Inside Rick James’s Legendary Feud With Prince

The two artists reportedly almost came to blows

Rick James
American musician Rick James (born James Johnson Jr, 1948 - 2004) performs onstage at the Holiday Star Theater, Merrillville, Indiana, September 9, 1983. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
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Besides both being the subjects of two of the most memorable Chappelle’s Show sketches, Rick James and Prince had a shared history. The Purple One opened for the “Super Freak” singer on his 1980 Fire It Up tour, and as a new documentary highlights, they had a bit of a rivalry.

The new documentary Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival recently and will air on Showtime later this year, includes several revelations about how James reportedly felt threatened by a young Prince. As The Daily Beast points out, that jealousy created a rift between the two legendary performers.

“Rick definitely had an attitude with Prince,” Bootsy Collins explains in the doc. “They just was competin’ with one another.”

“Rick got mad when Prince would watch us onstage and do the same goddamn shit,” Levi Ruffin Jr., James’s bassist, adds. “Prince was like, what, 21, 22? We couldn’t do what a 21- or 22-year-old dude could do anymore. We tried! But we had a lot of B-12 shots and shit that we used to have to take.”

James allegedly was irritated by the similarity between the two acts, believing that Prince was copying him. “Rick would go ooh-ooh!, and his audience would go crazy every time he would do that, and Prince would start doing the ooh-ooh!  before Rick would come out,” James’s former manager Kerry Gordy explains in the film. “Rick was like, ‘Man, you can’t do that ooh-ooh! stuff, that’s what I do!’ And Prince was like, ‘Dude, you don’t have a monopoly on ooh-ooh!  I can do what the fuck I wanna do!’”

According to The Daily Beast, it reportedly got so tense between the two that they almost got physical. “I remember being on shows with Rick and Prince, and they would pull plugs on each other, gettin’ ready to go to blows,” Collins recalls. Eventually, however, Nile Rodgers would step in to serve as peacemaker.

“I used to always say to Rick, ‘We all are just doing our own kind of thing. Prince is Prince, you’re you — we all have our own identity when it comes to the world of funk,’” Rodgers remembers.

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