Born Richard (Ricky) Walters on January 14, 1965, in South Wimbledon, England, to Jamaican parents; family emigrated to the United States, settled in the Bronx, New York, in the late 1970s. Addresses: Record company--Def Jam Music Group, 160 Varick St., New York, NY 10013.
British-born rap artist Slick Rick epitomized the "pimpster" attitude, complete with rope gold chains, diamond rings, flashy suits, and Rick's own distinctive eye-patch, when he came into the rap/hip-hop scene during the 1980s. His 1989 debut album The Great Adventures of Slick Rick rose to platinum status, and his image of material excess, as well as his use of explicit lyrics, helped shape the direction of rap music for years to come. However, just as Rick's future seemed certain, in 1990 the young rapper was sentenced to a six-year prison sentence for attempted murder. Although he released two albums from behind bars, projects that Rick and many hip-hop fans would rather forget, neither matched the commercial success of his first release. He later admitted to URB magazine, "They were garbage. I didn't like them, I thought they were junk... It was a rushed job, it was terrible, it was horrible. It was a bad job." Then, following his release from jail in 1996, Rick emerged again in 1999 with a more substantial collection of hip-hop songs entitled The Art of Storytelling.
While some hip-hop fans viewed Rick as a rapper beyond his prime and not part of the new look of rap--which had traded the gold jewelry and bright-colored suits in for designer sportswear and Nike basketball shoes--most welcomed the return of his old school style and accented storytelling. Likewise Rick, who promised not to retire his suits and chains, agreed, reassuring URB that "I think it's what hip-hop needs.... I think it's always good to see a star. You don't want to always see somebody regularly dressed. Sometimes you want to see color, you want to see something that's pretty to look at."
Born Richard Walters to Jamaican parents in South Wimbledon, London, on January 14, 1965, Rick was blinded by a piece of broken glass as an infant. He took to wearing an eye patch from an early age, an accessory that would later serve as part of his image. In the late 1970s at age 14, he emigrated with his family to the Bronx in New York and attended the La Guardia High School of Music and Art. At school, he met and befriended another future rapper, Dana Dane, and the two boys formed the Kangol Crew and began performing at hip-hop parties around their neighborhood. During one performance in 1984, Rick met rap artist Doug E. Fresh, who asked him to play with his Get Fresh Crew (which also included Chill Will and Barry Bee). By 1985, Fresh saw one of the groups songs called "The Show" ascend to number four on the R&B charts, and the single "La-Di-Da-Di" would become a rap classic. Upon the success of their hit singles, MC Ricky D, as Rick was then known, left the Get Fresh Crew in 1987 to sign a solo contract with Def Jam Records, the biggest label in hip-hop at the time.
In 1988, Rick reinvented himself as Slick Rick and released his debut album entitled The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, which became an instant rap classic. As with the Get Fresh Crew, Rick continued to deliver his rhymes in his relaxed and signature British/Bronx drawl, but some of his songs were now loaded with shocking vulgarity and misogynistic lyrics. Although the single "Treat Her Like a Prostitute" became a street favorite, most R&B radio stations refused to play the degrading song. Instead, they pushed his duet with singer Al B. Sure! called "If I'm Not Your Lover," which climbed to number two in 1989. Also that year, the single "Children's Story," a song which ambiguously moralized criminal behavior and pioneered the hip-hop storytelling aesthetic, made it to the R&B top five list. Other tracks including "Mona Lisa," "Hey Young World," and "Teenage Love," in addition to "Children's Story," were deemed the rapper's best works.
While Rick had always shunned the "gangsta" aspect often associated with rap music in his private life, the criminality he sometimes alluded to in his debut album eventually came to depict his own reality. In early 1990, he was charged with and later convicted of attempted murder after he shot at his cousin, who Rick claimed had harassed his mother, and led police on a high-speed chase. While awaiting sentencing, Rick hastily recorded 21 songs for follow-up albums. Later that year, Rick headed to prison in upstate New York to begin a six-year jail term. In 1991, with Rick now locked in a jail cell, the rap artist released his second album entitled The Ruler's Back, named for a track on his debut. Despite his recent run-in with the law, critics felt he used surprisingly good judgment by not making use of his legal situation and in toning down his offensive lyrics. Rather, Rick opted to relate a tale of regret with "I Shouldn't Have Done It," an account of a drug deal in "Bond," and a romantic endeavor with "Venus." In addition, The Ruler's Back featured faster dance beats and loops of the hit "La-Di-Da-Di." Nonetheless, Rick's second effort failed to sell, even though his confessional "I Shouldn't Have Done It" single appeared on the R&B charts later that year.
