Friday, August 06, 2004

Super Freak no more

On the obituary front, funkmeister Rick James died today at the age of 56. Hundreds of his brain cells, the interior lining of his nasal cavities, and any hope of a sterling reputation preceded him in death.

All kidding aside, Rick James was a phenomenally talented musician who allowed his passion for drugs and certain bizarre sexual proclivities get the better of him. His lengthy string of hit tunes — "Bustin’ Out," "Mary Jane," "Love Gun," "Big Time," "Cold Blooded," "Give it to Me Baby," and the ubiquitous "Super Freak," which gained a second life on the pop charts when MC Hammer co-opted its bass line as the platform for "U Can't Touch This" — created the foundation of much of modern hip-hop. (You might argue whether that's a good thing, and I might even agree at some level, but you can't deny the power of influence.) He also created hits for such artists as Teena Marie, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, and his protégés, the Mary Jane Girls.

It's sad that James, whose real name was James Johnson, expended his talents in such a profligate manner. The man could definitely write a riff — whether you enjoy funk or hate it, just try to keep from moving your body to the beat when a Rick James classic comes pumping out of your stereo speakers, or those of the near-deaf kid in the car next to you. Too bad the Super Freak couldn't pull his life together and fulfill his enormous potential.

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