Thanks to Hammer, who sampled and immortalized Rick James’ ”Super Freak” riff for ”U Can’t Touch This,” James saw his entire life’s work reduced to one simple bass line. And thanks to a conviction for assault (see sidebar), James saw his life reduced to sordid headlines. Yet three new compilations from Motown’s late-’70s-early-’80s period-James’ Bustin’ Out, Teena Marie’s I Need Your Lovin’, and the Mary Jane Girls’ In My House-honor the flamboyant former funk prince and his musical progeny. If anything, Bustin’ Out reminds us that James’ string of basement party hits adds up to a vibrant body of work, from the disco feel of ”You and I” to the workmanlike groove of ”Hard to Get” and the lush ballad ”Fire and Desire.” ”Ghetto Life,” meanwhile, sounds more poignant than ever with the recent focus on boyz in the hood.
At a time when R&B is crowded with crooners who mistake posturing for real emotion, it’s also easier to appreciate the unbridled emotion of Teena Marie, whose blue-eyed soul was more at home on black radio than on crossover pop formats. Marie’s string-laden arrangements were the type of late-’70s overproduction that hip-hop rebelled against, yet at least her music can sustain an entire collection-which can’t be said of the sugary dance pop of the Mary Jane Girls. Songs like the top 10 1985 hit ”In My House” and ”Jealousy” are as sassy as they come but wear thin when they grow too sincere for their own good. Bustin’ Out: A- I Need Your Lovin’: B- In My House: C+