Born to Jamaican parents in South Wimbledon, London, on January 14, 1965, Slick Rick, born Ricky Martin Lloyd Walters, who has always been considered ahead of his time, is the most successful British-American rapper in music history. Brilliant word play, the effort-less ability to bring life to the stories he rhymed about, dead on pop-culture references and hilarious one-liners make him the wittiest rapper of all time.
He immigrated with his family to the Bronx in the late ’70s and attended the La Guardia High School of Music & Art, where he became friends with future rapper Dana Dane. Rick began to gravitate towards the makeshift music of the streets. The two formed the Kangol Crew, and began performing in hip-hop battles around the city. At one 1984 battle in the Bronx, Rick met Doug E. Fresh, and began playing with his Get Fresh Crew (which also included Chill Will and Barry Bee). In the summer of 1985, the duo released their historic singles, “The Show and La Di Da Di.” Fresh’s beatbox and Rick’s smooth lyrical delivery turned rap music on its head and MC Ricky D. — as Rick was known then– leaped to a solo contract two years later, after an acquaintance with Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen led him to become the 3rd artist signed to Def Jam Records, the biggest label in hip-hop at the time. Before long, Rick would establish himself as one of the architects of hip-hop.
His career in full swing, he released his first solo album in 1988 titled The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. It hit No.1. on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop charts and was one of the first hip-hop records to go platinum. Rick was preparing to record his sophomore effort, The Ruler’s Back, but three weeks of recording sessions were followed by five years in jail.
A fourth Def Jam recording, The Art of Storytelling, appeared in 1999. It featured a plethora of big-name rappers, i.e. Nas, OutKast, Raekwon from the Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg, Kid Capri, Canibus and Doug E. Fresh. The album is among the few to receive a perfect five-mic score from The Source magazine. To this day, the album is considered one of the greatest contributions to the hip-hop genre.
Slick Rick is like a hip-hop holy trinity displaying three Ricky’s in one body: lyricist, producer, and actor. Whereas many rappers speak in the same tone of voice (or become part of a vocal team that explores their diversity i.e., Digital Underground), Ricky is an aural dramatist – like in the days of early radio shows – who invades the soul of his characters, speaking in their voices, with a vocal repertoire that includes little children, jealous boyfriends, grandmothers, police officers and detectives to name a few.
In short, there’s nothing like the Slick Rick Experience. Every album is a parallel universe where old-time radio and urban culture collide. Aural theater merges with ghetto fantasy. Rick becomes a character actor with voice-throwing chops a ventriloquist would envy and narrative powers greater than Stephen King. In theory, it all seems preposterous – impossible to pull off. But because Rick has such a genuine gift on the mic – dexterity, cleverness, wit, articulation, fluidity – it works like gangbusters.
It’s high time this founding father of hip-hop — this mastermind of modulation, meter and tone — receive the accolades he so richly deserves. Always impeccably attired, there are no other rappers who can touch his style. He carries commercial and cultural clout as well. His influence cannot be overstated. More than any other rapper, he’s been sampled, quoted, loved, and emulated by each generation that has followed him.
Hip-hop is about life and truth, and Slick Rick is successful because he is truly a great storyteller in the timeless tradition…
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