Prince may command the attention of music fans and fashionistas worldwide today, but his path to the High Priest of Pop pulpit was not without its hiccups and drama.
In particular, during the late ’70s, he drew the ire of Rick James, the forefather of the Punk Funk scene. The animosity between the two grew when they toured together on James’s 1980 Fire It Up Tour, which went on to become known among fans as “The Battle of Funk” tour and served as something of a changing of the guards in the funk world.
Beyond the stage, James was outspoken about his dislike for The Purple One. “I can’t believe people are gullible enough to buy Prince’s jive records,” he once told Rolling Stone. “[Prince is a] a mentally disturbed young man. He’s out to lunch. You can’t take his music seriously. He sings songs about oral sex and incest.”
In his own 2014 autobiography Glow, James recalled an instance in which he spotted Prince copying his moves: “Prince was emulating my mic moves like a motherfucker. He was calling out my funk chants and even flashing my funk sign.”
The two musicians’ beef seemed to finally come to a head one night in 1982 during an afterparty for the American Music Awards, where James’s Street Songs won for Favorite Album — Soul/R&B. As James recounted in Glow, he and Prince almost got into a physical altercation after the High Priest of Pop allegedly refused to give James’s mother an autograph.
Although Prince eventually apologized to him and his mom, and a scuffle never broke out, James admitted that he “was a little disappointed ‘cause I really did wanna kick his ass.”
Here’s what went down according to an excerpt from Glow (via Dangerous Minds):
Mom was beautiful. She was impressed with stars and never tried to hide it. In fact, she collected autographs.
“Guess who I just saw, James?” she said to me.
“You didn’t ask him for his autograph, did you?”
“I sure did.”
“Because I like his music, son. I think he’s great.”
“Okay. So now you have Prince’s autograph.”
“Wish I did. When I asked him, he just turned around and walked away.”
“No, I guess he don’t like giving out autographs.”
That’s all I needed to hear. I chased after that little turd. I caught up with him and was about to lay him out when his manager stepped in.
“What the hell is wrong with you, Rick?” asked the manager.
I told him Prince had dissed Mom and that I was gonna kick his scrawny ass. Prince explained that he didn’t know who Mom was.
“Well, now you know, motherfucker,” I said.
“Prince will be happy to apologize to your mother,” said the manager, “and he will be happy to apologize to you.”
Prince apologized to Mom and apologized to me. I was a little disappointed ‘cause I really did wanna kick his ass.
Had a fight actually transpired between the two, it certainly would’ve been a night for the music history books — perhaps a juicier Prince story than all the tales of purple pajamas, Dunk-a-roos, and epic sets combined.