Kanye West, Others Remember Rick James As A Visionary

'It's a great loss. He was just an amazing talent,' rapper says.

As news of Rick James' passing filtered through the music industry Friday, he was remembered by friends, peers and admirers as a wild visionary with seemingly boundless energy, drive and thirst for life.

The 56-year-old singer/songwriter/producer's body was discovered in his Hollywood home Friday morning (see "Funk Legend Rick James Found Dead").

"It's a great loss to music," said rapper/producer Kanye West, who recently worked with James. "He was just an amazing talent, and it was a privilege just to be in the studio with a legend like that." West had been working on a track called "On the Run" featuring James and Chicago rapper Bump J. "We thought it would be perfect for him because it's comparing how a girl tries to lock you down to how the cops try to do that, and I'm like, 'Oh, that's Rick James all the way.' "

West's work with James came just as the funk legend was finding a new audience thanks to comedian Dave Chappelle's send-up of James' hard-partying persona on "Chappelle's Show."

"Rick could've dropped an album right now that would have gone platinum just off the Dave Chappelle stuff alone," West said. "I think personality and songs are what sells albums. You have to take a good personality and put it with a good song. I know those are two things Rick James had a whole lot of."


Photos: Rick James 1948-2004

"He was a hard worker," Bump J said of his experience with James. "I gave him the hook and he had come up with his own bridge already before he went in and laid down the hook. I didn't know these were his last days, but now that I know that, I really respect him and realize how hard he was working, definitely. He was open-arms. We had a ball in the studio. We had a lot of fun, man. He was singing, doing his thing. Very, very, very confident and cocky. He had the camera-lady pimped up in the corner. He was the same old Rick. He was in there acting crazy. I feel like this is part of history."

"That night was so memorable," recalled Free Maiden, CEO of Free 4 All Inc. and the man who pulled the project together. "Rick is a real funny guy. We got so many funny home-video moments. Man, Rick was a walking movie. Rick was one of those guys you had to walk behind him with a tape recorder, because you didn't want to miss anything. He was hilarious. He was on it. He came into the studio and he was confident, he was cocky, he had a hip-hop attitude. Even though he's from another era, his attitude was so hip-hop. A lot of older superstars, they have different reactions when it comes to working with rappers. Some of them don't embrace us. Rick was open-arms. He was happy to be there. No ego in the studio."

"I was shocked and saddened by Rick's passing," friend and fellow funker Morris Day said. "He will be missed as a friend and as a music icon. I know Rick James, and he will have them 'freakin'' up in heaven."

"Today the world mourns a musician and performer of the funkiest kind," Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said in a statement. "Grammy-winner Rick James was a singer, songwriter and producer whose performances were always as dynamic as his personality. The 'Super Freak' of funk will be missed."

James' was honored at the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Awards in June, where he was saluted by the likes of producer Jimmy Jam and industry heavyweight L.A. Reid. "Rick James is absolutely incredible," Jam said at the time. "He's one of the people that is responsible for me being in the music business. Back when I DJed, his records were always the ones that I used to pack the dance floor whenever I needed that secret weapon.

"Rick James not only kept funk alive for a long time, but also put the attitude and the rock-star mentality into it," Jam added. "His shows were bigger than life. ... He was just so defiant and put such an attitude into R&B music. R&B had kinda softened up a little bit, and he came and put this rebellious, rock and roll attitude into it."

James himself seemed comfortable with his legacy at the event, addressing fellow honorees Jay-Z and 50 Cent and offering up some enduring advice.

"I'm so proud of all the youngsters [to whom] we old-school people passed along the torch," James said. "You guys have to pass it along to the next generation. It's like something [Motown founder] Berry Gordy told me a long time ago. He said, 'You'll come and go, [but] music will stay here forever, no matter what you do.' "

[This story was updated on 08.06.04 at 6:42 p.m. ET.]