British-born rap artist Slick Rick epitomized the “pimpster” attitude, complete with rope gold chains, diamond rings, flashy suits, and Rick’s own distinctive eye-patch, when he came into the rap/hip-hop scene during the 1980s. His 1989 debut album The Great Adventures of Slick Rickrose to platinum status, and his image of material excess, as well as his use of explicit lyrics, helped shape the direction of rap music for years to come. However, just as Rick’s future seemed certain, in 1990 the young rapper was sentenced to a six-year prison sentence for attempted murder. Although he released two albums from behind bars, projects that Rick and many hip-hop fans would rather forget, neither matched the commercial success of his first release. He later admitted to URB magazine, “They were garbage. I didn’t like them, I thought they were junk… It was a rushed job, it was terrible, it was horrible. It was a bad job.” Then, following his release from jail in 1996, Rick emerged again in 1999 with a more substantial collection of hip-hop songs entitled The Art of Storytelling.
While some hip-hop fans viewed Rick as a rapper beyond his prime and not part of the new look of rap—which had traded the gold jewelry and bright-colored suits in for designer sportswear and Nike basketball shoes—most welcomed the return of his old school style and accented storytelling. Likewise Rick, who promised not to retire his suits and chains, agreed, reassuring URB that “I think it’s what hip-hop needs…. I think it’s always good to see a star. You don’t want to always see somebody regularly dressed. Sometimes you want to see color, you want to see something that’s pretty to look at.”
Born Richard Walters to Jamaican parents in South Wimbledon, London, on January 14, 1965, Rick was blinded by a piece of broken glass as an infant. He took to wearing an eye patch from an early age, an accessory that would later serve as part of his image. In the late 1970s at age 14, he emigrated with his family to the Bronx in New York and attended the La Guardia High School of Music and Art. At school, he met and befriended another future rapper, Dana Dane, and the two boys formed the Kangol Crew and began performing at hip-hop parties around their neighborhood. During one performance in 1984, Rick met rap artist Doug E. Fresh, who asked him to play with his Get Fresh Crew (which also included Chill Will and Barry Bee). By 1985, Fresh saw one of the groups songs called “The Show” ascend to number four on the R&B charts, and the single “La-Di-Da-Di” would become a rap classic. Upon the success of their hit singles, MC Ricky D, as Rick was then known, left the Get Fresh Crew in 1987 to sign a solo contract with Def Jam Records, the biggest label in hip-hop at the time.
Met fellow rapper Dana Dane while attending La Guardia High School of Music and Art; Rick and Dane formed the Kangol Crew and performed at hip-hop clubs; met Doug E. Fresh in 1984 and joined his Get Fresh Crew as MC Ricky D; signed solo contract with Def Jam Records, 1987; reinvented himself as Slick Rick and released solo debut The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, which earned platinum status, 1988; convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to six years in jail, 1990; released two albums during prison sentence, The Ruler’s Back ,1991, and Behind Bars, 1994; released from prison, 1996; released The Art of Storytelling, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Def Jam Music Group, 160 Varick St., New York, NY 10013.
In 1988, Rick reinvented himself as Slick Rick and released his debut album entitled The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, which became an instant rap classic. As with the Get Fresh Crew, Rick continued to deliver his rhymes in his relaxed and signature British/Bronx drawl, but some of his songs were now loaded with shocking vulgarity and misogynistic lyrics. Although the single “Treat Her Like a Prostitute” became a street favorite, most R&B radio stations refused to play the degrading song. Instead, they pushed his duet with singer Al B. Sure! called “If I’ m Not Your Lover,” which climbed to number two in 1989. Also that year, the single “Children’ s Story,” asong which ambiguously moralized criminal behavior and pioneered the hip-hop storytelling aesthetic, made it to the R&B top five list. Other tracks including “Mona Lisa,” “Hey Young World,” and “Teenage Love,” in addition to “Children’ s Story,” were deemed the rapper’ s best works.
