Walters had already lead a tough life long before his family moved from poor circumstances in Mitcham, to start life anew in the projects of the Bronx. In 1990 with his music pouring onto the hot Manhattan streets, a relative used a firearms incident outside a nightclub to set up Walters. The incarceration of Slick Rick made worldwide headline news and he was sent down for five years to the infamous Rikers Island. While there Def Jam boss Russell Simmons came to interview him and fight his corner, arguing that his second degree murder charge was unjust while attempts to deport him were unconstitutional.
Simmons cited the lyrical style and good-natured atmosphere of Slick Rick’s first album; also the fact that it was a positive message for good that had won considerable plaudits and would eventually become an influence on artists like Nas. Musically too, it’s a tremendous achievement with expertly used samples from James Brown, Dionne Warwick, Run-D.M.C., the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Funkadelic. It still sounds like a tremendous blast of fresh air fun. Producing with Jason Mizell (aka Jam Master Jay) and Hank Schocklee the album captures the mood of the times with ‘Children’s Story’ proving to have long legs. It’s been sampled and adapted by everyone from Eminem, Dr Dre to Everlast, Tricky and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. An excellent piece of work as is ‘Hey Young World’, a luscious slab of funk that inspired Macy Gray to write her own version.
Having been sprung out of Rikers Island Slick Rick was in a hurry to record The Ruler’s Back with Simmons in the console room, alongside Mr. Lee and Vance Wright. Renowned for his narrative clout, a spell behind bars gave him ample room to explore his situation on cuts like ‘I Shouldn’t Have Done It’ and ‘Runaway’, but the Slick man didn’t get hung up in that era since he also offers the sublime ‘Mistakes of a Woman in Love With Other Men’, the quirky ‘Top Cat’ and the funky ‘Venus.’ In retrospect this disc is a winner and it’s been favourably re-evaluated by those who were sniffy at its entrance. Again, the fusion of hip hop and R&B samples are top notch with Walters trawling childhood memories to land on 'Dave & Ansel Collins’, ‘Double Barrel’, references to Alton Ellis, Frankie Avalon and the Honey Drippers. Mixing dancehall rhythms with street poetry, this album peaks on ‘Moses’ and ‘Slick Rick – The Ruler’ and gives us nigh on 46 minutes of hip hop high.
Behind Bars (1994) is an even tougher affair. The hits include the title cut and ’Sittin’ In My Car’, where Doug E. Fresh rejoins his colleague. There’s also a large cast of name producers – Prince Paul, Easy Mo Bee, Pete Rock and Large Professor amongst them and again the sampling is superb with choice phrases and passages bound into the whole from the magic memory banks of Les McCann, Wilmer and the Dukes, Stevie Wonder, Rare Earth and Otis Redding & Carla Thomas.
It’s that facility with words and impeccable music taste that marks Rick out from the herd. Our fourth and final offering is also Slick’s last studio jaunt – The Art of Storytelling. Given that this went Gold and also made the Billboard Top Ten, it’s merely a shame he called a halt. Even so there is so much to dig here and the 70-minutes plus bonus tracks includes some of his most winning and witty work.
Recorded in a lengthy period over 1998/1999, The Art of Storytelling is a semi-conceptual travelogue across hip hop history beginning with ‘Jail Skit’, ‘KillNiggaz’ and then branching out into an overview of American street culture that situates this disc in a direct line from The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. The hit single ‘Street Talkin’’ features Big Boi from OutKast, Snoop Dogg barks up on ‘Unify’ and Nas and Canibus lend their skill sets. This is a classic album of any genre, top Hip-Hop that fully deserves all the 5 star reviews it garnered back in the day and yet it still sounds newly minted and essential.
A pioneer from the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, Slick Rick manages to adopt the braggadocio of gangsta life while sending its excesses up and exposing the futility of gang warfare. Guns, drugs and money get a good going over, but on the album he is the most proud of - IT'S THE RHYMES THAT CHIME EVERY TIME! TOTALLY DOPE!
