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, "Super Freak" (1981)

After Come Get It!, James knocked out three albums in two years, enjoying relative commercial success but flatlining creatively, largely due to his chemically enhanced lifestyle. That drought ended with his career-defining triple-platinum album Street Songs, which put the punk back in James' funk on manic, lasciviously tipsy first single "Give It to Me Baby." Though a Number One R&B hit, "Give It to Me" simply set the stage for "Super Freak," the ur-Rick James manifesto: Druggy superstar elicits fetish hijinks from DTF girl, plus New Wave keyboards, palpitating bass and silly vocal trickeration (in this case abetted by the Temptations, whose Melvin Franklin was James' uncle).

A suggestive quickie video was shot for the still-new MTV, which was yet to play a clip by a black artist, but James got smacked down by the channel's head of talent and acquisitions, Carolyn Baker: "It wasn't MTV that turned down 'Super Freak.' It was me," she stated flatly in the book I Want My MTV. "I turned it down. You know why? Because there were half-naked women in it, and it was a piece of crap. As a black woman, I did not want that representing my people as the first black video on MTV." Noble sentiments, but the song still went Top 20.

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