Hip-hop heavyweight Nas was once asked who was his favourite style icon. His response? Slick Rick The Ruler. The South London native has long been at the top of the list for his eccentricity, affectionately referred to as ‘the blueprint’ and raps ‘first great storyteller’ by Questlove. His influence filtering through hip-hop’s unconventional timeline, from Snoop’s 1993 cover Lodi Dodi on Doggystyle to Biggie’s Hypnotize with continual references throughout popular culture.
Slick Rick’s style alongside this new form of lyricism was unprecedented at the time. La Di Da Di spawned many firsts, including the use of designer brand narcissism to represent wealth and the second ever rap record to feature the word b****, something that controversially continued as part of the rap narrative to this day. He confesses that his trademark crown and superfluous gold jewellery were all part of the persona that symbolised his success. Legend even has it, that the fur coat worn in the Teenage Love video belonged to Rick Rubin’s grandmother.
Unfortunately the fame came at a price, with a conviction for attempted murder and weapons charges, resulting in immigration restrictions prohibited him from leaving the country until his official pardon by the New York Governor in 2008. Now, for the first time in over two decades Slick is returning to the UK for his Coming Home Tour, starting on Nov 25 in Manchester. We caught up with him and asked him to discuss a few key themes that have permeated his career and life as one of hip-hop’s most colourful characters.
The move from London to The Bronx
Transition was great but rough, going to America was a culture shock for me as an 11 year old. The Bronx was very different to Mitcham, Surrey. I had a London accent; I was half blind and dressed proper. I drank tea, ate liver, listened to the Beatles and Dionne Warwick. When I migrated to New York, what a difference. There were hot dogs and pizza and music like James Brown. Kids wore sneakers and jeans. For me it was like coming from one world to another. I had to get use to my neighborhood and my neighborhood had to get use to me.
Bringing his UK style to the US
My heritage consisted of a British and Jamaican culture. Britain represented that preppy Catholic school look, like the school uniform style gentlemen’s coat and suits along with the soft shoes. It was cold in England so our wardrobe represented that environment. We had a high society way of dressing all year round. The US, particularly New York has four seasons, so there was more variety, more laid back, more urban, grittier. Sneakers, Lee jeans and T-shirts, leather bomber jackets and knit hats. The music, the food, the British and Jamaican culture are my original stylist.
The unique anecdotal style of lyricism and introduction to the masses
No one in particular influenced my style of storytelling. However I differed from others as I was told that my rap style was more in your face. I could play three or four characters on one track and as I look back, I could say that listeners were drawn to me for these reasons. In high school, my friends would laugh and ask me to repeat my raps over and over again. I met Doug E. Fresh at a talent show; he was already established with a record on the radio at that time. He saw me compete and the rest is history.
“I was half blind and dressed proper. I drank tea, ate liver, listened to the Beatles and Dionne Warwick.”
On the frustration of incarceration at a time when hip-hop was hitting the mainstream
It was saddening because that period allowed my name to diminish. I was unhappy with what the label did with my third album. They removed all of my already self-produced music and gave my lyrics to outside producers, creating the album they wanted. Needless to say, their choice resulted in weak sales and my unhappiness.
Governor David Patterson and his staff were supportive, also a gentlemen in New York by the name of Larry Blackmon. I’m grateful to all the folks from Def Jam that participated in all three of the Free Slick Rick campaigns. But it’s truly the people, the fans that supported me through out everything that I am humbled.
On the iconic image by Janette Beckman
This was for Def Jam, way before the eyepatch and the jewellery. It was about me being myself, feeling great about my youth and having a good time. It was a quick photoshoot of maybe 10 to 12 shots. This was hip-hop at its purest form and what it represented in the late 80’s.
Returning to London for the Coming Home Tour
I miss everything about London; it’s my roots and my foundation. I’m looking forward to really connecting with the people on stage and during the meet and greets. Absolutely will be visiting family and my old stomping grounds and I will also take a trip to Harrods to check out the British fashion scene.
Tickets for Slick Rick’s Coming Home tour are available here