As one of the premier voices to emerge from 80’s and 90’s Hip Hop culture, rapper Slick Rick has been influential from the moment he stepped in front of a microphone.
Setting out on the New York City rap circuit, the teenaged rapper began performing locally at school contests, on park benches and inside local hole-in-the-walls. It wasn’t long before he met Harlem-based rapper Doug E. Fresh, who happened to be judging a talent show in which Rick performed. Impressed by Rick’s talent, Doug made Rick a member of his Get Fresh Crew. From the moment Ricky entered the professional vocal booth in 1985, to record the double-single gem that was “The Show” and “La-Di-Da-Di” (both rhymes written before Rick met Doug), he was a narrative genius, displaying five Ricky’s in one body: producer, lyricist, actor, director and singer. Projecting a fresh verbal flow and a scorching storytelling style, the platinum selling single became the launching pad for one of Hip Hop ’s most iconic voices, as “La-Di-Da-Di” became a worldwide anthem that has since been sampled by the likes of artists such as TLC, Talib Kweli, Eminem, Mos Def, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Snoop Dogg, Alicia Keys and many others; with many of these songs later becoming hit singles.
Wearing fashionable suits, Bally shoes and his trademark Ray Ban sunglasses, Ricky became an overnight sensation. Onstage at legendary clubs like Harlem World and the Latin Quarter, the always dapper rapper “dressed to impress” and became as well-known for his gold chains and diamond rings as for his shiny rhymes. Blinded in his left eye from a childhood accident, Rick also began sporting an eye patch. The prototype for the future jiggy generation, Rick’s flamboyance would eventually inspire Sean “Puffy” Combs, Biggie, Ghostface Killah, Nas and Jay-Z.
In 1986, at the instigation of record executives Rick Rubin and Lyor Cohen, Rick signed with Def Jam Records and Rush Artist Management. The lanky rapper kept his Kangol cap, but changed his moniker to the more mature sounding Slick Rick.
Partnering with his friend DJ Vance Wright on the wheels of steel, Ricky went into the studio, and emerged with a tour de force that was cocky, brash, funny, and yet, emotional, humble, and dynamic. Composing rhymes that were like short stories, Ricky wrote with a stylish urban honesty that rapper MC Serch once compared to Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.
Releasing his much-anticipated debut The Great Adventures of Slick Rick in the fall of 1988, the platinum-plus seller is widely considered a Hip Hop classic. Featuring the brilliant singles “Children’s Story,” “Mona Lisa,” “Teenage Love” and “Hey Young World,” the album solidified the rapper’s reputation as a supreme contributor to the rhythmic canon of rap culture. Since then, Slick Rick has released four successful studio albums and his music has been sampled and/or interpolated in over 600 records.
Without a doubt, Slick Rick sounds like no one else. While others merely rapped, Rick was like Hip Hop Orson Welles as he created and voiced a wide cast of characters on his songs. Cultivating a cool smoothness, he has been cited as an influence by various rappers and producers including Snoop Dogg, Tricky Stewart, Mark Ronson and Pharrell Williams.
While Slick Rick’s work has had an undeniable, Hall-of-Fame impact on Hip Hop , his storied career has seen more than its share of trials and tribulations. He has been shot, incarcerated, and – since 1994 — forced to live with the constant threat of deportation to a country he left for good as an eleven-year-old.
Raised in a strict Jamaican household, Rick was never groomed or encouraged to be a part of the so-called “gangsta” lifestyle. In fact, he was already preparing for his future by investing his money in real estate as he began to lay the foundation of becoming a businessman.
But these days, much of Slick Rick’s story remains untold. Despite some setbacks, Ricky continues his commitment to his craft, performing throughout the country while also participating in a plethora of personal philanthropic endeavors including mentoring grade school kids, advising music high school and college students and speaking at correctional facilities. This past year, Slick Rick worked with will.i.am’s “Trans4m” concert which raised more than $2.4 million for the rapper-producer’s i.am.angel Foundation. For his efforts, Ricky has received accolades from Miami Dade College, Music Saves Lives, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and Newark, NJ Public Schools to name a few. In addition, the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture and the Chicago Hard Rock will BOTH honor Rick with an exhibition later this year.
Ricky has also become admired not only for his lyrical flow and sense of humor, but for his fashion style, which reflects his roots of England and Jamaica. From his Kangols, to his eyepatch, to his gold-and-diamond fronts, and from the truck jewelry around his neck and the rings on his fingers to the Ballys on his feet, Slick Rick looked like no one before him. Tall and slim, he was “a fly brown brother” from head to toe, even if he did say so himself. Today it’s clear that Ricky is one of the founding fathers of “bling” and Hip Hop fashion. Most recently, entrepreneur and style innovator will.i.am has partnered with the Hip Hop icon to create a limited edition ill.i Optics capsule collection. The ill.i x Slick Rick series co-created by the duo includes three variations of unisex sunglass styles with modern, minimalist appeal.
Slick Rick recently celebrated his 50th Birthday and for his half-century celebration, none other than Queens MC and fellow legend Nas, surprised his idol on stage in front of a sold out crowd. Nas also had some kinds words to say about The Ruler, “Storytelling is not something simple. Storytellers are people like Walt Disney, people like Richard Pryor, people like Ricky Walters. When I was a young boy, just trying to learn about life…this man was doing his thing on the mic.” Nas goes on to say, “He showed me what being fresh and fly was. So when I got on I had to do it like the Don.”
And at the ripe age of 50, Slick Rick the Ruler doesn’t stop…
With more than three decades in the world of Hip Hop , Slick Rick is still striving, still working, still giving back to community…and still ruling.
Official site: Slick Rick