On the night of August 2nd, 1991, the King of Funk, Rick James, was arrested along with his 21-year-old girlfriend for allegedly imprisoning and torturing a 24-year-old woman. This harrowing ordeal went on for over three days in his Hollywood Hills home as he and his girlfriend burned their victim with the hot end of a crack pipe. The disturbing tale is one that underscores the life and legacy of Rick James with a truly despicable overtone of darkness.
The charges that James and his girlfriend, Tanya Anne Hijazi, faced are ones that tell their own tale – they comprise assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment, forced oral copulation, making terrorist threats and furnishing narcotics. The damning list is indicative of the severe duality of the funk pioneer. Alongside his artistry were crimes well beyond reconciliation.
The corroborated story from court papers is a damning and troubling one to read. On July 16th of 1991, James ensnared a woman who was at a party at his residence and threatened the victim at gunpoint, yelling that if she tried to leave, he would kill her. With the assistance of Hijazi, he then proceeded to tie her up and, over the course of the next three days, the pair began smoking crack cocaine and burnt the victim with the hot pipe over 20 times, leaving severe burns all over her body.
The victim was also forced to perform cunnilingus on Hijazi while James watched on. She was also made to partake in the smoking of crack against her will, all while tied to a chair. Ultimately, James untied the victim, and she fled his house, eventually checking in to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre in Los Angeles, where her injuries were brought to the attention of the police, and her story unfolded from there.
Related incidents led to a trial in a court where James faced the sentence of life in prison if he was convicted of the charges of assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated mayhem, torture, forcible oral copulation, false imprisonment and kidnapping. When James emerged in court, he appeared to be indifferent to the charges and sentence that he faced — so much so that he actually fell asleep during the trial and began to audibly snore.
While his lawyer claimed his ‘fatigue’ was due to bronchitis, his lack of empathy and contempt for his victims was clear. Ultimately, however, through the backing of a solid legal team, James would only end up serving two years in state prison and paying civil suits of $1 million to the victims of his assault.
Since he died in 2004, further charges have come to light, including the rape of the 15-year-old girl at knifepoint and other incidents of assault, indelibly marring his musical legacy beyond any redemption. What began as rock ‘n’ roll rebellion soon became a nightmarish pattern of abuse. Any retrospective attempts to contextualise his abhorrent actions as the result of a troubled childhood or the rampant explosion of drug use within the industry only serve to ameliorate the charges with an asterisk that he is not owed.
While, naturally, both of these factors should not be overlooked or dismissed as underlining elements, they do nothing to add empathetical understanding to his horrendous and inexcusable actions, and neither does the artistry that he was capable of.