Slick Rick ~ The Great Adventures of Slick Rick (1988)

Posted on July 7, 2012

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If ever a platinum album deserved its certification, it was this one. The Great Adventures of Slick Rick was a standout in a sea of brilliant albums released in 1988; brought to us by a designer original bred in The Bronx, by the name of Slick Rick.

Born in the South Wimbledon section of London, and raised in both South Wimbledon and The Bronx, Slick Rick (Ricky Walters) was the perfect mixture of style, substance, and skill. Born to Jamaican émigré parents in 1965, Rick’s family left London for New York City in 1975, where the adolescent Rickster began to cultivate a gift for storytelling. Rick’s poetical acumen began to congeal with the burgeoning Hip Hop scene in NYC; and as Rick came of age, his growing artistic bent led to enrollment in Manhattan’s La Guardia High School of Performing Arts, where Rick linked with likeminded schoolmate Dana McCleese (future rap icon Dana Dane), and formed a flamboyant group called the Kango Crew.

Rick, by now known as MC Ricky D, began slaying the competition in emcee contests across the Five Boroughs. One of these battles, at Harlem’s 369th Regiment Armory in 1984, proved fateful, as it was here that Ricky D met a Harlem resident named Doug E. Fresh, who was impressed by Rick’s style. That same year, Rick joined Doug’s group Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew; cut a classic single (1985’s “The Show” b/w “La Di Da Di”), followed by a tight album (1986’s Oh My God). Shortly after Oh My God dropped, Ricky D severed ties with Doug E Fresh; and Def Jam Records execs Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin sought him out, and signed Ricky D to Def Jam in 1987. Rick, who would become one of the most distinctive emcees in rap history, proved to be a handful in the recording studio, as he spurned the ideas of nearly every producer that tried to work with him from ‘87 through early 1988. By the fall of ’88, the winning formula had finally been found, as Run DMC great Jam Master Jay, along with Public Enemy producers The Bomb Squad, succeeded in helping Rick carry out his vision, through this 12-track masterwork.

The Great Adventures of Slick Rick is as immaculate as any rap album could be. Its twelve tracks bang like kettledrums; through sterling production from Slick Rick, Jam Master Jay, and The Bomb Squad’s Eric “Vietnam” Sadler and Hank Shocklee, along with ingenious lyrical templates from Slick Rick the Ruler. “Treat Her Like A Prostitute”, the album’s tongue-in-cheek opener, showcases Slick Rick’s verve and versatility immediately. Mixing hard truth with humor; Rick tells three engaging tales of female betrayal and infidelity, over a mid-tempo, boulevard shaking backdrop supplied by the Rickster himself. The immortal Jam Master Jay sits behind the mix board for “The Ruler’s Back”, a supreme banger where Jay concocts a thumping Camelot instrumental with regal horns, and Slick Rick uses it to slap peasants with his mic. The last minute or so of “The Ruler’s Back” is sonic bliss; as Jam Master Jay’s kingly track plays on exquisitely, until the song fades to black. The album’s next few selections spotlight Slick Rick’s unparalleled storytelling abilities. “Children’s Story”, the album’s biggest hit, is one of Hip Hop’s most multilateral songs; with Slick Rick painting a vivid portrait of a wayward youth’s destruction; while simultaneously vibrating dance floors and blowing truck woofers with a dense, sinister, and self-produced bounce track. “The Moment I Feared”, the first production offering from The Bomb Squad, is masterful and creepy; with an average Joe’s life torn asunder in a single weekend, over a murky interpolation of both James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and Bob James’ “Take Me To The Mardi Gras”. And on the whimsical “Indian Girl (An Adult Story)”, Rick tells a soft-core fable involving Davy Crockett and a Native American hottie, and brings the sexcapade home with a hilarious surprise ending.

