Today is the 15th anniversary of the death of Rick James. Our music video of the day is for James’ biggest U.S. hit and his best-known song, Super Freak.
James shot this video during the early days of MTV, hoping that the network would put the video into its steady rotation and help the song become a hit. However, MTV rejected the video. In the early 80s, MTV was notorious for rejecting music videos from black artists. However, Carolyn Baker, who was then director of acquisitions for the network, later said that, “It wasn’t MTV that turned down ‘Super Freak.’ It was me. I tuned it down. You know why? Because there were half-naked women in it, and it was a piece of crap. As a black woman, I did not want that representing my people as the first black video on MTV.”
(The first black group to get a video on MTV would be Musical Youth with Pass the Dutchie in 1982. A year after that, Michael Jackson destroyed what was left of MTV’s color barrier with the success of his videos for Thriller.)
Even without the support of MTV, Super Freak went on to become Rick James’s biggest hit. The song’s distinctive bassline was later sampled by MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This. James had to sue to get credited for the sample. Rick James would later receive his only Grammy when U Can’t Touch This won for Best R&B Song in 1991.