The Story Behind The Time Rick James Said He Made Prince Cry

If you only know Rick James as the guy whose most recognizable pop hit was gratuitously sampled by MC Hammer on "U Can't Touch This" or as the funk legend whose younger self was memorably played by Dave Chappelle on his eponymous show, you're only scratching the surface of the man's legacy. Although it took him a while to break out as a star, James had quite the impressive resume; he was, after all, once in a band with a pre-fame Neil Young, and who knows how far they could have gone had James not been sent to prison for dodging the Vietnam War draft? Then again, that also reminds fans of how James had always lived a rather colorful life, one that oftentimes held him back from living up to his full potential.

With the documentary "Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James" having recently aired on Showtime, viewers got to learn more about the iconic performer, from his humble beginnings in Buffalo, New York, to the various personal and legal troubles he faced before his untimely death in 2004. The film also took a look at James' contentious relationship with a younger performer from Minneapolis who would soon become one of the biggest pop stars of the 1980s. We are, of course, referring to Prince, and it's been well-documented through the years that James once made the would-be "Purple Rain" hitmaker cry.

Prince allegedly cried after James poured cognac down his throat

One would think that Rick James would have at least been flattered that a fast-rising young musician like Prince was taking a few pages from his playbook. But that was not the case at all when Prince was added as an opening act to James' "Fire it Up" tour in early 1980, supposedly because the "punk-funk" innovator wasn't bringing in as many fans as expected. As quoted by Pitchfork, James told Rolling Stone that he "can't believe people are gullible enough to buy Prince's jive records." He also called his supporting act a "mentally disturbed young man" whose sexually explicit songs couldn't be taken seriously and repeatedly accused him of stealing his stage moves.

It was during that tour when Prince and his entourage attended James' 32nd birthday party, not aware that the headliner had something in store for the Purple One. Shortly before his death, James told Vibe's Keith Murphy (then writing for King Magazine) that he "walked up to [Prince], grabbed him by the back of the hair and poured cognac down his throat." He added that Prince spat out the liquor like a "little b****," which he found extremely hilarious.

James also told the same story in his posthumously published memoir, "Glow: The Autobiography of Rick James," where he claimed that Prince was "crying like a baby" after the cognac prank. But that wasn't the last time the two men would get testy with each other during their long-running feud.

James and Prince nearly duked it out after the 1982 American Music Awards

Rick James and Prince's rivalry continued after the "Fire it Up" tour ended, as the former allegedly stole the latter's programmed synthesizers and used them on his 1981 album "Street Songs" (via Pitchfork). In apparent response, Prince asked James' date to that year's American Music Awards, an up-and-coming model named Denise Matthews, to join the all-girl group he was forming. (Matthews was later renamed Vanity to match the group's eventual name, Vanity 6.)

During an after-party for the following year's AMAs, the two beefing musicians met again. Ideally, it should have been a triumphant night for James, as "Street Songs" won in the Favorite Album — Soul/R&B category. But as he recalled in his autobiography, he was unhappy that Prince refused to give an autograph to his mother (via Consequence), and that nearly led to fisticuffs.

Thanks to a timely intervention from James' manager, Prince apologized for the snub, and that was enough to prevent James from potentially making him cry for a second time. However, James admitted that he was was "a little disappointed" with how the crisis was averted because, as he put it, he "really did wanna kick his a**."