At the young impressionable age of 15, I heard a song that altered my perception of music and how I listened to the lyrics amidst the groove. “Some people might say I’m infatuated, I don’t care cause they really don’t know. They’ll never see or hear the things I do with you. So far as I’m concerned they all can go to hell.”
This is the chorus for Rick James’ first hit “You and I.” “Oh shit,” I thought, “Did those women just sing ‘They all can go to hell’?” As I eagerly anticipated the chorus to come back around I recieved confirmation, like Tweety Bird saying “I did I did, I did see a Putty Cat,” I was like (mouth open) “They did they did, they did say ‘They all can go to hell’, right on the radio, and no one seemed to mind. “You can do that?” I thought, after continually hearing it as weeks went on, apparently so. Who was this man that was getting away with what I perceived as somewhat foul language on the radio? Then I heard “Mary Jane,” and I was hooked. Although my Aunt Paulette put me on game and told me ‘Mary Jane’ was another name for Marijuana, I didn’t believe her or even care, it was all about the FUNK. Once I learned later that she was right after getting high for the first time, I loved the song even more, and hence began my love affair with the “King of Funk -n- Roll,” RICK JAMES. I had to have this album, remember vinyl? Come Get It was among one of the first albums I ever owned. Once I got it, I discovered the now fan favorite “Dream Maker” as well. I would sing along as if I had a girlfriend, praying for the inevitable day that I would a woman “to the highest height, yeah, yeah.”
The next year, Rick dropped “Bustin’ Out,” from the album Bustin’ Out of L Seven. Later in life, I became aware that “L7” was a slang term for a “Square.” Not a geometric reference or the British term for a cigarette mind you, but a cornball, one who couldn’t get down with “Mary Jane” or really appreciate the essence of FUNK. Who was this man? This manipulator of words, this deliverer of all that is FUNKY – My new funkin’ hero, that’s who. It was a wrap, from that point on I eagerly anticipated any new music that “Slick Rick” would bring.
Before the year was over, Fire It Up was released. Adorned in white leather and a cowboy hat, with what I thought was a regular tobacco cigarette in his mouth, later realizing it was a joint – Rick James was THE MAN!
Garden of Love dropped the following year, and in 1981 (the year I graduated from high school and smoked my first joint) he released Street Songs. It featured the classic ballad “Fire and Desire” w/ Teena Marie and the still popular “Super Freak.” Rick James was God of Music to me. How can one man engulf so much FUNK? I went to see him unleash it at MSG, not the saltyshit in Chinese food, but Madison Square Garden for all you L7’s out there. A Jersey boy, my cousin Allen (RIP) and I bought tickets and had the time of our lives. I wore a muscle shirt w/ little guitars on it w/ black leather pants and a black leather vest; Allen wore a burgundy pleather suit – we were the shit, and so was the show!
Years pass and Rick’s stardom grew. Always an admirer from a far, I always hoped that one day I’d at least meet him. In 1987 I began an internship at W-B-L-S. This was the station that played his music. Years pass and I eventually get a job at MTV as a journalist. I’m now a writer, not based on a degree from any college mind you, but because of my wealth of knowledge and appreciation for “Urban” music, Black music, R&B, FUNK music. By this time, Rick has been arrested and released and done a concert at the House of Blues in LA, which I naturally attended. I interviewed him there for the first time. My second interview with him was a phoner, both of these were done during my tenure with a radio syndication company called MJI. After that Rick fell victim to a stroke. I prayed for his recovery. Once he got well, he recorded his last release Urban Rapsody in 1997. A few years later, I had the fortune to interview him one more time. He came to MTV during his last tour in 2002, we kicked it for over an hour like old friends. This is that interview…