While Rick had always shunned the “gangsta” aspect often associated with rap music in his private life, the criminality he sometimes alluded to in his debut album eventually came to depict his own reality. In early 1990, he was charged with and later convicted of attempted murder after he shot at his cousin, who Rickclaimed had harassed his mother, and led police on a high-speed chase. While awaiting sentencing, Rick hastily recorded 21 songs for follow-up albums. Later that year, Rick headed to prison in upstate New York to begin a six-year jail term. In 1991, with Rick now locked in a jail cell, the rap artist released his second album entitled The Ruler’ s Back, named for a track on his debut. Despite his recent run-in with the law, critics felt he used surprisingly good judgment by not making use of his legal situation and in toning down his offensive lyrics. Rather, Rick opted to relate a tale of regret with “I Shouldn’ t Have Done It,” an account of a drug deal in “Bond,” and a romantic endeavor with “Venus.” In addition, The Ruler’ s Back featured faster dance beats and loops of the hit “La-Di- Da-Di.” Nonetheless, Rick’ s second effort failed to sell, even though his confessional “I Shouldn’ t Have Done It” single appeared on the R&B charts later that year.
In 1993, Rick was allowed to leave prison for a time on a work release program and recorded tracks for his 1994 Behind Bars album. Except for the opening title track, the rapper declined to elaborate on his experiences as a prisoner. The project also included leftover songs recorded in 1990, a cameo appearance by Fresh for the successful ballad “Sittin’ in My Car” (a remake of Billy Stewart’s “Sitting in the Park”), and remixes of Rick’ s previous work. However, his offensive rhetoric came to light again in songs such as “A Love That’ s True,” which offers the fatherly advice “Son… you just don’ t trust no bitch.” Like Rick’ s 1991 release, the obviously fragmented Behind Bars failed to attract rap and hip-hop record buyers and did little to further Rick’ s career.
After Rick completed his prison sentence in 1996, he started to stage a comeback by making guest appearances with other artists such as Dave Hollister, Kid Capri, and Montell Jordan. In the meantime, he started work on a new album. In the late spring of 1999, Def Jam released The Art of Storytelling, another example of Rick steering clear from the thug life. “To (glorify the gangsta life) would be to fall into a trap and glorify negativity,” Rick explained to Errol Nazareth of the Toronto Sun. “The youth [younger rap artists] say a lot of crazy things. They promote selling drugs, gangsterism, robbing each other and all that stuff. It makes black people look real ignorant, you know what I mean? I can’ t get with that. I can’ t see myself, at 34 years old, promoting robbery or the sale of crack cocaine.”
Instead, The Art of Storytelling resurrected the artist’ s cinematic tales of X-rated fantasies, as well as his humorous old-school rap technique. In the song “Who Rotten ’Em,” Rick returns to ancient Egypt and imagines himself as a rapping slave. The more cohesive record, which also included tightly constructed songs like “2 Way Street,” “I Sparkle,” and “I Own America Part I” proved that Rick was well on his way to reassuming his former reputation as a talented rap artist. Whilecritics agreed that Rick performed at his best on the solo tracks, the album also featured appearances from fellow rappers and hip-hop artists such as Clark Kent, Large Professor, Q-Tip, Nas, Outkast, and Raekwon.
Children’s Story/Teacher, Teacher, Def Jam, 1988.
Teenage Love/Treat Her Like a Prostitute, Def Jam, 1988.
Hey Young World/Mona Lisa, Def Jam, 1989.
It’s a Boy/King, Def Jam, 1991.
Mistakes of a Woman in Love with Other Men/Venus, DefJam, 1991.
Sittin’ in My Car/Cuz It’s Wrong, Def Jam, 1995.
“I Shouldn’t Have Done It,” Def Jam, 1991.
“Behind Bars,” Def Jam, 1994.
The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Def Jam, 1988.
The Ruler’s Back, Def Jam, 1991.
Behind Bars, Def Jam, 1994.
The Art of Storytelling, Def Jam, 1999.
Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Business Wire, May 12, 1999.
Newsday, December 18, 1994, p. 21.
People, January 30, 1989, p. 18.
The Record (Bergen County, NJ), August 29, 1991, p.d12.
Toronto Sun, May 28, 1999, p. 79.
URB, August 1999, pp.60-61.
Vibe, June/July 1999.
Washington Post, May 26, 1999, p. C05.
“Slick Rick,” All Music Guide website, http://www.allmusic.com(September 3, 1999).
Born: Ricky Walters; London, England, 14 January 1965
Best-selling album since 1990: The Art of Storytelling (1999)
Hit songs since 1990: "I Shouldn't Have Done It," "Mistakes of a Woman in Love with Other Men," "Sittin in My Car," "Street Talkin'"
Slick Rick is one of hip-hop's most respected and vital rappers. Best known for his humorous storytelling, Slick Rick raps with a lilting British accent, making him a one-of-a-kind voice. Lionized by artists like Snoop Dogg, Slick Rick is among hip-hop's most celebrated rappers.
