Rick James, the original Superfreak, passed away August 6th in his sleep of natural causes at his Los Angeles home, according to his spokesperson.
James’ electro-funk hit its peak in the late seventies and early eighties with tracks like Give it to me, baby and Superfreak. More recently, his work has been sampled extensively by rap and hip-hop artists.
Born in Buffalo, NY, known as the King of Punk Funk, and the bad boy of Motown, Rick James blended the hard core funk of his predecessors James Brown, Sly Stone and George Clinton with the Rock and Roll theatrics of the Rolling Stones and Kiss.
Rick James was the quintessential “Super Freak,” a term he coined in the 1980’s with the multi-platinum song he wrote, arranged, produced and performed sharing that same title. The single catapulted the album Street Songs to #1 on the R&B charts and #3 on the pop charts. The talented, multi-Grammy and American Music Award winner played at least five different instruments and had not only sold millions himself, he wrote and produced songs for Eddie Murphy, Mary Jane Girls, The Temptations, Teena Marie and Smokey Robinson. He licensed his work for sampling by artists such as Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu and MC Hammer, whose sample of Super Freak for the hit single U Can’t Touch This made Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em the biggest selling rap album in history.
In the nineties, drugs took their toll on James, and his legal problems got as much attention as his music. James held a young woman hostage while on a cocaine binge in 1991. In 1992, he was involved in another assault. James was convicted of both crimes in 1993, and served two years in jail.
In the last few years, James was trying to make a comeback. Last month, he performed his hit Fire & Desire with Teena Marie at the BET Awards. He had finished an album and was preparing for its release next year. He was also in discussion with various studios for a movie based on his life.
James was 56 years old. He is survived by his 3 children (Ty, Rick Jr., Tazman) and 2 grandchildren (Jasmine and Charisma).