Arguably one of the most distinctive rappers of all time, Slick Rick perfected an anecdotal style that has echoed across hip-hop’s entire history. After the release of his debut solo album The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, the rapper was involved in an altercation with his cousin and former bodyguard which led to him being incarcerated during the height of his fame. Having been born in London, Slick Rick’s issues with immigration authorities have restricted his abilitwy to travel outside the US. But in 2008, the then New York Governor granted Slick Rick an unconditional pardon, and earlier this year he finally acquired his US citizenship. As he prepares for his first ever UK tour, we caught up with The Ruler to discuss the peaks and troughs of his dramatic career.
Early Years: Moving to the US and Embracing hip-hop
When I was little I was used to the English culture of the 60s – The Beatles and the cold and the rain. Then when I was 11 we moved to the Bronx. I was always into writing stories to entertain people and when the rap came out and exploded on the African-American community, we took the storytelling and put it into rhyme form. Later, Doug E Fresh was hosting a rap battle in The Bronx. This kid I knew from school was in it, and I went with him. Dougie noticed me, and that was it. It was like sparks from then on. We made La Di Da Di and The Show and that was the beginning.
“The nature of hip-hop is to have soul and grit. It’s not only about making money”
1968-88: Recording and Release of The Great Adventures of Slick Rick
Well after branching from Dougie, I had to make my own solo album. I just started learning how to fondle with the music by myself. Jam Master Jay helped me out a little something something plus a couple other producers, and we came up with Great Adventures. It went platinum and it was like a fantasy. It was like the top of the mountain for a young American youth. You reached a level of celebrity where you was rolling with your idols and the people of that status, Kool Moe Dee, Flash and LL Cool J.
1990-1997: Arrest and Jail Time, The Ruler’s Back and Behind Bars
At the time, when you go from you regular little 9-5 to celebrity status, a lot of us would hire a relative that had street credibility, but eventually they start to take advantage of you and stuff like that. That’s what I did, next thing I know I feel like my life is in danger – one thing led to another, and you know the rest. Then I went into that other adventure of imprisonment. Now you’re restricted, you may not be crazy for it but it still keeps you on the schedule and you’re exercising. You gotta lot of time to write and do everything to perfect your hobby. Other than that it’s scary and you gotta know how to move and shake. The albums I released at that time was made when I was out on bail for a little while. So I was making two or three albums in a rush to keep my name alive over the sentence.
1999: Release of Critically Acclaimed, Commercially Successful Album The Art Of Storytelling
We made that up in a quiet area and we had enough time to do our thing nice and slow and calm. It was a great feeling to work with guys like OutKast and Nas. These guys were the icons of the game at that time. Their name gave your light to their audience and the younger generation. Being sampled by Snoop Dogg and everybody also helps keep your name alive. Shout out to all the vets that helped out.
Current Day: US Citizenship and Return to the UK
It feels great to be back to your hometown, your birthplace. It’s been a minute. Beyond the music I’m really into the fashion game. Plus I got some buildings in the Bronx where I play landlord. Other than that it’s making sure that the game is alive and well and has a certain amount of grit. That also goes with the clothes and the jewels – everything has to have a certain amount of representation for this culture. The youth is gonna be the youth, but from my aspect we gotta make sure that we maintain that grit, we don’t go too far off course from the nucleus of what this game really is. The nature of this thing is to have soul and bring it to your peeps so they can have fun. It’s grit. It’s not only about making money. It’s making sure that everyone has a good time and it’s modern and relevant. I’m planning on putting out another album through the internet. I want to make people have fun, tell stories and get to know the Slick Rick brand.
Slick Rick’s ‘Coming Home’ tour begins at Mantra, Manchester, 25 November