Music

A Story Untold

The Clever Case of Slick Rick

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SLICK RICK made a brief appearance in the 2011 documentary Rhyme and Punishment, a film concerned with socio-politics and the prison industrial complex in relation to rap.

But that footage was years old. And surely the Ruler's story is deserving of a documentary all its own. He's had an astonishing life:

The London-born Richard Walters moved to the Bronx in 1977 at the age of 12, and came of age alongside rap itself. His velvety soft yet crisply enunciated vocals, along with his sugary sweet, playfully deviant storytelling set him apart. In 1985, over a Doug E. Fresh beat, Rick rapped "La Di Da Di," which went on to become one of the most recognizable passages in the genre's history. In 1988, he released The Great Adventures of Slick Rick and scored hits with "Teenage Love" and "Children's Story."

Rick got big enough to need security, and hired a cousin. But the cousin attempted extortion. Rick fired the cousin, who then threatened Rick's family. Rick took justice into his own hands: In 1990, he shot the cousin as well as a bystander, and then crashed his car while trying to evade police. Def Jam Recordings CEO Russell Simmons paid his bail. They recorded bits of an album before Rick was found guilty of attempted murder.

After being released from jail in 1996, Rick returned to the studio in earnest. Rappers at the top of their game, including Nas, OutKast, and Snoop Dogg, lined up to appear on the record. The Art of Storytelling was released in 1999 and went gold.

In 2002, US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detained Rick after a performance aboard a cruise ship. On account of British citizenship and a prior conviction, he was slated to be deported but remained in custody for 17 months. Will Smith, Chris Rock, and Jesse Jackson wrote letters to INS. Rick fought the case, and, in 2008, was pardoned by New York Governor David Paterson.

Which brings us, basically, up to speed. And yet, something is missing.

Where has Rick been, both in life and in music? How does he see rap today? Why didn't he follow up the smash The Art of Storytelling? (Save for a handful of truly random, mostly saccharine guest spots, Rick has released essentially none of his own music in over 15 years.) Is he over it? Onto something else? What's up?

I wanted to ask those myself, but I couldn't get through. Regardless of the answers, the Ruler's back catalog still bumps, and his flow remains singular. Still, I just can't help but wonder: What's the third act?

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