THE BEGINNING OF AN ERA
As one of the premier voices to emerge from eighties hip-hop culture, rapper Slick Rick has been influential from the moment he stepped in front of a microphone. Beginning rap as a hobby when he was still a sharp-tongued high school student, the emerging wordsmith verbally fought to be the best. Battling in the lunchroom with his friends, including future “Delancey Street” rapper Dana Dane, the immigrant kid named Ricky Martin Lloyd Walters, who hailed from Mitchum-Surrey, England, was a high school art major who was simultaneously learning to paint pictures with the words tumbled from his tongue.
Creating vivid narratives inspired by spectacle of his new surroundings in the Bronx, he began calling himself “MC Ricky D” and created a persona to fit his lush lyrics.
Setting out on the New York City rap circuit, Rick performed locally at school contests, on park benches and inside local holes in the wall.
It wasn’t long before he met Harlem based rapper Doug E. Fresh, who was the judge at a talent show that Rick entered. Noting Rick’s talent, Doug brought him on board as a member of his already established Get Fresh Crew.
A PASSION FOR FASHION
From the moment Ricky entered the professional vocal booth in 1985, to record the double-single gem that was “The Show” and “La-Di-Da-Di,” a song he’s penned before meeting Doug, he was a meek narrating genius, displaying five Ricky’s in one body: producer, lyricist, actor, director and singer.
Projecting a fresh verbal flow and a scorching storytelling style, the million-selling single became the launching pad for one of hip-hop’s most iconic voices as “La-Di-Da-Di” became a worldwide anthem that has since been sampled or interpolated on over 600 records.
Wearing fashionable suits, Bally shoes and his trademark Ray Ban sunglasses, Ricky became an overnight sensation. On stage at now-legendary clubs Harlem World and Union Square, the always dapper rapper “dressed to impress,” and became equally known for his gold chains and diamond rings. Blinded in his left eye from a childhood accident in his native London, Rick began sporting an eye patch. The perfect prototype for the future jiggy generation, Rick’s stylish flamboyance inspired Puffy, Biggie, Ghostface, Nas and Jay-Z.
A CHANGE IN STYLE
In 1986, a year after at the frantic urging of record executive Lyor Cohn, he signed with Def Jam Records and Rush Management, both the start-ups of enterpriser Russell Simmons. The lanky rapper kept his Kangol cap, but changed his moniker to the more mature sounding Slick Rick.
Partnering with his friend DJ Vance Wright on the wheels of steel, Ricky went into the studio, and emerged with a tour de force that was cocky, brash, funny, and, yet, emotional, humble, dynamic, and mystique. Composing rhymes that were like short stories, Ricky wrote with a stylish urban honesty that rapper MC Serch once compared to Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.
THE GREAT ADVENTURES OF SLICK RICK
Releasing the much-anticipated The Great Adventures of Slick Rick in the fall of 1988, the platinum-plus seller is widely considered a hip-hop classic. Featuring the brilliant singles “Children’s Story,” “Mona Lisa,” “Teenage Love” and “Hey Young World,” the album solidified the rapper’s reputation as a supreme contributor to the rhythmic canon of rap culture and a master at storytelling. Without a doubt, Slick Rick sounded like no one else.
While others merely rapped, Rick was like hip-hop Orson Welles as he created characters and impersonated various voices on his songs. Cultivating a cool smoothness, he has been cited as an influence by various rappers and producers including Snoop Dogg, Tricky, Mark Ronson and Pharell Williams.
In his life, Slick Rick has faced numerous battles including getting shot, being incarcerated and the constant threat of being deported to a country where he hasn’t lived since he was twelve-years-old.
Raised in a strict Jamaican household, he wasn’t groomed or encouraged to be a part of the so-called “gangsta” lifestyle. In fact, he was already preparing for his future by investing his tour money in real estate as he began to laying the foundation of becoming a businessman and New York City landlord. However, the streets of New York City were wild in the late-1980s, with crack and guns flooding our communities, and it didn’t take much for Rick to be targeted by his own family.
Sadly sometimes in real life, with fame and recognition comes some bad elements. This bad element came in the form of a jealous cousin.
THE BATTLES OF SLICK RICK
Slick Rick’s management team’s decision, which would have a domino effect on both his life and career, was hiring a cousin Mark Plummer fresh from the Jamaica to the United States to be his bodyguard. Going on the road together for the 1989 Def Jam Tour, the two later had a falling out as Mark turned out to be trouble and Rick let him go giving him $3,000 and a van paid in full as a severance package. But that was not enough for Mark Plummer. And when Rick would not oblige to the black mail, Plummer tried to extort money from Rick, but when that failed, he began making death threats to Rick’s mother (his manager at that time) along with Rick’s extended family and attempted to have the rapper shot (at least twenty shots riddled Ricks jeep as he sat behind the wheel) outside of the Castle, a South Bronx nightclub, in 1990. At this time, Rick fearing for his life, purchased a gun to protect himself.
The next attack on Rick was even more bold. Mark also pretended to work for UPS and deliver a bogus package to Rick when he was home alone. When Rick opened the door and realized that the UPS deliverer was his cousin Mark attempting to get into the apartment to rob him, the two had a physical tussell and Rick was able to push Mark outside of his apartment. Mark did not stop there, in a time before the invention of caller id, Mark continued to call Ricks house and Ricks mothers house with threats of wanting money or else.
