James, who rose to fame in the late 1970s and early '80s with songs like Mary Jane, Give It to Me Baby and Super Freak, was sentenced in 1994 to five years in prison for assaulting one woman and supplying drugs to another.
"When I was in prison, I wrote like 300 songs," says James, 45. "I was just laying my heart and soul out and really reflecting on my life and how I ended up in this position."
But once he was released and started listening to what he'd written, he thought some of the tunes were too heavy.
He didn't want to do something that would have people saying, "Poor Rick." "I decided to write songs that really depicted what was going on in my life, but I kept it upbeat."
"I was more interested in drugs at the time. This (the new tour) feels the way it did when I first started. I have the same butterflies and emotions."
On the album, James talks about his own ups and downs and is joined by the Stone City Band, JoJo of the Mary Jane Girls, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Bobby Womack and Charlie Wilson.
It's a thumping '90s update of James' signature sound.
"Lyrically, I'm writing better than I ever did in prison, and I'm singing better than I ever did because my lungs and my brain are not clouded with dope," he says. "There is a clarity, power and strength I can feel."
Rhapsody is the first release on Private I Records, a Mercury-distributed partnership with veteran promoter Joe Isgro. The Private I deal gives James ownership of his masters and publishing rights for the first time in his career, he says.
"That means something to me," says James, who, before realizing how lucrative it could be, didn't want rappers sampling his music.
"To see kids 16 years old saying they listen to Rick James or Teena Marie or the Mary Jane Girls really touches me," James says. "They are very aware of who George Clinton and Rick James are and where these guys (rappers) are getting their samples from.
"They're comparing us to all of the hip-hop and new jack groups, and finding that these 40- and 50-year-old dudes are singing just as hard and playing just as good as they did in the '70s and '80s."
"I've wasted a lot of time doing drugs and wasted a lot of my life being self-indulgent with bull-- - - - ," he says. "I want to talk to kids about the evil of crack abuse and the goodness of staying in school and the results one can get without doing drugs. I never wanted to be a role model, but somebody has to tell them. It was a revelation I had in prison."
Reprinted WITH permission from USA TODAY
Then on Monday Nov. 5, 2001 at 10 pm est... in the Soul Patrol chat room at: Soul Patrol chat room and join us as we discuss the life and times of Rick James as we listen to the LIVE CONCERT from 1981 Hosted by the producer of the CD DELUXE version of the classic album: Rick James: Street Songs!. Harry Weinger..ALL ARE WELCOME