I was born / A city they call Buffalo / Zero degrees below / Too damn cold to be funky
There is nothing profound about this opening line: it is a statement of fact, followed by a widely agreed assertion couched in slang, followed by another reference to Buffalo’s climate that may or may not be true. I do not dispute Buffalo’s status as a city that puts other cities claims about wintry brutality to Japanese-political-figure-apologizing-for-felonious-conduct-type shame. I was born there (during a snowstorm, no less); I hold a special place in my heart for beef on weck, Frank’s Anchor Bar, and the beauty of its Art Deco city hall; and there is little doubt in my mind that there are very few sights in nature more intimidating and hoooooly shit than the sight of a wall of white closing in from Lake Erie. Given that Rick James came out of Buffalo’s East Side, however, it is laughable that it is a place whose climate precludes the ability to be funky. For perhaps the only time in his life, he comes off as modest.
Rick James was a bad motherfucker with limitless musical talent, a spectacular penchant for self-destruction, and an unusual amount of self-awareness. I loved his music long before Chappelle’s Show made his past a national punchline. I was introduced to ‘Give It to Me Baby’ and ‘Superfreak’ in the early 90s on the second CD of a two CD Motown greatest hits album, and was instantly hooked by the baseline and wailing vocals. In short, that’s my man. His abilities as a singer, bassist, songwriter, and producer were so widely respected that he managed to work with the Temptations, Buffalo Springfield, Steppenwolf, and Teena Marie. Not as a gimmicky collaborator/guest star, mind you; he produced, wrote music for, sang with, or played bass with all of these artists. Dude could rock, get down, and blow shit up–sometimes simultaneously. Of course, he never guaranteed anyone’s safety while doing so, but then Charlie Murphy made that abundantly clear to you, so I apologize for the redundancy.
I adopted ‘Below the Funk (Pass the J)’ as my personal theme song several months ago. I am yet to regret my decision. I may pass on grass, but real talk about the Queen City of Lake sounds perfect right about now. I miss you Buffalo; please keep bringing the funk and wings; and please, Ralph Wilson, don’t be a dick and take away the Bills. Thanks. RIP Rick, you beautiful fuckin’ maniac; and RIP Teena Marie and your ridiculous pipes. Sing it: