Producer and entrepreneur Ty James opens up on the We Are Family podcast about meeting her rock star dad as a teen and how his over-the-top lifestyle helped teach her balance. 
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Ty James

When your dad is Rick James, it's not unusual to see partying around you all the time, but that doesn't mean the love wasn't there.

"It definitely became second nature to see people partying all the time," says Ty James, daughter of the late Rick James, who now appears in and is the executive producer of Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James, a documentary about her dad on Showtime. "It's always a constant on-the-go party lifestyle. Occasional naked girls here and there was just normal. It was definitely normal. I totally felt like it was a different time. I learned balance and to be well-rounded because even now, I drink socially, I smoke socially, cannabis, but that's as far as I'll go. There are a lot of things that I learned not to do from him. There's no way I would touch cocaine. Just seeing those things, it created the balance that I needed in life as a woman."

On this week of Parents podcast We Are Family, Ty James opens up to host Julia Dennison about her dad's outrageous lifestyle and how it made her more well-rounded as an adult, but she also talks about meeting him later in life at the age of 13 after a private investigator found her and her brother, the instant connection they shared, and how much love he had to give.

"People see him as this outrageous rock star, musician, superstar, and to see him at home as a loving father, as a loving grandfather, with the biggest heart, his close friends and family definitely know that he would give the shirt off of his back," she says. "And they miss him. We all miss him a lot."

Check out We Are Family Episode 14 now for more with Ty James and how she reunited with her dad at 13.

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Ty James: Hi, my name is Ty James, and to me, family is people that you can depend on, people that love you, people that you love and hate sometimes. Not literally hate, but we don't choose our family. So they typically have your bloodline. And at times, there are some people that you consider family that don't necessarily have your bloodlines. So I want to go back to it being just loving, caring, and people that you can depend on.

Julia Dennison: Hello and welcome to We Are Family. I'm here with Ty James, daughter of the late Rick James, and CEO of the Stone City fashion brand. She now appears in and is the executive producer of Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James, a documentary about her dad on Showtime. Ty, welcome to the show.

Ty James: Hey hey Julia, thanks for having me.

Julia: Thanks for coming on. So I feel like we really need to start our conversation by talking about this incredible documentary that you've been a part of and worked on as Rick James' daughter. It's been more than 15 years since your dad passed away. What's it been like revisiting his life, as you've been working on the documentary?

Ty James: Well, revisiting his life has been exciting, emotional. I never really feel like he's totally gone, if that makes sense. I still speak of him in the present. He's left so much behind, a legacy so strong and impactful that I kind of still feel like he's here. So it's a constant, emotional roller coaster. 

Julia: And there are so many amazing stories in the documentary with so many famous people that he interacted with. Do you have any kind of favorite stories from the documentary or stories in general about your dad as you've been working on the project?

Ty James: Oh God, there are just so many stories. Where do you start?

Julia: Right!

Ty James: I think that the funniest one was probably the time when he ran. We were at Eddie Murphy's house who is like family to us. The two of us were riding together and there was like a carload full of other people. And so we were leaving and he backed into his water fountain, literally the big fountain in front of somebody's yard. So the thing kind of tilted over and after he did it, it was like he had hit like a little bump in the road or something, had no idea what he had just done and went to just put the car in drive and I'm like, Daddy, hold on, wait a minute.

You have to turn around and tell the man that you destroyed his waterfall fountain. He didn't want to go back in the house and tell him, and I'm trying to bribe him into doing it. It was just, it was a whole big ordeal. So we went to the door and I had to follow behind him because he's a trickster. So he would go peek in and act like he didn't do it. Or he did it and never told him anything. So I'm right behind him. And he peeks his head in the door and he's like, oh yeah, Eddie, Ty tore up your fountain.

I said wait a second. What is going on? So, it's just like always little bits and pieces of his life. That I can't, I just think about every day. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about his antics and everybody knows how much of a jokester my dad is. And just another quick funny one is that he always loved to take people's food. If you're eating it, if you have a half a hamburger in your hand and you're eating it, he's going to take it out your hand and just like, oh, this must be for me. So if you're eating a candy bar, the rest is his. Don't come in his path. Just funny stuff all the time, like all the time.

Julia: Oh my goodness.

Ty James: A riot.

Julia: That must have just been so nutty growing up with him as your dad. And it must have just felt like, obviously your dad is in the spotlight all the time. It's the Rick James show all the time growing up. As a kid, did it feel like, hey, what about me? Can I eat the rest of my burger?

Ty James: Right, exactly. It's like he's so known for music, but I think that's why him and Eddie had such a wonderful relationship because he is, was, a natural comedian.

Julia: Now, so you're the oldest of your dad's kids. And he said a really sweet quote that I read, which is so beautiful. He said, "When our angel girl Ty was born, I was over the moon. I danced with joy." Just such sweet words, but you didn't really meet him until you were 13 or really get to know him until you were 13. Can you talk a little bit about why that was?

Ty James: It was different because he was absent. It was pretty emotional, I would say at times, because as a child, you long for that male figure, that dominant figure. My mom did the best job she could, raising my brother and I, because we have the same mom and dad, he's two years younger than me.

So I often times think that he probably needed him more than I did, because when we met at 13, it just was a natural love there. The fondness that a girl I say has for her father just kicked in naturally. It's what I had been missing. I didn't think about the past or how he wasn't there. I just immediately started from where we were and I had this forgiving heart and it was just a natural bond. Yeah. It was easy. It was pretty easy.

Julia: Admirable. Do you remember, what was the exact moment that you first met him when you were 13? 

Ty James: Oh, certainly. My brother and I were getting off the plane in Buffalo, New York. And we were accompanied by a stewardess, because children couldn't fly alone at that time. And you see this big image of a man and it was more than just a man walking towards you. You felt the whole, the bigness of Rick James. He told us that he actually went up to some other kids because he wasn't sure where we were because of course he didn't really know how we looked until of course, we finally met him face-to-face and it was just, it was overwhelming. It really was. It was the longest embrace. It was the longest hug you can even imagine. And instantly the bond was created.

Julia: That's great. And so did he seek you out? How did you come to be reunited at that moment?

Ty James: So my brother who's, like I said, two years younger than me, he was actually going around the school, telling everybody who his dad was. We lived in Inglewood, California, which is a not so pleasant part of Los Angeles. And so I would be upset with him, Ricky, stop telling everybody this, it's embarrassing that we don't have the fancy cars and the nice clothes, the new stuff that everybody else has. And our dad's a millionaire and we don't even know him. I was just always trying to like drill that in his head. Stop it, stop it, stop it. So he winds up telling one of his friends who actually did security for my dad. So the little boy went and told his dad, there's this kid around school going around saying that his dad's Rick James. And so from that, the man told my dad and my dad was like, well, what school is this? Because it probably is.

So the next couple of days there was a PI knocking on our door and saying, is this where Ty and Ricky live? That is pretty much where it started, and within a week we were whisked off to Buffalo, New York.

Julia: Wow. And so you were old enough at 13 to be aware of the fact that you, like you said, you had a millionaire superstar for a dad, but you were living with your mom as a single parent and…

Ty James: Very modestly.

Julia: Very modestly. Right. Do you remember having any kind of like resentment about that? Or were you just kind of like, that's how it is. Do you remember how you felt about it?

Ty James: There was some resentment of course, because it was more of a question like, gosh, he doesn't want his children. It was that feeling of not being wanted. And so as far as resentment is concerned, I think that my brother picked that up because he's somewhat of a mama's boy so to say, and I'm the daddy's girl. So it all went away when we met, because I still had this feeling of a man should be responsible for being the breadwinner, should be the one to go out, bring home the bacon. A man sometimes has to be absent from the home. You know what I mean? To pursue dreams and goals and make it happen. That happens with musicians all the time. So I think early on, I still had a really good understanding of that and my brother had the resentment, because they struggle with their relationship at times.

Julia: And so, because he'd hired a private investigator to find you once he'd heard the rumors that you existed at that school, did that make you think that he'd been trying to find you for a while or it had been something where he knew you were there and hadn't been able to reach you?

Ty James: I think it's probably a combination of the two because him and my mom early on, like right after the both of us were born, decided to go separate ways because she went and sought a more spiritual background. I think it had a lot to do with the lifestyle that the both of them were living. It was a very fast-paced rock and roll Hollywood, struggling artists lifestyle back in the day. And she just wanted to go a whole different direction. So I know that she took us off and probably broke communication for her own sanity.

Julia: Right. And went, no contact, protect yourself, went the totally opposite direction.

Ty James: Yes, exactly. So, I mean, there has to be some understanding on both ends, as it relates to my mom and my dad. So, I just kind of found it in my heart to forgive the both of them because I know it couldn't have been just him. He's an icon superstar, so he's not hard to find.

Julia: Right.

Ty James: I would've been knocking on that door with my two kids, like, look.

Julia: Hello!

Ty James: Get it together.

Julia: What was your relationship like after you were reunited? So he was in Buffalo. Did you spend a lot of time in Buffalo? Did he come back to Los Angeles? What was sort of next for you?

Ty James: Oh, well, at that point it was an instant connection. I instantly moved to Buffalo. My brother went back to L.A. My whole life changed. I was really impacted with just the culture around me in New York. And I love the diversity, the music, the atmosphere—it was just a different beat than Los Angeles and I chose to stay there.

Julia: Obviously, when people think of your dad, they think of this incredible showman and musician, as we've said, but they also think about his wild behavior. What was that like growing up with a dad like that? How do you think now as an adult looking back at that and how did you experience it as a child?

Ty James: Well, it definitely became second nature, I would say, to see people partying and music all the time. And just this, it's always a constant on-the-go party lifestyle. Occasional naked girls here and there was just normal. It was definitely normal. I totally felt like it was a different time. The way it affected me is just I learned balance and to be well-rounded because even now, I drink socially, I smoke socially, cannabis, but that's as far as I'll go. There are a lot of things that I learned not to do from him. There's no way I would touch cocaine. Just seeing those things, it created the balance that I needed in life as a woman.

Julia: Can you talk a little bit about what that was like growing up with a father who was an addict, because you talked at the beginning, your lovely quote about what family is. And I noticed that you said people you can rely on and I'm sure part of having a father who was an addict is that feeling that you couldn't necessarily always rely on him. 

Ty James: Yeah. That's definitely the painful aspect that you do encounter with, especially a parent that's an addict, because we're talking about the person that you hang out with, or that might need to make you breakfast or might need to get you dressed, or you know what I mean?

Julia: Yes.

Ty James: Just the provider. So I would definitely like to emphasize that the addict is not the only person that's affected when, when there are drugs involved. It's really, really hard. There are some painful stories there that we've had fights. We've had arguments, just a lot of disappointing times with the drug itself. And I've even wound up in the hospital due to a fight that we've had because it's totally the demon that is the drug, it's not even the person. And once you understand that it's a disease and you know that it's not that person that's doing these things, it's that monster that they are addicted to.

Julia:

Do you have any kind of advice for anyone who's seeking to reunite with a parent the way, the way you did?

Ty James: Yeah. I would say if you're seeking to reunite with a parent, I would say kind of do your homework first so that you're not surprised by anything. See what you can gather as far as background and what's been taking place, so you're not blindsided. That is definitely one of the things that I would say. And also just to try to keep an open heart, as to the reason. Don't focus so much on what that reason is that they were absent and see if that you can resume something for just from the time that we have, because we don't have a lot of time on this earth. So you never know, you might meet them and it could be an instant bond like it was for me, or you might meet them and say, there's a reason why we haven't been speaking. I'm cool. So, whatever that is for you, just make sure you do your research and do it with an open heart.

Julia: Have you done any ancestry.com or any of the 23 and me, or are you curious whether or not there are any other siblings out there? Thinking about Rick James and his reputation.

Ty James:

Well, the good thing about him being who he is, is that if there was, they would have definitely came for it. When my dad passed away, like I was dreading, I said, OK, they about to start coming out the woodworks y'all, let's prepare for this. So that didn't happen. And we just were so excited because as much of a party animal, rock and roll star that my dad is, he still is very, very smart and calculated with his decisions. And obviously not that much of a super freak because he still only had three children. (laughter)

Julia: You obviously have a lot of really great lessons come from your father. How did the way he lived his life affect the way you've lived your life? 

Ty James: Again, I feel very well-rounded as a woman. I liked the fact that I can have fun. I can drink socially. I can smoke but there's always this boundary that I know that I'm not going to cross because of the things that I saw with him. So I liked that as a parent, he taught me what to do, but as a parent, he also taught me what not to do. And then also his persistence and his drive is another thing that I really feel like I embodied that he did not give up. He fought and struggled and did everything he had to do to achieve success and make sure that he accomplished his dreams. And that wasn't always very easy, there was sometimes a hustle involved. But you know, by any means necessary, and that's the respect that I have for him. And so proud of the fact that he never gave up.

Julia: Yeah. It seemed like he had to work so much harder I think as a Black man in the music industry, and he's seeing all these white musicians around him finding success before he could, it just felt like he had to work 10,000 times harder. 

Ty James: Yeah, you're absolutely right. Imagine then with none of the devices that we have, there's no social media, there's no FaceTime. There is no Riverside, Zoom calls, no Spotify, no Apple, like no nothing. So it was literally going, beating down these doors and getting in front of these people and demanding that they listen and just understanding that you know that God gave you a gift that was to be shared. And by any means necessary, you have to.

