Rick James

10 Years After Rick James' Death: Hanging With The Super Freak

I got played by Rick James! That's what I exclaimed to a close friend immediately after a late Spring 2004 interview with the decadent funk music legend. Now usually such an admission would carry some form of anger or even a tinge of bitterness when dealing with a man with a brazen reputation for disrespect; the kind of who-the-hell-does-this-guy-think-he-is behavior that is par-for-the-course when dealing with a man who during his high-flying, quadruple platinum, coke-fueled early '80s prime was known to have members of his entourage block the view of his table at a very public eatery so that he could engage in some very freaky "activity."

“I would go to a restaurant, lay cocaine out on the table in front of everybody and snort it," James told me during our King Magazine interview. "Or take a chick, put some tables together and have my security stand in front of us while I did my business."

Really it should have come as no surprise that James was capable of being a narcissistic asshole even at the AARP stage of his life. But as it was with most of his exploits, the man could win you over with sheer charm and disarming humor. And that's the heart of this story, which I now find myself reliving today on this 10th anniversary of Rick James' August 6, 2004 death. Following our five hour plus conversation in which he detailed everything from his days as the biggest (and most infamous) straight-no-chaser R&B superstar on the planet--a counter culture change agent who literally kept the lights on at Motown Records--to his epic downward spiral after years of drug abuse and his unlikely cultural comeback via arguably Dave Chappelle's greatest skit, James transformed into his classic I'M-RICK-JAMES-BITCH! catch phrase that re-introduced him to a new generation of fans.

"Is it alright if I take a couple of things to go?" he asked me in a courteous tone. We had just finished eating dinner at a very posh new age Asian restaurant in West Hollywood; the kind of high-end eatery that can set you back an easy $250 bucks for two. "Sure...no problem," I said. But the original Slick Rick was running game. After buying yet another round of drinks for his 5-person crew (the Hennessy seemingly started running on tap), he issued the take-out order of all take-out orders. "Can I get two whole ducks; two chickens; four beef fried rice; a pint of garlic chicken and rice; four orders of egg rolls; 3 wonton soups...wait, hold up, make that 5 soups; and..." The order continued on like a running punchline from some vintage black and white variety show from the '50s. I almost expected some smirking asshole to suddenly jump out seconds later and smash a cream pie in my face. "Yes sir, Mr. James!" said our all too eager waiter who knew that a gaudy tip was all but a formality. Somewhere Charlie Murphy was laughing.

Indeed, the damage was done. The bill--of which I had to come out of pocket alone--totaled nearly $650. This is no small penance for a working journalist even when you knew you would be reimbursed months later by the publishing suits. And yet I totally understood the sucker punch that had just been thrown. Rick James was simply being Rick James.

After all, this is the same James Ambrose Johnson who in 1964 defiantly told the military draft board to kiss his ashy black ass and promptly fled to Toronto, Canada. From there his life resembled some rock & roll Bizarro World version of Forrest Gump. He took on the stage name Big Jimmy and crashed on the couch of Woodstock God Stephen Stills; stood alongside the Band's late drummer Levon Helm in a street fight; and started a band called the the Mynah Birds, whose most notable bandmate was future rock icon Neil Young. Oh yeah...James also dropped acid with the Doors' Jim Morrison; got into the pimping racket to help finance his musical ambitions; narrowly avoided getting murdered with Sharon Tate by Charles Manson's demented cult; and got a songwriting/production gig at Motown working alongside the great Smokey Robinson.

If Rick's career ended there he would have had some ridiculous stories to tell his grand kids. But the bassist and future headliner pulled off his greatest trick yet: he became a funk and roll icon on his own terms. “The whole set up early on was Rick James & The Stone City Band,” he told me of the rowdy outfit that enjoyed a double platinum debut on Motown--Come Get It!--fueled by the coy weed anthem "Mary Jane." “And who was the Stone City Band? They were just about the baddest motherfucking funkers on the planet who could play jazz, rock, Latin… anything. George Clinton and Parliament would always try to put their foot up our ass, but it never worked. [We] funked a hole in their chests."

If you happened to be hanging around LA 's Sunset Strip during the late 70's and early '80s James and his Stone City crew cut an intimidating image. Their leader wore his head in long braids down to his back, talked shit and had the best drugs. James and his band looked like conquering, pillaging Vikings; all naturally over 6 feet tall and with prerequisite platform boots that only added to their towering frame.

