Prince has been one of the most respected artists in the world for decades now, but it wasn’t always so. As a hungry and ambitious musician out of Minneapolis, there were a few years there when Prince was just another performer with some great songs and a whole lot of promise, just like many others. In 1980 Prince opened for Rick James on his Fire It Up tour, a tour that was not without its share of acrimony and represented, in the eyes of many, a symbolic passing of the mantle from one “punk-funk” superstar to another.
To this day that tour is known as the “Battle of Funk” tour.
James’ two autobiographies, The Confessions of Rick James: Memoirs of a Super Freak and Glow: The Autobiography of Rick James, are both great reads and they are rife with the kind of backhanded compliments and disses that you might expect to come from an older star who had so obviously been usurped by a younger rival. For instance, this from The Confessions of Rick James:
The first time I saw Prince and his band I felt sorry for him. Here’s this little dude wearing hi-heels, playing this New Wave Rock & Roll, not moving or anything on stage, just standing there wearing this trench coat. Then at the end of his set he’d take off his trench coat and he’d be wearing little girl’s bloomers. I just died. The guys in the audience just booed the poor thing to death.
In Glow we get the same episode worded differently, but this time he ends it with, “The crowd booed. I felt sorry for the cat.” Sure, Rick, you felt sorry for Prince.
Later on in Glow, one of James’ musicians tells his boss that Prince has been “copping all your licks.” James decides to check it out—turns out “my guy was right. Prince was emulating my mic moves like a motherfucker. He was calling out my funk chants and even flashing my funk sign.” (That reminds me. I really need to work on my funk chants.)
In the same section James calls Prince’s band “a bunch of snobs.”
James clearly had Prince on the brain for a while there. He told Rolling Stone magazine that Prince was “a mentally disturbed young man” who “sings songs about oral sex and incest.” In 1983 he told Blues & Soul, “He doesn’t want to be black. My job is to keep reality over this little science fiction creep.”
According to Teena Marie, James stole Prince’s programmed synthesizers and used them on his own 1981 album Street Songs, and then sent them back to him “with a thank-you card.”
In early 1982 Street Songs won an American Music Award for “Favorite Album—Soul/R&B,” at the afterparty hosted by Dick Clark (who had invented the award in the first place) the following story took place, at least as James tells it in Glow. James was in attendance with his mother.
Mom was beautiful. She was impressed with stars and never tried to hide it. In fact, she collected autographs.
“Guess who I just saw, James?” she said to me.
“You didn’t ask him for his autograph, did you?”
“I sure did.”
“Because I like his music, son. I think he’s great.”
“Okay. So now you have Prince’s autograph.”
“Wish I did. When I asked him, he just turned around and walked away.”
“No, I guess he don’t like giving out autographs.”
That’s all I needed to hear. I chased after that little turd. I caught up with him and was about to lay him out when his manager stepped in.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Rick?” asked the manager.
I told him Prince had dissed Mom and that I was gonna kick his scrawny ass. Prince explained that he didn’t know who Mom was.
“Well, now you know, motherfucker,” I said.
“Prince will be happy to apologize to your mother,” said the manager, “and he will be happy to apologize to you.”
Prince apologized to Mom and apologized to me. I was a little disappointed ‘cause I really did wanna kick his ass.
Continues after the jump…