What are the Six Degrees separating Rick James, Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Eddie Murphy, Michael Jackson, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and Oliver Nelson?

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Six Degrees of Separation: The Rick James Edition
by Nia I’man Smith

When I think about Rick James, the following comes to mind:

Glitter. Thigh High Boots and Braided Bangs. The genius of Dave Chappelle. Assault with a deadly weapon.

But above all, R&B and Funk Legend.

Launching the careers of Teena Marie, The Mary Jane Girls, and Eddie Murphy (but more on that later), it can’t be denied that Rick James was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century in the realm of Black music. During the 1980’s, James’ funk fueled ballads of testosterone in overdrive served as the perfect musical companion to the deliciously dirty mind of Prince Rogers Nelson, and the soulful pop anthems of the world’s favorite man-child next door, Michael Jackson. Though James would come to be defined by his penchant for excess, here we strictly celebrate the man's contributions to music. Want to know how James is connected to Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, a brotha who is a given, and the first Black mayor of a major American city? Check the connection below.

Give It To Me Baby: Rick James from the album, Street Songs (1981)

Nothing says,“Please Baby Baby Baby Baby Baby Please”like James’ 1981 party anthem, "Give It To Me Baby." Dedicated to the wild nights that will have you "comin home intoxicated" and the sista who wants to go home ‘cause she has to work in the morning, this song perfectly captures the decadence that defined the high times of James’ career and personal life. Also Rick looks damn good in this video. Is it just me, or does the braided bang give him a sort of “glow"?

Slow Dancin': Chaka Khan feat. Rick James from the album, Chaka Khan (1982)

Three words.
One song title.
Fire and Desire.

In many circles, this ballad with Teena Marie unquestionably reigns supreme in the canon of Rick James duets. "Fire and Desire" is then followed by the slow burning epic, “Ebony Eyes" featuring the “Poet Laureate of Soul,” Smokey Robinson. But often forgotten is this duet with the indomitable vocalist, Chaka Khan. Who else could Chaka have recruited to convincingly deliver a lyric like, “Something about your freaky ways/ gives me a shiver”? Surely not Billy Ocean. Or a brotha who titles a song about a damn fiesta “All Night Long”. Rick, let the people know what a song titled “All Night Long” should really be about.

Maybe Your Baby: Rufus feat. Chaka Khan from the album, Rufus (1973)

Before going solo, Khan served as featured lead vocalist for the funk band, Rufus. Creating classics such as,“You Got The Love,” “Sweet Thing,” “Everlasting Love," and countless others, Khan served as lead vocalist of the group for roughly 10 years. For the band’s 1973 self-titled debut, Khan delivered this fiery rendition of “Maybe Your Baby”-a song originally written and sang by an artist who would go on to pen the group's 1974 hit (and a favorite of my grandfather, Mr. Levy C. Nealy), “Tell Me Somethin Good”.

Maybe Your Baby: Stevie Wonder from the album, Talking Book (1972)

Without a doubt,we love us some Stevie Wonder. Wonder's “Classic Period” of the 1970’s is one that remains unparalleled by any artist today. Prolific not only in what he wrote and produced for himself, during the 70’s Wonder would pen classics for other artists, such as Rufus', “Tell Me Somethin Good,” Michael Jackson’s, “I Can’t Help It,” and personal favorites, “Bring Your Sweet Stuff Home To Me”, by Oakland,CA natives, The Pointer Sisters and “Black Maybe” by Wonder's wife at the time, Syreeta Wright.

Everything's Coming Up Roses: Eddie Murphy from the album, How Could It Be (1985)

There are three things I don’t like to talk about in mixed company: Religion, Politics, and Stevie Wonder’s musical output during the 80’s. Outside of “All I Do*,” “As If You Read My Mind,” and “Rocket Love,” Wonder's catalog in the 80's is surprisingly underwhelming, so I’ll keep this one brief. 1985 was a good year for Eddie Murphy. He talked shit as host of the MTV Video Music Awards and released his first album as a singer. Featuring Wonder and Rick James on songwriting and production duty, as well as backing vocals, this tragedy of a song was written for Murphy by Wonder. Unfortunately, this would not be the last time Murphy would team up with a musical genius to make subpar music.

*Curious to know who Stevie originally had sing this song? Click here.

Whazupwitu: Eddie Murphy feat. Michael Jackson from the album, Love’s Alright (1993)

I don’t like to talk about Murphy's “music career” during the 90’s (or the 80's for that matter), so I’ll keep this one real short.

1) Yes, this happened.
2) Could Murphy have been foreshadowing his future career of doing voice over work for Disney? Perhaps.
3) Is this the only song on his album, Love's Alright, with a guest feature and ridiculous ass video? No, sadly it's not.

What Have We Done: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony “feat.” Michael Jackson from the mixtape, The Fixtape Vol. 3 (2009)

What do the members of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Michael Jackson have in common besides having that hair laid like “Hawaiian Silky”?

A great concern for Mother Earth, that’s what.

Lamenting the current state of the ozone, endangered animals, and the hood with lyrics such as “What have we done to the world? (to the world, world, world)”, this song proves the old adage: “Sensitive thugs all need hugs.”

The Mayor and the People/A Black Suite: Carl B. Stokes and Oliver Nelson from the album, The Mayor and the People (1970)

I imagine that Cleveland, OH natives, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony would be proud to know that their city is probably featured as fact #62 on that “101 Black History Facts You Didn’t Know” email your technologically savvy aunt sent you just in time for Black History Month. In 1967, Stokes was sworn in as mayor of Cleveland, and as a result became the first Black mayor of a major American city. To celebrate this milestone, Stokes later recorded an album featuring one of his press conferences on one side, and his recital of spirituals and the poetry of Langston Hughes to the original compositions of jazz composer and tenor saxophonist, Oliver Nelson on the other.

So how does the first Black mayor of a major American city connect to Rick James, you ask?

They’re cousins.

This concludes Six Degrees of Separation: The Rick James Edition.

Originally Posted 1/28/2013

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