Coronavirus update: View cancelled events here

The Essential Slick Rick

As the legendary rapper gets ready to head to return to the UK for LIMF, Jimmy Coultas runs down his ultimate tracks.

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 17th Jul 2017

Image: Slick Rick (Credit)

In the rugged world of hip-hop there are few rappers who stand on their own terms quite as well as Slick Rick. A softly spoken storyteller of considerable lyrical renown, his trademark attire of lavish gold chains, crown and distinctive eye patch have helped mark him out as one of the genre's most unique voices, proving hugely influential in the careers of the likes of Outkast, Snoop Dogg, and Ghostface Killah.

Despite being born in the UK and living here for the first eleven years of his childhood, various issues dictated that he had never toured the land before. That change when he touched down for a handful of dates last November, and he's back again on July 23rd alongside the Jungle Brothers and more at Liverpool International Music Festival.

As such we've gone through the rapper's catalogue to chronicle the essential music you need in your life, whether you're a lifelong fan or someone new to the velvet-voiced don's charms. Y'all tucked in? Heeeerrrrrrre we go...

Slick Rick & Doug E Fresh 'La Di Da Di' (1985)

Find Slick Rick tickets.

Rick's major introduction to the planet came via 'The Show', an Inspector Gadget theme sampling monster which saw him rapping alongside a beatboxing Doug E Fresh. But it's this, the b-side to the release, which is the greatest starting point for him.

One of the first ever proper storytelling songs in hip hop, and certainly its first great one, it showed exactly how leftfield he was compared to others. Dedicating an obscene 24 bars to his daily grooming routine, he then describes a mother and daughter fighting over his affections, memorably calling himself a conceited bastard in the process. One of hip hop's true mavericks was in the building.

Children's Story (1988)

This isn't just the greatest Slick Rick track of all time, it has a legitimate claim to be considered one of the most important in hip hop, period. The lead single from his classic debut Great Adventures of Slick Rick, it's by far and away the number one story telling record the music has ever seen, four minutes of perfection which has been covered and interpolated by the likes of Eminem, Mos Def, Tricky and The Game.

It's the ultimate cautionary crime tale, as Rick recounts the plight of a young criminal heading towards his untimely demise. Lyrically it's almost nursery rhyme like, not a swear word in sight for a devilishly simple but brilliantly rhythmic affair, all over a self-produced beat underpinned by a simple looping of timeless break 'Nautilus' from Bob James.

Rick often eschewed politics during his career, swaying dangerously towards some of the more ignorant traits of the genre at times ('Treat her like a Prostitute' one, albeit brilliantly humorous, example). But here he was in fine fettle, a number of subtle references to police brutality and the system engulfing black America most chillingly exemplified by the outro, where the kids dismiss his attempt to lead them down the right path proof of the depressing reality of the unbreakable cycle society faces. 

Detailed without being too wordy, this is how storytelling in any form of music should be done, each word an acute lesson in economy of vivid description. Fellow rapper Rakim famously said "if Slick Rick is talking about running through a park, you smelt the grass", and no truer is that acument displayed than on this.

'I shouldn't have done it' (1991)

Find Slick Rick tickets.

Rick's sophomore LP The Ruler's Back was filled for the most part with duds, the faster paced hip hop of the time not as well suited to Ricky's silken drawl. The result was an album that never scaled the same critical or commercial heights of its predecessor.

This, however, stood out, particularly as he put himself in the position of the one causing the infidelity as opposed to the brazen slut shaming he had followed in the past. It also comes with an ending even darker than anything he'd done before, further proof of his ability to release singles with chilling twists after luring the listener in. 

Nice & Smooth ft Slick Rick 'Let's all get down'

Rick's talent for storytelling meant that he was much better when controlling the whole of the song, not a hired gun who would eviscerate a track in the way that the likes of Notorious B.I.G or Busta Rhymes did when guest versing. Nevertheless his voice has still enriched a number of records over the years, no better than this Nice & Smooth cut.

