By Angela L. Braden
Most music lovers have no idea that Rick James actually beat Michael Jackson and Prince to the front of the line at MTV. However, the 1981 super hit, “Super Freak”, was actually booted from the MTV line-up by a black woman.
Rick James, who is now deceased in body, but very much so alive on old school R&B stations across the country, set the music scene on fire with his heavy funk inspired song, “Super Freak” in 1981. James shot a video for the song, hoping to be the first African American artist to shatter the color barrier at MTV. However, the R&B crooner’s hit song wasn’t given any love at MTV.
Carolyn Baker, Manager of Talent and Acquisitions, felt that the hit song was way too racy and raunchy to make history at MTV as being the first music video by an African American artist to debut on the young network.
“It wasn’t MTV that turned down ‘Super Freak.’ It was me,” she stated flatly in the book I Want My MTV. “I turned it down. You know why? Because there were half-naked women in it, and it was a piece of crap. As a black woman, I did not want that representing my people as the first black video on MTV.”
So, Baker and the other execs at MTV decided that Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” should be the first music video to represent her “people.”
Shortly after “Billie Jean” turned the music video industry upside down with Jackson’s electrifying choreography, Jackson memorized music video lovers with “Beat It.” And Jackson changed the style and future of music videos forever when he released the 13-minute long music video for his record breaking song, “Thriller.”
According to Rolling Stone Magazine, Prince’s “little Red Corvette” and “1999” soon followed Michael Jackson’s presence on MTV, although many Prince fans insist that Prince actually beat Michael Jackson to the front of the line.
Michael Jackson and Prince led the way for Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money.” Summer made history as being the first African American female artist to light up the screen on the music network. Shalamar, Run DMC, the Fat Boys, L.L. Cool Jay, and Whodini brought even more color to the once all white network.