Friday, August 06, 2004

Rick James is dead

The words fail me... Rick is dead... The cold-blooded superfreak, the man who put the funk into your back and wrested loose your woman from her underwear is dead...

Just 2 days ago, there was an award show on BET at which he appeared, in full flow, along with Teena Marie to standing ovations... He had lived a hard life, a fast life dealing with the fame, the women, the drugs (mary jane anyone?) and he had fallen further than most - prison was the least of it.

And yet he emerged strong after conquering his demons. He would never be eminence grise (perhaps there was too much controversy) but he certainly was revered.

Dave Chappelle brought him back to great acclaim over the past few years with knowing comedy sketches - and was even this week reported to have signed on to a film based on Rick's autobiography. I'm Rick James, Bitch!!! is perhaps the slang saying of the past year. We laughed loudly, but we looked at him with fondness, knowing his peccadillos, his weaknesses and how out-of-control he had been. But there was always humour, there was always a keen musical intelligence there. He had the street credibility and who could say that we wouldn't have indulged as much given the same opportunities.

Musically, he had the funk on lockdown for almost a decade. Before Prince, there was Rick James. He had absorbed the lessons of Sly Stone, James Brown, Bootsy Collins and George Clinton and the sensibilities of Hendrix and Neil Young. It was Rock, it was soulful, it was percussive, it was pop, it crossed-over, it was party music, it was love music and there were many imitators... Those who worked with him came off the better and were part of the legend... Even when he took on Hip Hop late in his career, he came off correct, check out Loosey's Rap with Roxanne Shante from the Wonderful album.

Who knows what caused his death, heart attack? Did he relapse, was it a return to drugs of yore? or was it just too much hard living? The cause of death doesn't matter: a shining star has flamed out and our world is a little darker. I would have paid anything for another album from Rick.

Get the Anthology, get Street Songs, get the live albums and listen to the man... Play it loud and remember him.

I'm Rick James. Bitch!

[Update] More reading on Rick James

Tony Green at Slate has another insightful, and knowing, piece on Rick: I'm Rick James, B*tch - The artist behind the Super Freak. I'd also like to hear what Nelson George or Arthur Kempton would have to say but haven't found anything yet - Google still takes a while to index things.

See also Rick's last interview to read the man 'kicking knowledge' and 'telling us what time it is', full of choice quotes, read it all:

Rick James: Fire And Desire
Rick James: Fire And Desire Pt. 2
Rick James Part 3: The Music Industry
Rick James Pt. 4: Political Minded
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