Rick James: 10 Essential Tracks

The punk-funk king gets freaky on everything from a 1966 Neil Young collaboration to a groundbreaking 1988 rap duet

Rick James, "My Mama" b/w "Funkin' Around" (1974)

rick james
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In the decade-plus between the Mynah Birds and his first solo album, James moved to California, got a gig as a Motown staff songwriter (Spinners, Marvelettes, etc.), reputedly worked as a drug courier, recorded an album with a group called the Great White Cane (get it?) and cut one-off deals to make singles. These included this snappy revelation for A&M, of which one YouTube commenter muses, accurately: "It's almost like [Lenny] Kravitz's entire music career can be traced back to this one track." A bubblegum rocker that floats along on an electric harpsichord and taut horn section, "My Mama" quickly downshifts into a Betty Davis-style nasty-funk suckerpunch. The vampy, Blaxploitation-influenced B-side instrumental, meanwhile, is the most free-flowing, no-nonsense workout that a James band ever put to tape.

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