More platinum plus albums followed: Bustin' Out of L Seven (1979)...Fire It Up (1979). After discovering and producing white soul sister and R&B darling Teena Marie and forming the gold-selling Mary Jane Girls, Rick James enjoyed his highest charting and most commercially successful hit to date. 1981's Street Songs ranked amongst the year's biggest sellers moving over 4 million copies, a rare feat for a black act who rarely courted white pop radio. James' mammoth crossover single "Super Freak" underlined his severely underrated industry power--a subversive tale of groupie sex, orgies, and numbing excess. MTV refused to play his videos claiming that James didn't fit their rock oriented playlist. James called the new music cable network racist and happily counted the $500,000 he was getting per gig selling out stadiums (!!!) on his Street Songs tour. He even found time to fuel the Temptations' comeback, writing and producing their funk-heavy hit "Standing on the Top." James christened his groove "punk-funk," a heavy nod to the new wave R&B synthesizer sound that was first unleashed by the Buffalo, New York native's would be rival from Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"Prince use to open up for us and wear his little ass high heels and shit," James joked of his comical back-and-forth with the future superstar. The Purple One reportedly stole James' girl Denise Matthews who he later re-made into "nasty girl" Vanity. James recounted that during his own birthday party while on tour he "walked up to [Prince], grabbed him by the back of the hair and poured cognac down his throat. He spit it out like a little BYTCH and I laughed and walked away. I loved fucking with him like that." Fun times.

In fact James loved fucking with everybody. When he wasn't doing copious amounts of cocaine on studio mixing boards and snorting blow off a knife with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler as he arrogantly flaunted what he years later described to me as a $30 million net worth, he was slapping The Fresh Prince of Bel Air's Alfonso Ribeiro (AKA Carlton Banks) in the face outside a hotel on Sunset Boulevard as Mike Tyson looked on in utter astonishment. "What up nigga?" he tossed off to the feared champ. Only Rick James.

From there the story gets much darker. James' face turned morose during our sit down as he detailed the drug abyss that soon lured him to crack cocaine. "The world knows I’m a addict, a junkie,” he said without an ounce of embarrassment. "The band kept three or four bottles of Jack, a bag full of Quaaludes. We didn’t know about the Betty Ford Clinic or any of that shit. We thought that’s how the rock & roll boys did it, so that’s how we should do it. My life was becoming insane and I suffered.”

Word around town was James' mansion was becoming a full fledged crack house. And that his demons had demons. When he and a girlfriend were arrested in 1991 for two instances of "violently abusing women who refused to take part in group sex" (an out-of-control James allegedly burned a woman with a crack pipe), he was sentenced to five years and four months in prison. But even with such a dramatic fall from rock star glory, James never pulled the victim card. The man who survived a stroke that left his body in somewhat fragile health reveled in his survivor status. He joked of his 80/20 split he still earned from MC Hammer's prodigious sampling of "Super Freak," which fueled the dancing rapper's '90s mega hit "U Can't Touch This." James marveled at his return to the mainstream and talked excitedly of recording a new album.

Two months later, Rick James died of heart failure. There were reports that he had nine drugs in his system--one of them, ironically enough, cocaine. However, James' death was still a shocking blow. Most fans viewed him through the same indestructible lens as the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards. How could the hell raiser of his time pass on so uncharacteristically in his sleep?

But as Rick James said to me before his physical departure, shit happens. He's not a man you will remember for how he left this earth. He's a cat who you will always recall how he lived his life, warts and all. You will get turned up from his party-starting soundtracks and ponder what James' legacy would have been like if he stayed as disciplined as Michael Jackson, Madonna, and his old touring partner Prince. And you will laugh at how Rick James racked up an obscene bill at a high-end Chinese spot and passed it on to you like it was an everyday compliment. "Let me know when you niggas want to do this again," James said to me with a wink. He smiled. Ain't that a bitch.--Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)

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India.Arie Finds “Steady Love” In Music Video Featuring David Banner

India.Arie reminds us that there’s nothing like the feeling of “Steady Love” in the sentimental music video for the new single from her Worthy album. David Banner stars as Arie’s love interest, and the duo showcases perfect chemistry as they cover many of the relationship bases.

From romantic bliss to challenging moments and everything in between,“Steady Love” speaks to the joyous ride that is falling in love, while the visual brings that feeling to life and ends on a wonderfully climactic note.

