Rick James

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Anthology Review

by William Ruhlmann

The release of the Rick James Anthology completes a set of James best-ofs at various price points. 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection: The Best of Rick James is a discount-priced album, Ultimate Collection is a full-priced single-disc set, and Anthology is a two-and-a-half-hour, two-CD version of the Rick James story. Eighteen of the 23 Top 40 R&B hits that James scored between 1978 and 1988 are included (the most notable omission is the 1985 R&B Top Ten and pop chart entry "Can't Stop" from the movie Beverly Hills Cop) along with some key album tracks, two of them, "Fire and Desire" and "Happy," duets with James protégée Teena Marie. His other collaborators include Smokey Robinson ("Ebony Eyes") and the Temptations (with a 12" remix of "Standing on the Top" that runs nearly ten minutes). Included for the first time on a James compilation is his final major hit, "Loosey's Rap," featuring Roxanne Shanté, which appeared originally on Reprise Records in 1988. James' influence on popular music remains apparent on these tracks, largely in his grooves -- the rhythm pattern on "Give It to Me Baby" was borrowed by Michael Jackson for "Thriller," for example, and of course MC Hammer created "U Can't Touch This" by rapping over the musical track of "Super Freak" -- but also in his unabashedly lascivious lyrical content. "I led the life I was singing about in my songs," James tells David Ritz in the excellent liner notes, and that may help explain why he had such a hard time in the 1990s. But the best of his '70s and '80s material is to be found here.

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