Coming at time when Slick Rick should’ve been celebrating his Great Adventures, success as well as working on his next album, and managing his real estate properties in New York City, the young 25 year old rapper was in utter fear of his own life.
On the morning of July 3, 1990, Rick received word that Plummer was in his neighborhood looking for him. Rick panicked and approached his cousin. During the confrontation Rick sadly shot his cousin and his friend, an innocent bystander, in the foot. Fleeing the scene, Rick crashed into a tree, was arrested and he immediately plead guilty and was sentenced to 3.5 o 10 years in jail.
But with Rick serving his time, Mark Plummer was still up to his old tricks, doing local neighborhood robberies and stick-ups as a means to survive. In a strange twist, while Rick was in jail (circa 1992), his cousin Mark Plummer broke into a house and raped a 10 year old little boy. The little boy while walking home from school with his father saw Mark on the street and recognized him. The boys father purchased a gun, and shot and killed Rick’s cousin-Mark Plummer.
Released on $800,000 bail in winter of 1991, he and DJ/producer Vance Wright holed-up in various studios, including Chung King and Power Play, and recorded twenty-one songs for his finally finished follow-up The Ruler’s Back. Although music writers were quick to dismiss the album simply because it wasn’t as finely chiseled as The Great Adventures, not all was in agreement. Containing the singles “I Shouldn’t Have Done It” and “It’s a Boy,” noted pop critic Robert Christgau called The Ruler’s Back (which Jay-Z remade in 2001), “a work of mad avant-garde genius.”
Meanwhile Rick, serving his sentence without drama, was granted work release in 1993 and used the opportunity to work on his next album. Initially produced by Ricky and Vance Wright, six months into the program Ricky was informed by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service that they were seeking to deport him.
Sent back to prison to complete his sentence, Def Jam removed Rick and Wright’s music production and replaced it with production from Easy Mo Bee (“Cuz It’s Wrong”), Pete Rock (“I’m Captive”) and Prince Paul, who laced the album’s title track “Behind Bars.” The album Behind Bars was released in 1994, with the title track and “Sittin’ in My Car” served as singles. Three more years would pass before Ricky was released.
In 1995, after a full investigation and immigration hearing and trial in New York City, Rick was granted full relief to continue to remain in the United States and was granted work release once again in 1997. As soon as he won his immigration hearing and was released Ricky began making guest appearances with various artists including Aaliyah (“Got to Give It Up”) and Montell Jordan (“I Like”).
Rick also began working on what many critics have deemed his second masterpiece, The Art of Storytelling. The perfect title for a perfect album, it would be the first disc in a decade that he would be able to concentrate fully on crafting the kind of complex narratives his fans relished and craved for.
Def Jam released “Street Talkin’” as the first single, and on May 25, 1999, The Art of Storytelling hit the streets to much-acclaim and a five-mic review in The Source. Teaming up with producers Clark Kent, Trackmasters and Jazzie Pha, the album also featured guest appearances from Nas, Outkast, Raekwon and Snoop. By his own choice, the platinum selling disc was to be Slick Rick’s last, but he has since appeared on songs with a Missy Elliot, Raekwon, Ghostface, Jay Z, Chamillionare, Mos Def, Macy Gray, Common and Will Smith.
Nevertheless, in a series of ill-fated events that began in 2002, after docking in Miami after appearing on The Tom Joyner Family cruise, Slick Rick was arrested and detained for an ambiguous immigration warrant never served on Rick while on parole or work release.
While waiting more than seventeen months in a Florida immigration detention center in Bradenton, Florida, and almost having almost been deported in December of 2002 to London, his attorneys filed an emergency stay of removal which was granted by Judge Kimba Wood two hours before Rick was about to board a plane to London, England. Judge Wood reviewed the case while he waited seven more months in Florida.
In November of 2003, she decided that Rick was unjustly detained and that he be released immediately. Within days of his return to his wife and children, Slick Rick was performing with Jay-Z on stage at Madison Square Garden.
Going forward, in an even bigger blessing, after a thorough review and interview of Rick from the New York State pardon board, on May 23, 2008, 18 years after pleading guilty in a Bronx court house, former Governor David A. Paterson granted Rick a full unconditional pardon. In essence, the esteemed Governor closed a dark chapter in the book of Ricky Walters aka Slick Rick.
In a series of unfortunate events, although unconditionally pardoned by New York’s Governor Patterson in 2008, the state of Florida is still fighting to deport him.
THE RULER PREVAILS
Living every day with uncertainty looming, he still keeps a positive attitude as performs throughout the country while also participating in a plethora of personal philanthropic endeavors including mentoring grade school kids, advising music students in high school and college and speaking at correctional facilities.
In 2014, Slick Rick worked with Will.i.am’s “Trans4m” concert to which raised more than $2.4 million for the rapper-producer’s i.am.angel Foundation. For his efforts, Ricky has received acolytes from Miami Dade College, Music Saves Lives, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and Newark, NJ Public Schools. In addition, the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture will honor Rick with an exhibition.
With more than three decades in the world of hip-hop, Slick Rick is still striving, still working, still giving back to community and still ruling.