A modern rap music genius, Slick Rick’s legend precedes him like no others. Originally known as Doug E. Fresh’s vocal partner in the Get Fresh Crew, MC Ricky D’s (as he was then known) unforgettable performances on 1985’s double-sided single, “The Show” b/w “La Di Da Di,” brought a new kind of hip hop hero to light. Suave, debonair and capable of both great poignancy and bawdy humor, Rick’s charisma wouldn’t actually flourish fully until the commencement of his own solo career. Highlighted by classics like “Children’s Story,” “Mona Lisa” and “Hey Young World,”1988’s platinum selling The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick found the U.K. Expatriate/Bronx resident displaying a remarkable talent for wit-filled narratives like some lyrical crossbreed of Bob Dylan and Richard Pryor. And his influence on a generation of rappers-from Snoop Dogg to the late Notorious B.I.G.- continues to be felt through contemporary times.
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Sadly, tragedy would strike before Rick could completely capitalize on the fruits of his success. A well-publicized incident that landed Rick in jail from 1990 through 1996 would form part of the subject matter of his next two releases-1990’s The Ruler’s Back and 1995’s Behind Bars (both recorded during stints outside of prison). However now, after three years comes news from the East that will warm the hearts of rap fans worldwide: with his new album, The Art of Storytelling, hip hop’s most storied storyteller, Slick Rick, makes his triumphant return. “I decide to call the album ‘The Art of Storytelling’ because that is exactly what I am known for! I wanted re-introduce the art form by making an album that included many different variations of stories and rap styles.”
Having survived some of the most tumultuous events to touch any recording artist in history, Slick Rick’s rejuvenation is joyously evident throughout The Art of Storytelling. With production contributions from an all-star line-up that includes Dame Grease (DMX, The Lox), Clark Kent, Large Professor and Rashad Smith, the LP’s varied beats provide the ideal complement to the Ruler’s profound tales and keen observations of life. In the tradition of his past recorded romantic episodes, “Two Way Street” finds Ricky’s character testing his fidelity to his wife over hooky vibraphone hits. Marked by a hypnotic drum pattern and guitar strums, “Who Rotten “Em” cleverly transports us back to ancient Egypt for a story involving a slave who wins the friendship of a pharaoh due to his rhyme skills. And on “Kill N***z,” Rick draws from his own experiences by dramatizing a man’s release from prison and subsequent reversion to a violent vigilante lifestyle. Finally, childlike voices awaken him from his “Children’s Story”-like nightmare.
“That song is a story that shows how easily you could get slipped into being labeled as the bad guy, even though what you really trying to do is tell the bad guy to leave you alone,” Rick sagely states of the last selection. “It’s on the good value of the person’s character. But I’ve been in that trap. I went to jail for that, so I wouldn’t really want to influence nobody to do the same thing.”
Compellingly vivid as such stories are, as Rick explains, the genesis of such narrative nuances may be traced to his childhood: “When I was little, I always used to like to tell stories cuz it was entertaining to people. And to turn it into rap wasn’t too difficult besides just rhymin’ the last words of each line. It adds a little mystique to rap. It draws you in and creates pictures, so what I do is almost like a talking story book.”
Elsewhere, the more openly humorous side of Rick’s persona rears its mischievous longtime fans, Snoop Dogg, for a funky boastfest of unprecedented proportions, The DJ S&S-produced party starter, “Impress The Kid,” rocks a minimalist bassline groove into submission while Rick re-interprets the sing-songy hook of Van McCoy’s ‘70s disco anthem “The Hustle.” Meanwhile, tracks like the Jermaine Dupri-duet, “Fresh,” and future mack daddy theme songs, “I Sparkle” and “Trapped In Me,” have Rick slipping comfortably back into the creative niche his eye-patched image has defined for so many years-”the black Clark Gable,” if you will.
Collaborations on the album highlight his obvious influences on the new crop of emcees currently on top. Included on the album are a few of today brightest stars such as Nas on “Me & Nas Bring It to You The Hardest,” Raekwon of Wu-Tang on “Frozen,” and Big Boi of Outkast on “Street Talkin’”. Chosen to be the first single, “Street Talkin’” addresses braggadocio and conceit, something he is considered to be the originator and master of. “Street Talkin is two different states laying down their rap slang,” says Rick. “What inspired me for this song, was a mission to clear the air about being overly conceited, by explaining that I am not claiming anything that I have earned.” The single features Big Boi of Outkast who he met when asked to appear on “The Art of Storytelling,” a song that ended up being the second single from Outkast’s platinum album Aquemini.
Slick Rick obviously still gives a damn. In addressing his newest batch of creations, he is surprisingly candid about the circumstances under which his last two albums were made. “Those two were rushed,” Rick confesses without hesitation. “They was less from the heart and more from the feeling that I had to do them. I really can’t make any excuses for it. They wasn’t good at all and this new one is far better. I think that because the stress of my past situation in is now gone, I can be in more of a relaxed state of mind to create.
“When you start gettin’ back into the flavor and the fun of making music,” the 33-year-old rhyme veteran continues reflectively, “it doesn’t really matter how old you are. Just as long as you can still entertain people at a high rate.”
An entertainer of unparalleled ingenuity, Slick Rick’s gifts may finally again be shared with the public. More great adventures await.
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