The remaining songs on The Great Adventures of Slick Rick run the gamut; covering social matters, male-female relations, unabashed braggadocio, and of course, meticulous storyboarding. “Let’s Get Crazy” is a controlled chaos number produced by Hank Shocklee and Eric Sadler, where Slick Rick throws stoic gem stars and turns out the party, while his DJ Vance Wright mixes like a madman. The Bomb Squad-produced “Teenage Love”, another hit single from the album, is atypical of the beat team’s perceived sound. This cut eschews the combustible noise the Squad has long been known for, in favor of a butter-smooth rhythm track more suitable for slow dancing. And with this as his canvas, Rick the Ruler explores the rollercoaster ride of young love: from spending every waking moment with a lover, to growing apart and ultimately breaking up. On “Mona Lisa” Rick wears multiple hats; laying the bubbling track, which samples the Eastside Connection breakbeat staple “Frisco Disco”, and then performing as himself, his alter-ego Ricky D, a dimepiece he has a chance encounter with, and a friend that pulls him away from the dime, just as they begin to connect. On “Kit (What’s The Scoop)”, Rick revisits the 80’s cult television show Knight Rider; playing a crime fighter similar to the show’s main character Michael Knight, and using Knight’s talking Trans Am K.I.T.T. to retrieve his stolen crown. The splendid “Hey Young World” finds Rick once again handling myriad functions; constructing the gray-sky bounce track, and rhyming with himself in both straightforward and sing-song flows, as he drops wisdom pearls on the next generation. The album ends in grand fashion, with the capable assistance of The Bomb Squad. On “Teacher, Teacher”, Hank Shocklee and Eric Sadler fit Rick with waist-wiggling Funkadelic drums and lively horn hits, which Rick uses to shake off style biters like fleas. And the closer “Lick The Balls” is an epic display of skill and ego, set to a strutting gangsta funk track from The Bomb Squad.

The Great Adventures of Slick Rick is notable on many fronts. For starters, it’s one of the most seamless rap albums aver recorded, with nary an ounce of wasted space from the first track to the last. Secondly, it’s an album that somehow managed to stand out in a year filled with superb rap releases. Even with exceptional albums like Long Live the Kane (Big Daddy Kane), Strictly Business (EPMD), and Follow the Leader (Eric B & Rakim) in the marketplace, this release managed to hold its own, and carve out its own place in the minds of listeners. And, lastly, this album was the full unveiling of a truly magnificent mic wielder. Slick Rick added new scope to the art of MC’ing, with a cruise control flow, superb articulation, awe-inspiring storytelling skills, and a blend of British charm and Bronx swagger that influenced both his contemporaries (Dana Dane) and his followers (Snoop Dogg).

In its time, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick was enormously successful. The album was certified platinum within a year of its release, selling well over one million copies in the United States, and being widely recognized as one of the best rap albums ever made. Sadly, though, Slick Rick would not have the chance to build on this album’s momentum. An extortion plot hatched against Rick by his cousin Mark Plummer, coupled with alleged death threats made by Plummer against Rick, his mother, his girl, and his then-unborn son Ricky Jr., led to Rick shooting his cousin in 1990. Plummer survived the attack; Rick was convicted of attempted murder, and was then sentenced to 3 ½ to 10 years in prison. Through the aid of Def Jam CEO Russell Simmons, as well as “good behavior” work releases from the New York State parole board, Rick was able to deliver two more albums – 1991’s The Ruler’s Back, and 1994’s Behind Bars – while still incarcerated. In 1999, after being released from prison, Slick Rick was finally able to follow up his debut, with the gold-selling set The Art of Storytelling; but his troubles with the law were not over, as he’d be hounded incessantly in the new millennium: threatened with deportation for being a convicted immigrant felon, in a post 9/11 America. In 2008, New York governor David Paterson granted Rick a full pardon for his attempted murder charges, and closed an undoubtedly trying chapter in the Ruler’s life.

Personal and career stressors aside, Slick Rick has left an indelible mark on Hip Hop; through the polish and style that was all his own, the gift with wordplay and fabling that became his signature, and the catalog of classic material he’s recorded. Whether he will ever eclipse this album is anyone’s guess. But one thing’s almost certain: The Great Adventures of Slick Rick will be embedded in the minds of rap fans forever.

To listen to The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, click here.

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