As the gap between the old school and new school becomes broader and more apparent, so does the necessity for icons like Slick Rick to be honored. On this, the 29th anniversary of his classic Def Jam debut The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick, we thought we’d take a few minutes to help newer/younger fans understand why us “old heads” hold Ricky D in such reverence after all these years.
It’s kind of hard for anyone under 25 to conceptualize a time when Hip Hop wasn’t a well-oiled machine with multiple touchpoints and sub-genres, but there was a time when it was a lot more … straightforward, for lack of a better term. Much like Rakim, who came in the game with a level of wordplay that blew people away, Slick Rick — a member of Dougie Fresh’s Get Fresh Crew — brought a level of storytelling to the genre that has carried forward and created a platform for generations of artists after him to bring that thematic, content-rich song layout to the game.
“Children’s Story” and “Mona Lisa” were marvels on so many levels; the way that Rick switched up his voice to give life to multiple characters, his crystal clear vocals, the friendly/approachable English accent — it changed the game. His entire debut was full of gems, like “Moment I Feared,” which follows Rick on a possibly the most unfortunate series of back to back events ever, or “Kit,” where he and the infamous car from Nightrider attempt to find Rick’s stolen crown (a reference to bummy impersonators).
“I was never the type to say freestyle raps, I usually tell a story, and to do that well I’ve always had to work things out beforehand.“ — Slick Rick
Then there was the letter to the youth of the late 80’s “Hey Young World,” which I’ve written about in detail in the past:
“The average (young) hip-hop head in NYC in the late 80’s, early 90’s lived through some arguably wild shit. 1989–1993 saw the highest crime rates in the history of the city, teen pregnancy levels were at an all-time high, and the effects of the crack epidemic were everywhere. This was the breeding ground for much of the golden era that hip-hop heads revere so much. It was also during this time that Slick Rick addressed the youth of the time with his classic record.”
Rick did suffer some setbacks in the 90s after catching an attempted murder charge for shooting at former bodyguard — also clipping a bystander in the foot. However, Behind Bars, released during his incarceration, is in my top 50 records ever list, and his Art Of Storytelling LP was a cornerstone of my High School years.
All that to say, if you were born in the 90s, Rick hasn’t done very much for you. However, your fave artist with a storytelling style was likely influenced by another artist who was affected by the greatness of Ricky D. Lets revisit some of our fave cuts from his debut, below.