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POP MUSIC | Hip-Hop Report

Slick Rick Makes His Return to Rap, Ever the Storyteller

May 23, 1999|SOREN BAKER | Soren Baker writes about hip-hop for Calendar

When Slick Rick's fourth album, "The Art of Storytelling," hits record stores Tuesday, it will mark the triumphant return of rap's premier yarn-spinner.

Since debuting with Doug E. Fresh on the classic plot-driven songs "The Show" and "La Di Da Di" in 1985, the London-born rapper has drawn a loyal audience with his distinctive British accent, extensive vocabulary and vivid imagery. He's as skilled at developing fully formed characters as he is at bringing an air of invincibility to his braggadocio raps.

"MC'ing, from my point of view, is stories in rap form," says the 34-year-old rapper, whose real name is Ricky Walters. "That's my expertise. I try to incorporate stories into my raps because I like to give the public something to visualize and to follow. You can do one-liners all day, but sometimes it's good to have something you can follow from beginning to end."

"The Great Adventures of Slick Rick," his first solo album, was released in 1988 and spawned another batch of landmark selections. On "Children's Story," "Teenage Love" and "Mona Lisa," Rick deftly blended social commentary, self-examination and unparalleled arrogance.

But Rick's blossoming career was suddenly put on hold in 1990 after he shot his cousin and a bystander in New York. The cousin, whom he had hired for security, had allegedly threatened him, attempted to rob him and shot his car. The rapper was convicted of attempted murder.

Before beginning his sentence, Slick Rick recorded what would eventually become 1991's "The Ruler's Back" and 1994's "Behind Bars." The albums were intended to keep him in the public eye while he was in prison. Actually, though, it was Snoop Dogg's version of "La Di Da Di" on his 5-million-selling "Doggystyle" album that really kept Slick Rick's name alive.

Rick was released from upstate New York's Gouverneur Correctional Facility in 1996 and returned to the Bronx, where he had moved with his family from England when he was 3 years old.

Despite the long layoff, Slick Rick turns his rap trick again on "The Art of Storytelling," on the Def Jam label.

Even though the new album includes several potential dancefloor favorites, the better cuts are the ones with story lines. On "Who Rotten Em," Rick portrays a rapper who is forced to perform for an Egyptian pharaoh, while on "2 Way Street" he makes a convincing case for monogamy.

For this married man, the latter song is a much-needed alternative to rap's misogynistic slant.

"If we were a woman, would we want somebody to feel they've been given the ordained right to cheat on us just because they pay the rent?" he asks rhetorically. "You wouldn't want anybody to hurt your mother or your grandmother. It's got to come to a stop somewhere."

Rick's commentaries continue to spark interest among his peers. In an era when rappers rush to feature the day's most popular artists on their own releases in an effort to boost sales, major stars Jermaine Dupri, Funkmaster Flex and OutKast all solicited Slick Rick, who had not released an album in five years, to work on their recently released albums.

Slick Rick suggests a reason for his continuing appeal. "Everybody can't be Mike Tyson," he says. "If everybody was Superman, there wouldn't be any jesters, princes. It can't hurt to be the underdog and add a little color in another direction.

HE'S MONEY: While Slick Rick hopes to recapture his status as rap's preeminent poet, JT Money will probably have a hit debut album on his hands when "Pimpin' on Wax" arrives in records stores Tuesday. The Miami rapper's hyper "Who Dat," the No. 1 rap single in the country, has become the veteran's first nationwide radio hit. A catchy tune that also features female rapper Sole, "Who Dat" has a chant-along chorus and a fashionably speedy beat.

On the album, Money specializes in lyrics about life on the violent, sexually charged streets of his city. A solid rapper, Money (whose real name is Jeffrey Thompkins) relies on a thick accent, a humorous take on bleak situations and a comical view of male-female relationships.

As a member of the Poison Clan, Money released a string of popular regional records earlier this decade, most notably 1990's "2 Low Life Muthas." Then billed as the Baby 2 Live Crew and recording for Luther Campbell's Luke Records, Money and rap partner Debonair enjoyed modest success with the single "Dance All Nite," but never came close to matching the original 2 Live Crew's controversy-fueled popularity.

Like several other rap artists based in Miami, the Poison Clan found little acceptance for music that strayed from the sexually slathered, up-tempo sounds associated with 2 Live Crew. In fact, recording for Campbell's company probably hindered the group's acceptance.

Now, however, the Miami rap scene is enjoying a popularity boost. Besides Money, who is now signed to Freeworld Entertainment/Priority Records, Trick Daddy has a 500,000-selling album ("www.thug.com") and a smash single ("Nann").

"It's about time," Money says, blaming Campbell and his salacious Crew for the long drought. "We've got slept on because another individual misrepresented [the city]. We're fighting to get the game back to where it's supposed to be. A lot of other cats had us looked upon as some booty-shake, party people, but I was holding it down for the boys in the street. That was always my thing."

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