Since long before Dick, Moby1, the art of storytelling has been preserved in the great adventures told behind bar doors by the rulers of the high seas.
Eyepatch-wearing Ricky Walters' swashbuckling shanties are no different. They recall the days of a thirst-quenching Hi-C juice box, before the single-serving beverage industry was bombarded with gimmicky Squeeze-Its2 and Capri Suns3-usually staining your Jimmy-Z4 shirt with artificial flavor.
As part of Doug E. Fresh's Get Fresh Crew, Slick Rick-then MC Ricky D-left his indelible mark on hip-hop on the 1985 single "The Show" b/w "La Di Da Di." In less than six minutes, Doug E. Fresh was certainly on to someone immeasurably talented: The Ruler. Both immediate classics introduced Ricky D's unparalleled parables and untamed shrewd humor-outfitted, of course, in a debonair full-length mink coat, chunky gold ropes, a furry Kangol5 cap and suede Bally loafers.
With cockney accent and cocky attitude, his debut Def Jam full-length The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988) secured him a platinum plaque, placement in the Source's Five Mic pantheon (when that meant something), and mention amidst Rakim and KRS-One in any G.O.A.T.6 discussion.
Classics such as "Hey Young World" and "Children's Story" proved that sophistication could be primitive, while "Treat Her Like a Prostitute" and "Indian Girl (An Adult Story)" produced the opposite effect. Walters handled most of the production duties as well, with help from Hank Shocklee and Eric Sadler (The Bomb Squad, of Public Enemy notoriety).
A 1991 attempted-murder conviction-Rick shot his cousin for extorting money and threatening his family-left the promising prince in prison until 1996. During his statutory sabbatical, the staunch statesman recorded two more LPs on brief furloughs-'91's tragically slept-on The Ruler's Back and '94's Behind Bars.
Following his release from the pen, Rick re-penned with Russell Simmons7 at Def Jam and released the aptly-titled The Art of Storytelling in '99 featuring a handful of other notable narrators, including Outkast, Nas, Raekwon and Canibus. The swagger was back, as Rick boasted on the "I Own America" chorus:
"From New York to Cali, none'll fuck with, the awkward, ya'll think Muhammad Ali used to talk shit, bing! this sure hit alone'll bury ya, and even if I got deported I own America."
Ironically, in 2002 Rick was detained by the INS8 in Florida while entering the U.S. from a week-long Caribbean cruise, on which he performed. National law dictates that foreign nationals who've been convicted of a felony must be deported, and since Rick's family emigrated from London when he was 11, he sat in a Bradenton, Fla. prison for 18 months awaiting deportation to the U.K. A previous court ruling allowed him to remain in the U.S. due to his fruitful career, but anal-retentive post-9/11 Homeland Security officials reopened his case and overturned that ruling, leaving The Ruler incarcerated yet again.
FREE SLICK RICK shirts made their way out of closets and onto the backs of supporters like Chris Rock, Will Smith and the Rev. Jesse Jackson9. On Oct. 31, 2003, Judge Kimba Wood of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York granted Ricky Walters his freedom, ruling that the Board of Immigration Appeals should've never reversed the initial ruling regarding Rick's legal U.S. residency.
Shortly thereafter, the 38-year-old husband and father of two made his way back to his Bronx home.
Personal and legal matters have severely hindered the career of a hip-hop living legend for the better part of a decade, depriving hip-hop's younger (de)generation10 of another criminally overlooked edutainer. During the aforementioned decade, Slick Willy11 was replaced by some awkward Bush, Doug E. Fresh receded into Scientology12, and Yo! MTV Raps conceded to Direct Effect, all without Rick's quotable witty repartee.
Hip-hop's most decorated and excessively accessorized storyteller might have briefly sunk into obscurity, but his legend has been perpetuated by loyal DJs and MCs at speakeasies across the seas who now welcome him home to beckoning shores.
Somewhere in the Bronx, an amateur sips a Hi-C and listens to Great Adventures for the first time, a veteran listens to it for the thousandth time, and a Ruler wears his Kangol crown to a tilt, surveying his kingdom, and devises his next plot to take over America.Slick Rick performs at L5, 9 p.m. on Jan. 16. $20. 619-858-2100.