APPRECIATION: Slick Rick
by Marcus K. Dowling
I believe that new is boring and that history is inspirational. These opinions are not necessarily the views of the Couch Sessions. “Marcus Dowling appreciates…” celebrates the memories that define the future. Enjoy.
Hip hop loves a golden god. However, as time has worn on in this history of the genre, the ability of heavily bejewled emcees to entertain through stories has paled in comparison to their out-sized presentations. While rappers like Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame and Soulja Boy have achieved significant mainstream acclaim, their lyrical dexterity has often been doubted. However, in blending a (literally) golden presentation with extreme displays of lyrical style, Slick Rick, as he was then, and as he always will be, the bling bling ruler of ribald rap entertainment, and deserving of our appreciation.
London bred and New York raised, Ricky Walters seemingly was always destined to be Slick Rick, aka Rick the Ruler. A childhood accident involving a shard of glass being lodged in his eyeball added more unique appeal, as a crafty storyteller draped in jewels, satin, fur and a diamond-encrusted eye patch he was made for hip hop’s first mainstream push. Also ready for the push was his style. Neighborhood tales of excess were commonplace in the game. Top rappers like Kurtis Blow paved the way for Def Jam artists like LL Cool J, The Fat Boys, the Beastie Boys and Run DMC to gain crossover appeal by being performers with whom pop crowds could easily relate. Slick Rick? Somewhere in his heavily accented British tone and X-rated stories like pre-Def Jam collaboration with Doug E. Fresh on “La-Di-Da-Di,” he added an ersatz aspirational standard to common existences that separated him from all contenders.
1988’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick is a legendary album. Producer Hank Shocklee added eminently dance ready sounds to Ricky’s absurd everyman tales and created an instantaneous superstar. Grooving banger “Children’s Story” was the highlight, the tale of a misguided child stick-up artist so lyrically vivid with a sing song cadence that the words immediately attach to the lister’s psyche. Filled with such heavyweight moments as “Teenage Love, hopeful ode to youth worldwide “Hey Young World,” plus the deplorably filthy yet entirely catchy “Indian Girl,” Great Adventures… is an all out pleasure assault on the brain’s frontal lobe.
If not an obsequious fan of hip hop, Slick Rick is a one-album wonder. A 1990 shooting placed the emcee behind bars until 1996, a period in which Rick’s style became a surefire route to hip hop credibility. Whether Snoop Dogg covering “La Di Da Di” on 1993 debut album Doggystyle, Def Jam signee Montell Jordan riding a “Children’s Story” sample to the top on 1995’s “This Is How We Do It,” or a plethora of other examples, his pop excellence was undeniable. 1998’s “Da Art of Storytellin'” from Outkast’s Aquemini release? Likely Rick’s best moment. Restoring his legend with trademark ease, when placed alongside top griots of a new era, MC Ricky D proves a timeless member of hip hop’s enduring legacy.
It’s important for today’s rappers to remember that wearing gold chains and sitting at the top of the game is a demanding task. Slick Rick wore the gaudiest of medals but responded with the most ostentatious of flows. Letting the jewels of success weigh down one’s style? A lazy reminder of the many inherent flaws of hip hop’s latest era of pop domination. Regarding this future, only one ponderous open-ended statement applies. “Hey young world…the world is yours…”