During his five-decade career as a pop libertine, singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist, James Ambrose Johnson, Jr., a.k.a. Ricky Matthews or Rick James, was reportedly more of a superfreak than any very kinky girl he didn’t take home to mother. When Dave Chappelle and Charlie Murphy hilariously characterized “Slick James” (nickname courtesy of P-Funk’s George Clinton) as a goofball with a mean streak who spouted koan-like non sequiturs (“I’m Rick James, bitch!”) and pithy reflections (“Cocaine is a hell of a drug!”), there was little need for hyperbole. Yet despite all the decadence, James was an undeniably formidable song-maker who created hits for others, scored six Top 40 albums and seven Top 10 R&B singles as a solo act and spawned two deliriously iconic songs (“Super Freak” and MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”) with just one devilish riff.
On the 10th anniversary of James’ death at his Los Angeles home, let’s dig out our glittery braids and space boots and celebrate some of the greatest musical moments of this street-song eccentric.