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

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Rick James, "Mary Jane" (1978)

The second single from Come Get It! was a tour de force of everything that permitted those Prince comparisons and earned James the cachet to walk his dirty boots into Eddie Murphy's house and proclaim, "Fuck your couch, nigga!" The pointillist string arrangement, the moody/swaggy guitar runs, the perfectly placed bass plucks, the heavenly flute and back-up coos, the squishy space-jam synth, James' tripped-out rap-yowl, the reverbed "do ya do yas," the bonus Steely Dan interludes, how the song could've just strolled its fly ass along for 25 minutes and nobody would've minded. Of course, during the ensuing decades, it's lived on in zillions of rap samples, from EPMD's "Jane" to J. Lo and Ja Rule's "I'm Real (Murder Remix)" to Kanye West's "Runaway," which started the trend of nicking James' shouts from the "Mary Jane" live version. To wit: "Look atcha!"

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