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The King Of Punk-Funk, Rick James

Remembering one of the last international stars of the original Motown empire.

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Rick James Street Songs album cover

One of the last international stars of the original Motown empire, Rick James, was a mere 56 when he was struck down by a heart attack on 6 August 2004.

The singer, writer, producer and punk-funk maverick from Buffalo, New York was an inveterate bad boy who indulged in all of the opportunities his stardom offered him. His private life may have been shadowed by controversy and excess, but more than a dozen years after his passing, James’ influence on modern R&B and hip-hop is palpable.

Equally tangible is his track record as a musician, both as an artist in his own right, as a producer for the likes of Motown stars he mentored like Teena Marie and the Mary Jane Girls, and on key records by the Temptations, Eddie Murphy and Smokey Robinson.

The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then

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In an article in Jet magazine in July 1979, Rick’s mother described him as “a hard-working son who deserves his fame,” while Motown founder Berry Gordy affectionately called him a “spoiled brat.” Later in the feature, Gordy added: “He’s a beautiful person and certainly talented — and that’s even better than being beautiful.”

It’s no exaggeration to say that James was the engine behind Motown’s commercial and critical upswing of the early ‘80s, and at the peak of his powers, around 1981’s platinum-selling Street Songs, James was commanding sales of close to four million albums worldwide. It was Rick himself who coined the term “punk funk” for his music, which also won him US gold certifications with the albums Come Get It!, Throwin’ Down and Cold Blooded.

He had burst onto the scene with the infectiously funky 1978 hit ‘You And I,’ the first of four R&B No. 1s over the next decade. That run included nine more top ten singles, including the exhilarating 1982 track that in turn revived the fortunes of the Temptations, ‘Standing On The Top.’ Rick did that and burned a little too brightly, but he’s a much-missed influence on the soul and funk scene.


Follow the official Rick James Best Of playlist.


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  1. Janet Sellers

    August 7, 2014 at 1:37 am

    I loved Rick James and Teena Marie both.It was a shock when he passed away and a real shock when she did.Though a few years apart they were the same age when they passed on..I will always remember The B.E.T. awards when he said and I “I’m Rick James B–ch.”..And the performance one last the following year Teena was dedicating a song/poem about him that brought tears to my eyes..She got a standing ovation ..every show i have ever seen her on man it made me feel great that The Black culture looked at her as one of their own..when i hear their music I don’t think of them as not being with us any longer I still think of them as being with us,as they are in spirit…
    I’m talking about her because she was a big part of his life and she is pictured with him…Two beautiful and talented Souls Gone to soon..R.I.P. Rick James you music will never quit playing on the fm..God Bless you….<3 🙁

  2. Terry Gross

    August 7, 2014 at 2:33 am

    I would like to order Rick James of CD , plz let me know it then, okay

    Terry Gross

  3. Cat

    August 8, 2014 at 3:16 am

    Loved Rick James he was my idol back then…was blessed to have seen him in concert with his bad ass 🙂 miss Teena too ..both amazing alone and together…listen to them everyweekend on Spotify

  4. RDeGraffenreidt

    August 9, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    They were both iconic during the 80’s and 90’s and forever their music lives within my heart.

    RIP Rick & Lisa Marie…together again in the end.


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