In her lifetime, Teena Marie released 14 commercially successful and uncompromising artistic albums before her untimely death on December 26, 2010. This month, March 31st, marks the 41st anniversary of Wild and Peaceful on Motown Records, where it all began for Marie and put her on the map.
Wild and Peaceful showcased six modern sounding songs and memorable ballads that showcased the complexity of her vocal range and prowess with four numbers written by Rick James, who was at the helm producing and mentoring her. This fruitful partnership resulted in a lasting but sometimes fractured and tumultuous relationship personally and professionally, but through it all, Marie and James retained a great admiration and respect for one another. In fact, James had pretty much introduced her to the world as “Lady T” on Wild and Peaceful for the legendary hit duet, an inhibited cut of disco-funk, “I’m Just A Sucker For Your Love” featuring a breakout star turn by Marie turning up the heat with a beyond self assured, confident performance serving notice she was not just an artist to pay attention to, but one here to stay.
For many years following that debut album, the diminutive singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer forged and created a remarkable career for the most part on her own creative terms. Marie was a ground breaking and trail blazing artist in R&B, soul and funk music and one that also crossed over to the rock and pop charts as well. Lovergirl, off the wonderful “Starchild” album, showed to great effect Marie’s chops as a guitarist and gift for melded genres together in a potent and intoxicating combination. She went even further breaking the doors down stylistically with the idiosyncratic and maybe some would say “self indulgent” opus “Emerald City” where it was even clearer she following her own creative impulses, marching to the beat of her own drummer on in her head and heart especially on You’re So Heavy.
The acoustic and poetic How Can You Resist It was another departure from the more accessible chart-topping songs of her career like Behind The Groove but is very worthy of note from “Ivory.” Marie also is responsible for penning some of the great ballads that went on to become contemporary classics like the sensual and seductive Portuguese Love, the emotionally-charged Out On A Limb, the tear-soaked and heart-wrenching We’ve Got To Stop, the reverential Dear Mr. Gaye and percussion accented, slow burn vibe of Cupid Is A Real Straight Shooter.
She had also influenced legions of musicians decades after she burst onto the music scene including Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Pink and Alicia Keys. Lady T, with her impassioned, highly emotive and robust vocal style, is considered one of the first non-African American artists to have charted high on the R&B charts, this has become more of a regular occurrence with acts like Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke.
Marie is also credited with playing a vital role in the development of modern urban-soul. Not to mention her influence on hip-hop music and she’s also been called the godmother of the genre. She has celebrated rap and her affection and love for black culture. In turn, black audiences returned that love for almost 30 years later and embraced her one of their own and as an authentic, real deal artist that never in question.
Her hit songs in the 1980s such Square Biz was infused with it swag before it became a “thing.” The song had a freewheeling, off the cuff, unapologetic characteristic found in hip-hop music to come. Some of the biggest emcees and rap acts such as The Fugees sampled her one of her songs from “Naked To The World,” Oh La La La for Fu-Gee-La.
Later in her career, Marie would go on to sign with Birdman’s Cash Money Label. “La Dona” incorporated elements of R&B, soul and hip hop together and guest contributions featured Rick James, Common, Mc Lyte and Marie’s daughter, Alia Rose. But the best songs of “La Dona” featured Marie only on the tracks. “Makavelli Never Lied” was a roll call of sorts paying tribute to influential and important artists and their contributions to music and culture and the jazz accented and playful number “Hit Me Where I Live.” Both songs found Marie playing to her strengths and defying convention and categorization. That’s what she should be best remembered for among her many talents and gifts as a musician; she fearlessly took chances with her music.
For Teena Marie, she lives on in immortality through her music, like so many of our sonic heroes.