Over a vintage Greg Nice beat Ricky is philosophical about how to approach life since being released from prison, eschewing weed and other temptations as part of a new focus to stay out of trouble. But, of course, women are still falling over themselves to get near him.

'Behind Bars' (Dum Ditty Dum Mix)' ft Warren G (1994)

Find Slick Rick tickets.

1994's Behind Bars didn't garner any level of acclaim or sales at the time of its release, but it saw him paired with more classic boom bap producers, the likes of Pete Rock, Large Professor and Easy Mo Bee all bringing their behind-the-boards panache for what remains an underrated opus.

The titular track exemplified this, underpinned via a head nodding beat from De la Soul collaborator Prince Paul, but it was on the Dum Ditty Dum remix of it where Rick's wider influence was best showcased. Here Long Beach, California rapper and producer Warren G further ratcheted up the West Coast love in for Slick Rick, following on from Snoop's cover of 'La Di Da Di' on his 1993 album Doggystyle.

It could have become an obvious cash but Warren's aquatic production allows Rick's lyrics, which focused on recounting the plights suffered in jail by many in his situation, the opportunity to breathe. This version - sans Warren's verse - would then go on to become the album's main single.

Outkast ft Slick Rick 'Da Art of Storytellin' (Remix) (1999)

Rick may have started the storytelling, but the baton has been since taken on board by a glut of emcees over the years. Biggie's 'Warning', Immortal Technique's 'Dance with the Devil, and Scarface's 'I seen a man die' are all among the great ones, so too Outkast's aptly titled track from 1998 LP Aquemini. Andre 3000's verse has since gone down as one of the finest in history, capped off by a Rick-esque emotional power punch of an ending.

So naturally who do you invite to hop on the remix but the Ruler himself? His effort isn't quite up there with Andre's turn but it bangs nevertheless, setting the golden age emcee up for his next album which would take the same name and release date of the single, an expert moment of marketing synergy augmented by Outkast appearing on the brilliant 'Street Talkin'.

'Adults Only' (1999)

Find Slick Rick tickets.

The Art of Storytelling proved to be an amazing return to form for Rick, the aforementioned Outkast collab one of many brilliant pairings with Rick and the most feted rappers of the time - Nas, Canibus and Raekwon among the guests.

But it's this solo cut, a delicious slab of storytelling noir, that really sets him apart. It's further proof of his ability to get inside the human psyche of desire and lust, as he recounts his efforts to convince his lovers to take it up the bum over a subtle but sinister beat from Ruff Ryders producer Dame Grease.

This is a literal checklist of the traits which make him such a unique emcee, off-kilter subject matter, brilliant humour (one laugh out loud lyric: "cum on the floor, she said "pardon the puddle"), and expert usage of that voice, softly ushering you through the tale in the same way he no doubt seduced the track's protagonists.

'So Fresh' Will Smith ft Biz Markie & Slick Rick (1999)

Will Smith's second solo album Willenium was pretty much one of the most awful things about hip hop in 1999, but standing out of it all was this old school reunion monster which paired together the heavy hitters of the late eighties.

The whole thing is a love-in to a bygone age, Jazzy Jeff's beat, the b-boy focused video and the cast list, so all Rick needs to do is pop up and floss on his own story to date, in the process reminding all concerned just how great he truly is.

'Women lose Weight' Morcheeba ft Slick Rick (2002)

The most recent track has aged the worst, with Morcheeba's post trip-hop beat sounding dated fourteen years later. Luckily Rick's macabre lyrics haven't aged at all, a sinister story about how plotting to kill his wife due him no longer finding her attractive since she piled on the pounds.

It's crude and shocking, but also absolutely brilliant, pushing the boundaries of acceptability through dark humour and an exemplary knack to vividly recount a tale. Which pretty much sums up one of the most truly original emcees to ever pick up a microphone.

Slick Rick will play Liverpool International Music Festival on Sunday 23rd July as part of a big hip-hop show at the Palm House in Sefton Park.