Words: Max Bell
Slick Rick's reputation as hip-hop's greatest storyteller hangs on his classic debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, one of the most influential rap records of the late '80s -- for better and worse. Most of the production is standard early Def Jam, but Rick's style on the mic is like no one else's. His half-British accent and odd, singsong cadences often overshadow the smoothness of his delivery, but there's no overlooking the cleverness of his lyrics. His carefully constructed narratives are filled with vivid detail and witty asides, and his cartoonish sense of humor influenced countless other rappers. He'll adopt a high voice for his female characters, and even duets with his old alter ego MC Ricky D on "Mona Lisa." But there's also a dark side to The Great Adventures -- namely its vulgarity and off-handed misogyny. No MC had ever dared go as far on record as Rick, and the tracks in question haven't really lost much of their power to offend, or at least raise eyebrows. The notorious "Treat Her Like a Prostitute" is the prime suspect, undermining well-intentioned advice (don't trust too quickly) with cynical, often degrading portrayals of women. "Indian Girl (Adult Story)," meanwhile, is an X-rated yarn with a barely comprehensible payoff. Yet this material is as much a part of Rick's legacy as his more admirable traits, and he was far from the last MC to put seemingly contradictory sides of his personality on the same record. And it's worth noting that most of his Great Adventures, no matter how dubious, end up as cautionary tales with definite consequences. That's especially true on the tragic "Children's Story," in which a teenage robber's increasingly desperate blunders lead to his destruction. In the end, The Great Adventures is simply too good not to deserve the countless samples and homages by everyone from Snoop Dogg to Black Star.
Words: Steve Huey
It was easy to dismiss The Ruler's Back before it was even released, or to assume that there was no way it could live up to The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. Of course, it did not attain the same level of artistic success as that debut, and it certainly did not equal that album's commercial success, in fact seemingly passing beneath the radar of the whole hip-hop community, for the most part. At the time of its release, the album received mixed reviews and indifferent reactions even from fans of Slick Rick. That's another unfortunate, ill-fated aspect of The Ruler's Back, because, in truth, it is a strong, albeit uneven, progression from the debut and occasionally strikes a flawless note. To think of the album as anything other than a confused, transitional effort would be inaccurate, but it does not follow that it isn't an intriguing record. The messiness of its execution perfectly encapsulates the sort of turmoil Slick Rick was experiencing in his life at the time, and the music pulls the listener into that sort of tangled experience. Both Vance Wright's production and Slick Rick's rapping sound pressed for time, and they rush through the songs with a whip-lashing intensity. It can be a disorienting listen, but it is also a pure adrenaline rush. Slick Rick was going through a time of hurtling change, and the hurried breathlessness of the music captures that. The Ruler's Back is all over the map, lacking the thematic focus that held the first album together, but its frayed-threads, seams-showing immediacy is part of what makes it such an underrated album in the hip-hop canon.
Words: Stanton Swihart
Within hip-hop, Slick Rick is arguably the most acclaimed MC of them all. Snoop Doggy Dogg, for one, owes a huge debt to his detached, effortless delivery on the microphone. At his best, Slick Rick was always coolness personified. The London-born artist's troubles, however, have been well-documented. They are further addressed by the man himself on the title track to this recording, completed during a work release program with the help of veteran hip-hop producer Prince Paul (Rick was in jail for the 1990 shooting of an innocent bystander while attempting to chase down a bodyguard). Before Ol' Dirty Bastard cornered the market, Slick Rick was rap's bad boy-in-chief. On this uneven record, he pays witness to the events that shaped him, rather than detailing his current incarceration. Regardless, there are times when the listener might wish for a more reflective and less violently female-baiting narrator; absolution and regret aren't particularly high on his agenda when he proclaims "bitches ain't no good."
Words: Alex Ogg
If there's one thing Slick Rick has mastered, it is The Art of Storytelling. Ever since his debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, he has been known for his literate, winding narratives, but his career was marred by legal troubles that kept him in prison for much of the '90s. Consequently, The Art of Storytelling is only his fourth album, but it's the first to rank as a worthy sequel to his classic debut. The Ruler's Back came close to capturing the feel of The Great Adventures, but The Art has a continually stunning set of stories and tales, and the presence of guest artists -- even rappers as talented as OutKast, Nas, Raekwon, and Snoop Dogg -- only emphasizes what a singular talent Rick is. The smooth production may be a little bit mired in contemporary rap clichés, but it's all enjoyable. Besides, Rick is about the lyrics, not the music, and he has written a stellar set of songs here, songs that are continually surprising and thought-provoking. It's a masterful set from one of the true lyrical masters of hip-hop.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Part of a wave of compilations released in 2014 as part of Def Jam's 30th anniversary, this volume is the first proper Slick Rick anthology. It includes tracks from all four of the rapper's Def Jam albums: The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988), The Ruler's Back (1991), Behind Bars (1994), and The Art of Storytelling (1999). Most of the essential cuts are here, including "Children's Story," "Teenage Love," "I Shouldn't Have Done It," and "Street Talkin'" (featuring OutKast). Anyone with the slightest degree of interest in Slick Rick's best work should obtain the 1988 debut, but this does provide an adequate sampling of the catalog. [This was also released on CD as Icon.]