In a February interview with Billboard, Arie spoke about the significance of titling the album Worthy.

“The title of the album was Worthy for a couple of years before I had any songs,” she revealed. “I love that word. It’s so potent and encompasses so much [in terms of being] deserving of regard and respect. I always have a favorite word. For a while, it was resilient then authentic.

“When I did the interview with Oprah, she asked me how long unworthiness had been my calling card,” Arie continued. “I realized that I didn’t feel unworthy inside but I could see how I could be giving off that energy to others. It made me double-down on wanting to call this project Worthy and explore why she asked that question.”

The album’s title track is one of the collaborations between Arie and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Joel Cross. “At that point, I knew what I wanted to say. Then all the other songs started to take shape, being about respect. Even the love songs are about how you want to be treated, how you want to treat other people. [Radio personality] Tom Joyner said this album is a perfect blend of message songs and love songs. That’s where I’ve been in my life these last few years. And the word worthy is imbued in all of it.”

Watch the video for “Steady Love” above.

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300

Megan Thee Stallion’s Southern Rap 'Fever' Dream

Hot Girl Meg is already an urban legend. You can see her on the cover of Fever, looming over a luxury auto in skin-tight leopard print as flames and horses erupt behind her. It’s the undeniable movie poster aesthetic of blaxploitation icons like Pam Grier’s Coffy. It’s a perfect fit for rapper Megan Thee Stallion, whose music channels a Southern rap tradition full of larger-than-life figures like Trina, Gangsta Boo, and her hero Pimp C.

The 24-year-old born Megan Pete started rapping in childhood after accompanying her mother, Holly Thomas aka rapper Holly-Wood, to recording sessions in Houston. Megan’s career began with freestyles at college parties, and she released three mixtapes in three years with her mother as her manager, building her buzz while still completing courses. The rapper is slick and authoritative on the mic as she channels alter egos like Hot Girl Meg, who she calls “the party girl, the polished girl, the turn-up queen.” Her debut album Fever, released last week, is a showcase for this alter ego. Hanging with Hot Girl Meg makes for a fun 40 minutes.

Though her profile has risen to the level of Drake Instagrams and Khalid features, Megan Thee Stallion does not make pop music. She raps, she’s excellent, and she knows it. “I’m a real rap bi**h, this ain’t no pop sh*t,” she ad-libs victoriously on her first song “Realer.” Sure, pop music has eagerly siphoned from rap this decade, but rappers have been drawing lines in the sand since Q-Tip said “Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop” in ‘91. Nowadays, the A Tribe Called Quest auteur is still pushing rap forward as an executive producer for Fever.

“Sex Talk,” the album’s lead single, is a showcase for Megan’s bars. “I’ma bust quick if your lips soft,” she raps in short bursts around distorted bass and snaps. “Rock that ship ‘til ya blast off.” In her second verse, she accents the offbeat to boast, “I should be in museums because this body a masterpiece.” Though the song’s popularity was eclipsed by the video release for last summer’s more bombastic “Big Ole Freak,” it’s a fitting introduction to Thee Stallion: her range of staccato to elongated flows is catnip for heads like her who grew up on freestyle DVDs, paired with a blown out beat riding the minimalist wave that’s subsumed parties across the country.

Sex is the main concern in Megan Thee Stallion’s work, followed closely by money. Such confident sexuality from a black woman has unfortunately drawn criticism and retrograde questioning from some in the media, but she’s undaunted. “You let the boys come up in here and talk about how they gon’ run a train on all our friends and they want some head and they want to shoot everything up, and they want to do drugs,” she told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “Well, we should be able to go equally as hard. I don’t want to hear none of that ‘That’s offensive!’ or ‘All she talk about is p***y.’”

Megan’s mercenary demand for her pleasures is a refreshing gender swap of rap tropes. On “Running Up Freestyle,” she raps, “He say I should be nicer, well your d**k should be bigger.” She’s blunt enough to make me clutch my pearls on behalf of my gender before I burst out laughing. Later in “Sex Talk,” Megan kicks a would-be lover out when she cues up trap music and he asks “Girl, you tryna trap me?” She’s offended by the insinuation she needs to keep a captive, when she doesn’t need anyone she doesn’t want in the moment. It’s a role reversal that plenty of female rappers have executed previously, but few with the same raw skill.