Julia: Is it true that he told you not to get into the music business?

Ty James: Oh yeah. Yeah. We had a really big fight because early on, I was going to sign with Death Row with Suge Knight. And I had a lot of friends that were signed to him and Snoop is like family to me and just growing up in L.A., I was exposed to that and I could actually rap, like I can write, I have a great ear for music, which I got from him as well. So I got some hits under my belt,  but he was totally opposed to it. And I think it has a lot to do with his path and how he got there and what it took to get there. So he probably, one did not want to see his baby girl have to go through that.

Julia: Fair. So your dad, he died at just 56 years old, which is so young and it was back in 2004. Can you remember when you were told about him passing? 

Ty James: Yeah, of course. I can remember that. That's the day I'll never forget. I was actually driving from my house to LA and my phone started ringing. So it just kept blowing up and Linda Hunt is calling me, who is my dad's, she was one of his closest confidants. She was his housekeeper. She was his assistant. You name it. She did it for over like 30-something years, close to 40 years. She dedicated her life to him. She was like family. And so when I finally picked up the phone, she was saying, you need to get over here to the house. And as soon as she said it, I just, my stomach dropped because I kind of knew what was going on. And I just had, I had a bad feeling. She was like we can't talk about it on the phone, but you just, you need to come now. And I was devastated. And she told me when I got to the door. My dad had a few battles with health, but it still was unexpected. He was still in the room when I got there. And I just recall laying in the bed with him for like an hour before anybody ever came... So that was… Definitely one of the most difficult times I've had to face in life—period. When I think about his age and everything that he's given and his contribution to the world, not just our culture, but every culture, I feel like it was a long time. I feel like he was here a long time. When you look at other artists, they're gone way too soon in their twenties and thirties of overdose or just unknown causes. But he's a rock star. My dad's a rock star. So every day, going on stage, performing and giving all your energy and people drawing from your soul, that takes a lot out of you. It takes a lot out of you. So with that being said, I always am so happy and I feel I was blessed to have that long with him.

Julia: Yes. He had such an amazing career. Now you have two daughters, yourself, Charisma and Jasmine.

Ty James: Uh-huh.

Julia: Yeah. Did they get to meet him? What was their relationship like?

Ty James: Oh my God. Yeah. They love their grandfather and he loved them. Jasmine is older, so she spent a lot more time with him, but just the biggest heart, like people see him as this outrageous rock star, musician, superstar, and to see him at home as a loving father, as a loving grandfather, with the biggest heart, his close friends and family definitely know that he would give the shirt off of his back. And they miss him. We all miss him a lot.

Julia: Do you feel like there are any specific values or traditions or anything that you've passed on to your daughters that your dad gave you?

Ty James: Yeah. I think just the freedom to be yourself and the confidence to be yourself, because that is one of the things that is what made him so successful. He always stood for what he believed in. And both of my daughters, they understand that confidence is what gets you a very long way. If you don't believe in yourself, nobody will believe in you. So those are the jewels and the gems that we like to spread on.

Julia: So my last question that I ask everybody on this podcast is what is your greatest hope for the future of your family?

Ty James: Oh, man. My greatest hope for the future of our family is just that we continue to uplift one another. We make sure that we are a representation of ourselves first and then the people around us. His brand and his legacy is something that's very strong and powerful. And my children understand that. And even if you don't come from a famous family or somebody that has made monumental marks, you can still be the first to do so. Just have the confidence and the inspiration to remain driven and that we keep prayers up for peace and happiness and life and love and success.

Julia: That's wonderful. Ty, thank you so much for coming on our podcast. 

Ty James: Peace and blessings to you, too. Thanks for having me again.

Julia: Thanks so much for listening to my conversation with Ty James. Next time you'll hear from the creator of some of the best-loved kids TV shows around today, including Ridley Jones and Doc McStuffins. Producer and writer Chris Nee talks about identity, parenthood and found family. Be sure to follow We Are Family on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen so you don't miss an episode. 

And we'd love your feedback. If you could rate this podcast and leave us a review, we'd really appreciate it. You can also find us online at parents.com/wearefamilypodcast

We Are Family is presented by me, Julia Dennison, and produced by Sam Walker. Editing is by Vincent Cacchione, and thanks also to the rest of our production team at Pod People, Rachel King, Matt Sav, and Danielle Roth. We'll see you back here next week for more We Are Family!