I happened to miss VH1′s Hip Hop Honors last night, but I’m sure I’ll catch it on one of many repeats this Saturday afternoon, which I mainly dedicate to staying in bed until at least 4pm. One of the artist VH1 is “honoring” (with no trophy, plaque, retired jersey, Hollywood star, or Jelly of The Month Club membership) is Slick Rick the Ruler. Rick obviously is one of the most influential MC’s of all time–his fashion sense, flow, cool demeanor, and storytelling skills are obvious in Snoop Dogg, Ghostface, Jay-Z, and many more. Like Phoarhe Monch said in the documentary The MC, Rick’s style has been chipped and bitten in small amounts by just about everyone who came up after him. He’s truly an original, from the eye patch, to the fly ass Kangol, to the jewelry that would give Mr. T an ulcer.
I’ve never been really sold on Slick Rick as a groundbreaking artist. I respect the hell out of him. “The Show” and “La Di Da Di” both make strong cases for best hip hop song of all time. He once shot a guy (his own cousin) and served 5 years in jail, so he’s obviously more gangster than your favorite G-Unit pinup. His verse and adlibs on the hook for Ghostface’s brilliant, unreleased masterpiece “The Sun” always puts a smile on my face.
The man had 1 great album with 4 great songs on it. Back in 1988. His live show is pretty pedestrian considering the era he came from, though his hypeman is pretty entertaining. He is mostly known by fans under 25 because of Montell Jordan and Doggystyle. I remember reading an article about him when his last studio album Da Art of Storytelling dropped whereas he was performing in Atlanta with Outkast for the remix to “Da Art of Storyellin Pt 1″ and barely anyone knew who he was…in 1999! He dropped two forgotten albums in the 90s, The Ruler’s Back and Behind Bars, reaching #28 and #51 on the charts respectively. I’ve never met a diehard Slick Rick fan who schooled me on his overlooked genius, nor have I heard anyone place in him in their top 20 MC’s of all time list. It’s quite odd that Rick is still beloved and getting work considering the above factors in a genre that conversely eats its young but is getting stuffed with older rappers by the minute.
Six minutes, Copyright Infringment Man you’re on. Ah-ah-on!
Though it pains me, those are the facts, like knowing Randall Cunningham has more rushing yards than then beloved Kansas Comet, Mr. Gale Sayers. It doesn’t make Gale any less of a great running back–his career did end prematurely due to injury. In reality, he’s been passed by lesser characters. The same could be said for Rick. He’s a great MC who made memorable contributions to the culture. He’s fun, playful, vivid, and wholly original. Mike Tyson would say his jewelry is “impetuous.” But does that make up for three lame follow-ups to a bonafied classic?
I think people like the idea of Slick Rick moreso than the artist penning verses. He’s very likeable…but no one knows any songs he’s made since “The Cosby Show” ended. He tours…and hasn’t dropped an album in almost 10 years. He’s influential to younger rappers…but his phone doesn’t ring as much as KRS-One’s, Scarface’s, or LL Cool J’s. He made such a big impact on all accounts–visually, vocally, sonically.* Yet he’s been largely reduced to a jukebox–ain’t nobody paying to hear a NEW Slick Rick song.
So why is Slick Rick still beloved? I don’t see people falling over themselves to champion Kool Moe Dee, who had a bunch of hits and his own iconic eyewear. Kwame was just as fun and quirky and Biggie ended his career with one line. Das EFX were ripped off by rappers left and right, dropped a classic album with big singles, had their own look, and VH1 isn’t sending Chuck Nice to drive them up to headquarters.
Not a good look for the Hit Squad.
Maybe it’s because no one dislikes Slick Rick. It’s like hating chocolate milk–you may not buy it when you go grocery shopping the time, but you’ll never turn it down if offered. Most MCs and industry types also love Slick Rick–he was probably the soundtrack to their favorite summer, their prom, their first park jam. He was also the blueprint for storytelling, easygoing arrogance, sing-songy hooks, and freshly dipped jewels. He was a front-loaded enterprise, which is why I’m shocked everytime I see him getting so much love in 2008. I don’t begrudge Rick or look down on his career. I just find it curious how hip hop moved on without him starting in 1991 and yet here he is 17 years later smiling, making people light up around him, rocking truck jewels, and letting the audience handle most of the lyrics when he performs “La Di Da Di” live. I’m not sure there’s anyone else like him in hip hop history.
So let me know why YOU love Slick Rick. Is it the Kangol and the eye patch? Is it “Mona Lisa” and “Children’s Story”? His nostalgic cameo in “Brown Sugar”? And if you saw Hip Hop Honors, did he hold it down?
In the meantime, keep knockin’ em out the box, Rick.
“They’re biting what I’m writing, God it’s great to be the king”–Slick Rick
*I still can’t fathom how two guys sat and came up with “The Show.” Think about how many weird ass, kinda lame pieces make up that song. Then realize if it came on the radio right now, you’d be leaping like lizards.