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Slick Rick's fourth release, The Art of Storytelling, has recently gone as gold as the caps on his front teeth. This is particularly good news for the legendary MC, né Rick Walters. Since releasing a solo full-length five years ago, he'd all but disappeared from the rap realm that he was once dubbed "the Ruler" of. In many ways, he has quite literally been to hell and back since he first broke as a major rap star in the mid-Eighties. He's been incarcerated numerous times, gone down the old, familiar road of artists whose ascendance to fame is inversely mirrored by their own steady decline. He's seen his career fade into the background as hip-hop claimed a new generation of fans for whom the name Slick Rick was more likely to evoke a used-car salesman than a pioneer of the genre. Yet today Rick will tell you "the Ruler" is back, and this time it's for real.
"The single is out right now and is doing good," he says from his home in the Bronx. "The album went gold, thank God. The single played heavy on [Black Entertainment Television]. It's almost like if they don't know me, they know me now for the new single."
The single to which Rick refers is "Street Talkin'," which once again found him paired with up-and-comers OutKast, a partnership that initially helped reintroduce the antiquated rapper to a new audience. Last year, he appeared briefly on the track "The Art of Storytelling" from that act's breakthrough album Aquemini, and the song is the source for Rick's album title. "Street Talkin'," though, is clearly Slick Rick's show, and it's been a mighty successful one: The single blazed the clubs all summer long, and its video, which features the outlandishly garbed OutKast and Rick leaving prison sporting fly gear, jewels and a wad of bills, was a permanent fixture this summer on BET's Rap City top ten.
"Street Talkin'," however, hardly marks Slick Rick's first trip to the charts. As MC Ricky D, he joined forces with Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew to release one of the quintessential hip-hop classics of all time -- the split 12-inch, "The Show/La-Di-Da-Di" -- in 1986. The single secured Rick a cushy position on the throne of the then-emerging genre of rap and was the first true highlight in a career that began in the Boogie Down Bronx where he grew up -- not on the street like so many rappers of the era, but in art school. The UK native first gravitated toward the mike as a member of the Kangol Crew, (which also featured Dana Dane), an outfit that he helped start in the early Eighties at the Manhattan School of the Arts. The group grew out of lunchroom sessions, where "we used to just bang on the desk in the lunchrooms. We didn't really have any instruments or anything, we just used to have fun, banging around, but it caught on," he says. Modeled after some of the groups that helped make the Bronx known as the birthplace of hip-hop, the group characterized themselves equally by their kinetic rhyme flow and their flair for fashion. "We used to dress alike, wear the same suit jackets, the Kangol hats," says the rapper. Early on, the group championed the Kangol hat, which eventually became the de rigeur hip-hop accoutrement.
After the release of "La-Di-Da-Di," Rick changed his MC name and released his highly anticipated debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, in 1988. The album became one of the first full-length rap classics and included numerous hits such as "Children's Story" and "Mona Lisa." The success of the album made Slick Rick a certifiable superstar and established his position as one of rap's gifted innovators. But his good fortune was short-lived. Two years after the album's release, he was involved in a scenario that eerily paralleled the narrative of "Children's Story" and brought his words to life: "He raced up the block doing 83/Crashed into a tree near University...Rat-a-tat-tattered and all the cops scattered/Ran out of bullets but he still got static/Grabbed the pregnant lady and pulled out the automatic...Sirens sounded and he seemed astounded/Before long the little boy got surrounded." On July 3, 1990, Rick, who was driving in a car with his then-pregnant then-girlfriend, approached his cousin Mark Plummer, who had worked for the rapper as part of his security team, on a street corner in the Bronx. Plummer had allegedly extorted the rapper for money and had threatened his life and his family's lives, so Rick decided to take the matters in his own hands. He confronted his cousin, things escalated, and Rick pulled out a gun and fired shots that wounded Plummer (who later died in an unrelated altercation). Plummer wasn't the only one hit: An innocent onlooker also caught one of Rick's bullets. Looking back nearly a decade later, the rapper describes the incident as "an accident. I could have shot somebody by accident, which I did, and they could have died, and I could have been serving a whole lot of time for something which wasn't my intention." After the shooting, Rick fled the scene and led the New York Police Department on a high-speed automobile chase throughout the borough. He later crashed the car and was apprehended. Although both shooting victims survived, the incident eventually led Slick Rick to spend a total of six years in various New York penal institutions for charges of attempted murder, weapons possession and resisting arrest.