMEMBER
    HIS MUSIC, AND CONTINUE TO SING IT WHEN I
    HEAR ONE OF HIS SONG,ESPECIALLY EBONY EYES,
    THAT WAS MY MA’S FAVORITE SONG WHEN I WAS A
    CHILD, NOW HE CAN SING IT TO HER IN HEAVEN.

  12. Lee Robison

    Street Songs will forever be in my mind Rick.It was the soundtrack to my best days and my hurt and pain as well.I dug your music and your personal life is none of my buisness.Your gift to me was your voice and your soulfulness.. Lee Robison Lake Havasu City Az.

  13. Gwen

    I remembered Rick James 25 years ago…I loved his music and style….My heart was deeply sadden when i learned he had passed on….I’m hoping that he knew what his condition would eventually bring…..and each night prayed to God to forgive
    him for his Sins…. I think he knew what his fate was…and was well aware of what could and might happen…because of his medical condition.
    My prayers are with his Soul….hoping he made it in….God Bless his Family and Legend….

  14. lesley braxton

    He had a few good songs that i truly like eventhough I was born in 1978 but I like he’s music and i think he went out with a bang by what he said at the BET awards this year. But he’s death is a mystery to me and that i fell that the way he live he’s life contributed to his death. But he will miss for he’s music and sexual ways.

  15. anitra johnson

    I have been listen Rick James’ music when I was young. It was the first time I’ve seen him on music video back in the early 80’s. I really loved his music. He was a excellent recording artist and excellent musician. I really believe that Rick James continue play his music in heaven and I realize that he’ll show God that how he was wonderful and very legend. This year, the last time I saw Rick James on BET Awards and he was performing Fire and Desire with Teena Marie. And when I found about him passing, I was very shocked. Good-Bye to Rick James. Just Rest in Peace.

  16. James Solarez

    Earlier today my son and I were in the car listening to Super Freak on an old school cd. I just got the shock when I heard on Celebrety Justice that the King of Punk Funk had died. Rick James has always been one of my favorite performers in the business. He was truely a talented artist. He penned the most awesome lyrics that ever came out of the Motown, not only for himself but for others. I still have his works on vinyl in pristine condition. I’ll never give them up. Stay Freaky Rick.

  17. Anonymous

    Rick James was the type of person who had fun singing his music and also performing it. Even though he had rough times, he made it through. Now that he is goine, he will be missed and many will miss the craziness about him. I love the song, “Super Freak”, because to me he was and will always be a super freak. Too bad that he is gone, but he will always be remembered as a Punk Funk legend.

  18. YVETTE WINDER

    RICK JAMES WAS RICK JAMES.. A TRUE MASTER OF FUNK AND ANYONE WITH A EAR FOR TRUE FUNK NEW RICK JAMES HAD IT WELL. THANKYOU RICK FOR ROCKIN’ OUR WORLD. HERE’S MY TOAST TO YOU FROM BALTIMORE, MARYLAND,… A TRUE FUNK LEGEND AND IM GLAD I WAS ABLE TO GROOVE TO YOUR GENIUS…MAY THE FUNK BE WITH YOU—GODSPEED

  19. Arlene

    Damn,
    Another gone !! What A band going on up there !
    Rick we all have issues and problem s ! So what !
    I alway s loved your music , alway s wished I had met you ! Well some day I will !
    You were alway s the SEXIEST man to me !
    What a fantasy you ve alway s been for me !
    Life s A bitch then you die ! But to soon for a great artist !!
    REST IN PEACE MY BOO !! XO
    Arlene
    From , Ma.

  20. buckshot

    ok,all yall perps got it twisted,dont remember the man as his last words the media has now made his vocabulary,another strong soldier who contributed,life,love and education in your household.so when you say rest in peace also say congraduation strong soldier,you made it…peace buckshot,las vegas,sin city…

  21. lester jenkins

    To the master of the 80s funk. I know you got caught up. But you are still my man. You proved that there is no racism in music. you found talent where it was. The press wants to talk about drugs. and not that you were about love in the world. but I could feel the love your grove. Man my heart goes out to your family and your fans that so loved you. You gave us tina and so much more.we will always love you.and mostly you were not understood by the masses but you got through to some. I fell in love with my wife in nyc hooked on your stuff. I met you at the blue note in the village where my dad played I wish I said all of this then to your face.
    go with god.
    The ax mans (1909-1994) son lester jenkins jr.
    go with him he wont lead you astray.

  22. Crystal L (from the boot)

    R.I.P.
    Rick was the man, still is! Fire and Desire, Super Freak give credit where credit is due. This man was an artist. I love you Rick so does my sister Chell. Rick was just out spoken and he would put people in their place, there is nothing wrong with that. About the BET incident come on how many black artist young or old, don’t know Rick James. He just put that B in her place. Love, peace, and hair grease Rick! See you in soul heaven!

  23. Candi Ross

    Rick james was one of The utmost talented and one of the most copied men on the planet. This is more of a loss than the pope ( no offense anyone). This whole may God have mercy on his soul, Fuck you! He was Rick James! I hope he and Bob Marley are in heaven writing some new tunes and puffin on the Mary Jane with Pac and Biggie hittin on Marylin Monroe! R.I.P Rick James you are the shit and will be greatly missed!

  24. ondra

    Im speachless Rick its true you were the greatest, the baddest motha funker on this planet that ever walked. I just hope you new that

  25. Reginald

    I remember going to those Rick James concerts in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I saw 4 of them. Rick James was definitely the “Super Freak”. Rick was a great entertainer. I remember the first concert tour in Nashville when he picked up a little girl out of the audience and held her in his arms while he was singing “Hollywood”. A song in which he contributed to his mother that he was going to make it to Hollywood.

  26. DaLawn Simpson

    Rick James’ music made me become a
    guitarist. That look, that sound. He had a
    seriously wicked sense of orchestration. Who
    could forget
    the cover of the ‘Street Songs’ album? Some of
    his greatest stuff like ‘Spacey Love’ and ‘Cop N
    Blow’ still don’t get radio play but for the
    songs that do it’s like hearing life itself come
    thru the speakers (in red thigh high
    boots…lol). I still get a rush when I hear his
    music, Teena Marie, and The Mary Jane Girls. It’s
    now a tear jerker tho’ to see
    footage of him on the Dave Chappelle Show being
    so down to Earth that he could laugh at
    himself. Keeping it real indeed! The legacy is in
    the Funk…
    DaLawn.

  27. Lamar Wells

    Rick James was as a shot in the arm to the music industry and the world when he “busted out” on the scene in 1978, serving as yet another ingredient to eradicate racial indifferences and fuse social harmony. I loved his music, style and machismo. Rick was in a totally different zip code from most of the other artists. That’s what made him unique, or should I say “Rick James”. If you don’t stand up for something, you will fall for anything. God blessed Rick and blessed us with Rick’s musical talent. I believe that life is like a book. It is prescripted before its written and published just as man’s role is written before he or she is born and subsequently dies. I refuse to live in a glass house and throw stones. No one is without sin or indiscretions. Thank you Rick for reaching out and touching our lives, and, for a moment putting the planet on one “down-to-earth” beat! May God be with you and those of us who love you and judged you!

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