Funkateers over the world can relate to the dichotomy that comes with the beginning of August. Aug. 5, 1983, reinforcement of his legacy was added with the “Cold Blooded” release of his then-seventh studio album. Like the previous sixth, it also went on to at least gold. Guest appearances on that particular recording included Melle Mel and Rahiem of the Furious Five and Grandmaster Flash, Smokey Robinson and Billy Dee Williams.
However, Aug. 6, 2004, as a result of a heart attack, the funk lord passed away in his Los Angeles home at age 56. Such was the life of James Ambrose Johnson Jr., known and loved as Rick James.
It’s been 10 years already and hardly a peep has been made about the impact the dude had on the music industry. He is perhaps more noted as the character (or caricature) portrayed hilariously on the “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories” sketch on “Chappelle’s Show,” which debuted, ironically, in 2004. Truth be told, however, in his prime, he was one of them dudes! Fact is, he shouldered most of the weight so Motown could stay afloat. Don’t get me wrong. I know some great music was created (Switch, DeBarge, Stevie and the Commodores) during that time frame, but from, say, 1978 to 1984, was it not the punk-funk wave that kept them in the game until Lionel Richie took the baton?
I submit as evidence “You & I,” “Bustin Out,” “Give It to Me Baby,” “Ghetto Life,” “Standing on the Top (Part 1)” (with the Temptations) and “Dance Wit’ Me (Part 1)” asJames’ singles that held down the 1980s. That’s separate from the mark his production and pen game, working with such acts as Teena Marie and the Mary Jane Girls, left on the charts.
As for legacy, are not “Mary Jane,” “Fire and Desire,” “Happy,” “Super Freak” and “All Night Long” time tested? For the collectors and curious, July 8, Universal Music Enterprises reissued James’ entire Motown catalog in a 109-track “Complete Motown Albums” digital box set, which includes all nine albums and a selection of bonus tracks. Five of James’ nine Motown albums will receive separate digital releases. Three of them—1983’s No. 1 R&B gold-certified “Cold Blooded,” 1985’s top 10 R&B effort “Glow” and 1986’s “The Flag”—will be reissued for the very first time. Two additional albums—1978’s double-platinum “Come Get It!”and 1979’s platinum No. 2 R&B release “Bustin’ Out of L Seven”—will be remastered and re-released digitally with new bonus tracks. All five were mastered for iTunes to ensure that the music is delivered to listeners with increased audio fidelity that more closely replicates what the artists, recording engineers and producers intended.
In addition, UMe will release six new Rick James-associated albums never available digitally, including three from his backup band, Stone City Band—“Rick James Presents Stone City Band In ‘N’ Out” (1980), “The Boys Are Back” (1981) and “Out From the Shadow” (1983)—as well as “Rick James Presents Bobby M*: Blow” (1982) and Val Young’s 1985 album, “Seduction.”
Finally, the super rare White Cane album, “The Great White Cane,” originally released by Lion/MGM, was made available for the first time since 1972 July 15. The Canadian-American horn-rock outfit featured James, who wrote or co wrote all the songs and sang lead.
A previously unreleased Mary Jane Girls album, “Conversation,” featuring the single “Walk Like a Man,” will follow this summer. These digital albums join three already available Rick James productions, including Teena Marie’s 1979 bow “Wild and Peaceful,” along with Mary Jane Girls’ pair of gold albums—their self-titled 1983 debut and the 1985 follow-up, “Only Four You.” No word if the Process and the Doo Rag material will follow suit soon.
Rhino Records will release two albums from James’ stint at Reprise Records, including the fabled album “Kickin’,” which was shelved in 1989 and is now available for the first time in any format, and 1988’s “Wonderful,” featuring the No. 1 R&B duet with Roxanne Shante, “Loosey’s Rap.”
The reissues coincided with the publication of his authorized biography, “Glow,” written with acclaimed author David Ritz, by Atria Books (Simon & Schuster). This should be read in conjunction with the autobiography “The Confessions of Rick James: Memoirs of a Super Freak,” published in 2007 by Colossus Books.
So if you think that “cocaine is a helluva drug” is the sole quote attributed to Rick James, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Keep on partyin’ to the red, black and green, Rick.
I’m gone. Holla next week. Till then, enjoy the nightlife.