Rick James (born James Ambrose Johnson, Jr.; February 1, 1948 – August 6, 2004) was an American singer, songwriter, musician and record producer, best known for being the major popularizer of funk music in the late 1970s and early 1980s thanks to million-selling hits such as "You and I" (1978), "Give It to Me Baby" (1981) and "Super Freak" (1981), the latter song crossing him over to pop audiences and selling over three million copies. It later contributed to the success of rapper MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" (1990), for which James sued him, in order to be credited. James won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song with Hammer for the song, his only Grammy win.
James started his singing career fronting doo-wop and rhythm and blues bands in his hometown of Buffalo, New York in the early 1960s, with his vocal style influenced by the likes of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and David Ruffin. After entering the United States Navy to avoid conscription after he dropped out of high school, James went AWOL and relocated to Toronto, Canada where he resumed his music career. While there, James formed the rock-soul fusion band Mynah Birds, whose lineup once included a young Neil Young. James' tenure with the Mynah Birds was interrupted after he was discovered recording with the group in Motown in the 1960s and surrendered to authorities serving out a one-year sentence in a prison in Buffalo. James returned to Canada where he resumed the Mynah Birds though the band eventually split and James relocated to California where he started a series of rock bands. He also had a period where he served as a staff writer with Motown under an assumed name before he left the label.