Image: Mantra Warehouse
Of all the golden era rappers Slick Rick has been the most mercurial. Whilst De la Soul, KRS-One, Public Enemy and Rakim have frequently toured and continued recording well into this century, Rick's last album was 1999's tremendous Art of Storytelling, with his guest spots memorable but equally infrequent.
Part of that has stemmed down to the issues arising from his 1990 incarceration for attempted murder, with deportation hanging over his head for much of the last decade. That also ensured that, whilst his US touring has been regular, appearances anywhere else on the globe for his talents have been nonexistent. The UK, the place he spent his first 11 years, had never seen a Slick Rick live show.
So when the news dropped that Richard Walters was finally coming home back in September, b-boys of a certain age, this writer included, descended into pandemonium. Slick Rick on these shores wasn't just unlikely, it was nigh on unimaginable, making the show as a spectacle fascinating even before a single stanza was spit.
The tour kicked off in Manchester on Friday 25th November, the first show in the hands of an independent promoter in More Bounce - a nice touch to reward one of the many hard working individuals that keep live hip hop alive in the UK (another in Tony Spreadlove was involved in several of the other dates). At the show his djing alongside Manchester emcee Fallacy helped amp the crowd before Ricky's entrance, boom bap staples such as Mobb Deep's 'Shook Ones' doing the job of heightening the anticipation.
DJ Kaoz then appeared behind his turntables, alongside a drummer, the excitement becoming palpable as Rick's emergence became more and more . Two female backing singers, brilliantly dubbed The Rickettes, then flanked the opposite side of the stage before video footage of the negative press coverage was shown on the backing screens for the low ceiling stage.
And then suddenly a figure appeared and Slick Rick was on stage. Dressed in a white linen suit and lime green shirt, fedora and a ridiculous amount of jewellery (the gold chains of 1988 given a millennium upgrade), it was attire that would be garish in the hands of anyone else, but not Rick.
Looking louche, he then tore through a set which pulled mainly on the undisputed charm of his old school heydey, with a handful of nods to his late nineties renaissance. The latter was best exemplified by his Outkast medley of their 'The Art of Storytelling' and 'Street Talkin', the two 1999 singles that featured both artists (Big Boi sadly not joining him on stage).
The UK might have been robbed of Rick in his prime but he was clearly in the mood to make up for the lost years, the show living up the legacy of what made him such an enduring artist. The nonchalance and laid back demeanour that epitomised his delivery was mirrored by his stage presence, cutting a fairly static figure with one hand grappling the mic and the other casually in a pocket.
Further footage from films like The Matrix merged with his own music videos, with his backing performers adding to the gravitas of it all. One particularly brilliant moment came when his wife replaced one chain with an even bigger bejewelled behemoth - Slick Rick may be 51, but he still flosses better than any rapper out there.
Staples like 'Mona Lisa' and 'La Di Da Di' all went down a storm, and it wasn't just the chains which got a thirty-year update as Rick left out some of the more misogynistic lyrics, showing his conscience had moved in the times. It all ended on a truly magnificent rendition of 'Children's Story', the crowd lapping it up with a return word for word of the song's timeless appeal.
A grinning Rick momentarily milked the applause before walking off, in the process bringing an end to one of the most historical moments in UK hip hop. The wait was undeniably far too long, but undeniably worth it, the Ruler's return living up the hype.
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