Ricky Walters was born to Jamaican parents in the South Wimbledon district of London. Blinded in infancy in his right eye by broken glass, Walters began wearing an eye patch. When he was eleven years old, his family emigrated to the Bronx, New York, the birthplace of hip-hop. The energy of the Bronx changed the course of Walters's life. While attending the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art in Manhattan, Walters met rapper Dana Dane and adopted the rap name Slick Rick. The duo sported Kangol, a popular brand of English hats, and dubbed themselves the Kangol Crew. They sharpened their rap skills through impromptu rhyme competitions with rappers across New York City. The most famous contest occurred in the Bronx in 1984 against beatboxer and rapper Doug E. Fresh. (The event was dramatized by Slick Rick, Dana Dane, and Doug E. Fresh in the 2002 film Brown Sugar.) As a result of the meeting, Slick Rick began performing with Doug E. Fresh and his Get Fresh Crew. Together they recorded the rap classics "La Di Da Di" and "The Show," produced by a young Teddy Riley.
Slick Rick secured a solo contract with the label Def Jam and showcased his storytelling prowess in his aptly titled debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988). An instant classic, it is a collection of tales ranging from the cautionary "A Children's Story" and the romantic "Mona Lisa" to the misogynistic "Treat Her Like a Prostitute." With his signature trademarks, the always present Kangol, gold chains, and teeth, and his eye patch, Slick Rick had all the packaging of a genuine rap star. He teamed with R&B singer Al B. Sure! for a remix of "If I'm Not Your Lover," which almost topped the Billboard charts in 1989.
In 1990 Slick Rick was charged with shooting his cousin and another man, and he was arrested for attempted murder. Out on bail, he quickly recorded the album The Ruler's Back (1991). The danceable catchy beats of Great Adventures, largely provided by Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee, are replaced by lackluster tracks from the less accomplished Vance Wright. The album sounds rushed, and Slick Rick's stories are not articulated as they are in his debut. Nevertheless, the danceable "I Shouldn't Have Done It" and the moody "Mistakes of a Woman in Love with Other Men" received favorable attention.
In 1993 a work-release program enabled Slick Rick to record Behind Bars (1994), which boasted the mild hit "Sittin in My Car." Unable to get the necessary promotion, neither The Ruler's Back nor Behind Bars sold well. Following his parole in 1995, Slick Rick was jailed again by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) because he was not a U.S. citizen. In 1996 he won his appeal and his freedom.
During his incarceration, artists like Snoop Dogg kept Slick Rick's name alive in commercial hip-hop circles by crediting him as a major inspiration. Snoop Dogg even remade "La Di Da Di" on the song "Lodi Dadi" from his debut Doggystyle (1993). Younger rap fans embraced Slick Rick's return after his release from prison. His The Art of Storytelling (1999) features popular artists OutKast, Nas, Raekwon (of Wu-Tang Clan), and Snoop Dogg, as well as live versions of the seminal songs "The Show" and "La Di Da Di" with Doug E. Fresh. As the title indicates, the focus is on Slick Rick's core strength. He vividly rhymes about the early days of hip-hop on "Memories" and the trials of a personal relationship on "Why, Why, Why." The album claimed a gold plaque and glowing critical reviews.
Big name rap artists invited the veteran rapper to cameo on their albums, further cementing Slick Rick's reputation. He appeared on releases by Jay-Z, De La Soul, and Jermaine Dupri. In 2002 Slick Rick faced renewed legal troubles when he performed on a cruise ship. Upon returning to port in Miami, Florida, INS authorities seized the star, citing a federal law requiring the automatic deportation of foreign nationals who have served more than five years for a felony conviction. Slick Rick had passed that mark by twelve days. High-profile entertainment figures like Russell Simmons, Will Smith, and Chris Rock came to his support. In late 2002 a judge placed a temporary stay on the deportation. As of May 2003 Slick Rick remains in custody, awaiting a deportation decision.
Despite INS troubles, Slick Rick's stature as a rap icon remains unsullied. His narrative power is undisputed, and his storytelling skills in rap continue to inspire.
The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (Def Jam 1989); The Ruler's Back (Def Jam, 1991); Behind Bars (Def Jam, 1994); The Art of Storytelling (Def Jam, 1999).