Rick James and Prince Were Musical Peers, But Not Friends

No conversation about American music legends is complete without mentioning Prince and Rick James. Both were masters of their craft in the realm of musical composition, stage presence, artistry, and funk, but they were not tight friends.

It’s true James and Prince ran in some of the same circles and their career trajectories were somewhat aligned, but the two were more like foes.

Rick James, Prince
Rick James | Paul Natkin/Getty Images; Prince | Theo Wargo/WireImage/Getty Images

Prince didn’t make a good first impression on Rick James

After the release of James’ Fire It Up album, his tour schedule soared and he was in demand as a producer. Prince’s star was starting to take off and according to James, the new musician was itching to tour with him as an opening act.

He wrote in his autobiography, Glow: The Autobiography of Rick James that promoters told him his music influenced Prince and he agreed, leading him to give the up-and-comer a chance at opening for him. Early in the tour,

James said that Prince started off on the wrong foot since he never introduced himself “which was strange, since I was the cat giving him a shot.”

James watched his set that night for the first time and called it “lame,” writing, “He hardly moved. At the end of his set he took off the trench coat and stood there in his bloomers. The crowd booed. I felt sorry for the cat.”

When it was his turn to perform, Prince observed him from the side of the stage. Things continued to go downhill after that.

There were a few times Prince pissed Rick James off

James also talked about Prince stealing his stage moves like flipping the mic and putting his hand to his ear as he did call-outs to fans. There was even his signature “funk sign.” Others informed him Prince was copying his style, aesthetic, and signature moves.

They had a confrontation about it and bad blood between their respective bands. James said Prince agreed to curb the move-stealing, but that didn’t happen. Things escalated at a birthday party for James where he said Prince and his band crashed it. That made him go off.

“I went over to his table, grabbed him by the back of his hair, and poured cognac down his throat. He spat it out and started crying like a baby I laughed.”

Other sore points were claims from James that Prince stole his idea for a girl group by creating Vanity 6. James made a casual mention to Prince’s manager about the Mary Jane Girls and next thing you know, the Purple One beat him to it.

Their competition continued when Eddie Murphy chose to work with James over Prince for his “Party All the Time” single, who, per James, said the latter made him uncomfortable.

Friends of both Prince and Rick James can attest to the rivalry and dislike

Although James and his bandmates liked Prince’s music and could agree he was talented, they referred to him as Rick James’ nemesis. In an HBO series called Tales from the Tour Bus, they corroborated the stories from the road.

Prince’s close friend and former bandmate Andre Cymone said Rick James was telling the truth when he complained about their group not speaking and looking standoffish.

To him, they were legit rivals in rock n’ roll. In later years, they got along with James and his bandmates just fine. Prince’s friend Morris Day did an interview with Vlad TV and said he believed James didn’t feel any ill will, but perhaps felt threatened about Prince’s rise.

James said he’d never work with Prince

There were several times James admitted he was jealous of Prince, but he also respected him as a musical genius. However, he flat out said he wouldn’t work with him because of their creative and human differences.

Before his death, James spoke about working with legends like George Clinton and said that although they were cool, it wouldn’t work out well. He compared it to working with Prince: “Me and Prince just don’t see eye-to-eye as people, as humans, as men.”

Rick James and Prince had tension based on their competitive natures and talent, but ultimately, they respected each other’s art and legacies. No they weren’t friends, but they admired each other.