In 1993, Rick was allowed to leave prison for a time on a work release program and recorded tracks for his 1994 Behind Bars album. Except for the opening title track, the rapper declined to elaborate on his experiences as a prisoner. The project also included leftover songs recorded in 1990, a cameo appearance by Fresh for the successful ballad "Sittin' in My Car" (a remake of Billy Stewart's "Sitting in the Park"), and remixes of Rick's previous work. However, his offensive rhetoric came to light again in songs such as "A Love That's True," which offers the fatherly advice "Son... you just don't trust no bitch." Like Rick's 1991 release, the obviously fragmented Behind Bars failed to attract rap and hip-hop record buyers and did little to further Rick's career.
After Rick completed his prison sentence in 1996, he started to stage a comeback by making guest appearances with other artists such as Dave Hollister, Kid Capri, and Montell Jordan. In the meantime, he started work on a new album. In the late spring of 1999, Def Jam released The Art of Storytelling, another example of Rick steering clear from the thug life. "To (glorify the gangsta life) would be to fall into a trap and glorify negativity," Rick explained to Errol Nazareth of the Toronto Sun. "The youth [younger rap artists] say a lot of crazy things. They promote selling drugs, gangsterism, robbing each other and all that stuff. It makes black people look real ignorant, you know what I mean? I can't get with that. I can't see myself, at 34 years old, promoting robbery or the sale of crack cocaine."
Instead, The Art of Storytelling resurrected the artist's cinematic tales of X-rated fantasies, as well as his humorous old-school rap technique. In the song "Who Rotten 'Em," Rick returns to ancient Egypt and imagines himself as a rapping slave. The more cohesive record, which also included tightly constructed songs like "2 Way Street," "I Sparkle," and "I Own America Part I" proved that Rick was well on his way to reassuming his former reputation as a talented rap artist. While critics agreed that Rick performed at his best on the solo tracks, the album also featured appearances from fellow rappers and hip-hop artists such as Clark Kent, Large Professor, Q-Tip, Nas, Outkast, and Raekwon.
by Laura Hightower
Slick Rick's Career
Met fellow rapper Dana Dane while attending La Guardia High School of Music and Art; Rick and Dane formed the Kangol Crew and performed at hip-hop clubs; met Doug E. Fresh in 1984 and joined his Get Fresh Crew as MC Ricky D; signed solo contract with Def Jam Records, 1987; reinvented himself as Slick Rick and released solo debut The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, which earned platinum status, 1988; convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to six years in jail, 1990; released two albums during prison sentence, The Ruler's Back ,1991, and Behind Bars,1994; released from prison, 1996; released The Art of Storytelling, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Children's Story/Teacher , Teacher, Def Jam, 1988.
- Teenage Love/Treat Her Like a Prostitute , Def Jam, 1988.
- Hey Young World/Mona Lisa , Def Jam, 1989.
- It's a Boy/King , Def Jam, 1991.
- Mistakes of a Woman in Love with Other Men/Venus , Def Jam, 1991.
- Sittin' in My Car/Cuz It's Wrong , Def Jam, 1995.
- "I Shouldn't Have Done It," Def Jam, 1991.
- "Behind Bars," Def Jam, 1994.
- The Great Adventures of Slick Rick , Def Jam, 1988.
- The Ruler's Back , Def Jam, 1991.
- Behind Bars , Def Jam, 1994.
- The Art of Storytelling , Def Jam, 1999.
November 7, 2003: Slick Rick was released from prison a week after a New York judge ruled that the government mishandled the rapper's immigration case and falsely imprisoned him. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, November 10, 2003.
- Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock, Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1997.
- Business Wire, May 12, 1999.
- Newsday, December 18, 1994, p. 21.
- People, January 30, 1989, p. 18.
- The Record (Bergen County, NJ), August 29, 1991, p.d12.
- Toronto Sun, May 28, 1999, p. 79.
- URB, August 1999, pp.60-61.
- Vibe, June/July 1999.
- Washington Post, May 26, 1999, p. C05.
- "Slick Rick," All Music Guide website, http://www.allmusic.com (September 3, 1999).
- "Slick Rick," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (September 4, 1999).