O2 Academy Bristol

While many hip-hop acts of years gone by go through the motions of visiting the UK for an annual run of shows, there was a particular sense of intrigue surrounding Slick Rick’s ‘Coming Home’ tour.

The 51-year-old London-born rapper has spent the majority of his lifetime in the US, and having been incarcerated during the peak of his fame, Slick Rick’s criminal record restricted his ability to travel. But after being pardoned for his crimes in 2008 and then finally confirming a dual citizenship earlier this year, the old school legend was able to book his first ever UK tour. This promised a sense of the unknown which was much more exciting than the usual rinse-repeat rap nostalgia.

But 25 minutes later than planned stage time, the mystery of the unknown is wearing thin. A countdown appears on the big screen with a gaudy typeface which, almost endearingly, looks more like an accidental parody rather than a blockbuster. The footage then runs through a timeline of The Ruler’s rich history. Headlines and newspaper clippings swirl round the screen as reporters narrate his rise to fame. This set the tone for the rest of the show – while drenched in a coat of dated chic, the charm of a seasoned figure shone through.

It’s in moments of spontaneity that we catch a glimpse of the man behind the caricature. Slick Rick spends most of his time on stage ambling around, hand in pocket, exercising his talent rather than flashing it. Running through irresistible hits such as Children’s Story and Hey Young World, The Ruler seems content with serving the crowd exactly what they want. The theatrics are provided by the mise en scène – white-draped turntables, the diamanté microphone, a luxury 2-seat settee and those increasingly distracting visuals.

There’s a break in proceedings when his DJ begins beatboxing as Slick Rick runs through La Di Da Di. It’s a stripped down moment and it’s a definite highlight – the strange, childlike tone of his voice which always made him so distinctive comes into sharp focus and it sounds almost fully intact. Rick’s eccentric vocals also shine through during a rendition of 1991 cut I Shouldn’t Have Done It, which gets a great response.

The allure and curiosity surrounding Slick Rick’s return might have outweighed his actual performance, but there’s no denying the excitement of witnessing such an iconic figure bless the UK with his presence after so many years.

Photo: Martin Thompson