“Hood Rat Sh*t” opens with a sample of a 2008 viral video, a 7-year-old explaining his desire to do “hoodrat stuff” with his friends. The uptempo drums bounce around cavernous piano chords with gleeful menace like a gaggle of unsupervised kids. Megan’s rhymes launch into double time in the lead-up to the chorus, which she spits like a playground taunt. In the third verse, she gives an evocative example of the title: she’s at the strip club drinking Henny from a champagne glass, “eating chicken wings with a thick bi**h” who’s dancing like the diamonds in her necklace. Her swaggering flow sounds like the reincarnation of Pimp C, with the tall tale verses to match.

Rising Charlotte rapper DaBaby adds a verse over bellowing 808s on “Cash Sh*t.” When Megan says “That’s my dog, he gon’ sit down and listen,” DaBaby describes fixing his partner’s weave during sex and incorporating headlocks into new positions. On its own, his verse might be too direct, like a stranger leering from the end of the bar. It’s perfectly absurd on Megan’s album. He works as a foil to the main attraction, like he’s just trying to keep up.

 

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Real HOTGIRL shit 😛

A post shared by Hot Girl Meg (@theestallion) on May 4, 2019 at 9:46am PDT

The only other guest on Fever is Juicy J on “Simon Says,” where he also supplies a beat that sounds like a house party in the middle of a home invasion. “Simon says bust it open like a freak,” Megan raps like a nursery rhyme, a fitting match for the originator of “Slob On My Knob.” The song was the center of a minor controversy over the album release weekend when singer Wolf Tyla implied she had a writing credit and drew an indignant response from Megan. The facts became harder to parse from there. Maybe Tyla wrote the hook, or maybe Juicy did and asked her to record a reference track. (A just okay hook to go to bat for as an unknown ghostwriter, frankly.) In an era where the world’s biggest male stars snipe at each other about fragments of songs they’ve written for one another, this shouldn’t be a story, but a rising female rapper can’t allow any question of her bona fides.

Even if “Simon Says” is entirely ghostwritten, the Three 6 Mafia homage is far from an aberration in Megan’s catalog, or even on Fever. Juicy J produced two other album cuts, future strip club anthems “Pimpin” and “Dance.” Fellow co-founder Project Pat contributes to “W.A.B.,” built around a sample of the group’s “Weak Azz Bi**h.” Three 6’s influence is apparent in so many strains of modern hip-hop, but on Fever Megan places the Memphis collective alongside Houston and New Orleans in a firmly Southern context. The album concludes with Megan declaring herself “Hot Girl Meg from the motherf**kin’ South,” and it doesn’t feel like a conclusion, just a tantalizing cliffhanger promising further misadventures.

Fever is not perfect. “Best You Ever Had” strays a little too close to pop. Halfway through an album of knocking beats, it’s jarring to hear Megan’s voice coated in electronic sheen, sharing space with a recorder loop. In headphones the project becomes a bit repetitive in the back half, but it won’t be noticeable blaring out of club speakers. Given how quickly she’s befriended so many other stellar young female rappers, it would have been great to hear her spar with some of them on her debut.

Nevertheless, Megan Thee Stallion is picking up the baton for Southern hip-hop with a quick tongue and trunk rattling beats optimized for twerking. She inherited the legacy from her mother, as well as an unstoppable work ethic, the kind that kept her from cancelling shows even after her mother’s tragic death this spring because “I know she wouldn’t want me to stop.” Not long ago, a buzzy mixtape rapper signing to a major label like 300 Entertainment was a one-way ticket to clunky albums overstuffed with radio bait. Fever’s cohesion is a testament to Megan’s talent and dedication. Look forward to partying with Hot Girl Meg all summer.

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Megan Thee Stallion Releases Fiery "Realer" Video

Megan Thee Stallion is truly prepping for a hot girl summer. Following up the highly-anticipated release of Fever, the Houston-bred rapper has officially released the visuals for the project's opening song, "Realer."

Red-headed Meg and her friends brandish toy guns, high karate kicks and body rolls as she talks her sh*t. And, much like her project's artwork, there were flames—both literally and figuratively—to be had all around.

Even some of her celebrity peers have expressed excitement over her video's release.

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥❤️❤️

— TRINA (@TRINArockstarr) May 21, 2019

🐎 🔥 https://t.co/54S59MQ8fx

— Wale (@Wale) May 21, 2019

Watch Hot Girl Meg's spicy "Realer" video up top.

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