EDITOR’S NOTE: What follows should not be constituted as an “official review” of Slick Rick album in question. Please go here for that review on RapReviews.com. This feature is written as a “20th Anniversary Tribute” only. The score at the end should indicate as much.
The “Golden Age” – did it ever really exist? This utopian era of hip hop where all was good and pure… “Rap was real back in 1988,” they say. Yes, we nod diligently, and listen intently, as all dutiful students do. But, of course, members of my generation will never truly know what it was like back then, and our history lessons are exactly that – history. As they teach nowadays, history is a viewpoint more than a cast-iron truth – and out of the countless names that Nas spins off on “Where Are They Now?” from his “Hip Hop Is Dead” LP, I myself profess to having had little first-hand interaction with the majority of them. For every Rakim, there are ten J.J. Fad’s; for every Big Daddy Kane, count another twenty Super Lover Cee’s. If only there were a time capsule that could magically transport us back… An album that would sound fresh in any decade; an MC charming enough to dazzle any generation; an artist who sounds Old School but modern enough to last the ages; innovative, melodic music that wasn’t over-produced to the point of distraction.
Step up to the mic, please, MC Ricky D – also known as Slick Rick the Ruler!
“The Great Adventures…” took the rap world by storm in ’88 and exactly two decades on (to the week) it is still easy to see why – it is simply one of the best albums hip hop has, or ever will, see. Twelve tracks of wonderful music, classic story telling and a roller coaster of emotions – ranging from bawdy hilarity, deep insight, uplifting positivity… This is, without any doubt, the first incredibly well-balanced LP that had it all, and it is no coincidence that it is the most bitten album to this very day – name a rapper that it ain’t influenced. From the opening track “Treat Her Like A Prostitute,” you can tell that Eminem wasn’t the first rapper to realise that shock value and controversy sells:
“There’s girlies out here that seem appealing
But they all come in your life and cold hurt your feelings
I’m telling you – as Rick is my name
I wouldn’t trust no girl unless she feels the same
Treat ’em like a prostitute (do what?)
Don’t treat no girlie well until you’re sure of the scoop
Cos all they do is they hurt and trample
Listen up close, here comes my first example…”
Does this mean Ricky D is advocating treating all girlies like prostitutes? Listen to the song carefully, and you’ll hear the common sense that we all know to be true – there are some people in life you just can’t trust, and he is warning the listener not to be a victim. You’ll instantly recognise that the next song has been bitten more times that a malaria victim – “The Ruler’s Back.” From the stuttered “St-st-stop lying!” you’ll hear in the Black Eyed Peas single “Don’t Lie” (technically already re-sampled from “La-Di-Da-Di”) to the title and opening lines of each verse, taken on by Jay-Z in the “Blueprint” album opener. This is where Slick Rick’s incredibly arrogant voice comes into play – he IS positively regal, and by the end of only the second track, you actually believe him to be hip hop royalty. Clearly, the fact that he was raised in England until the age of 11 (subsequently relocating to the USA) had a positive effect on a lilting and pleasing transatlantic vocal tone – surely one of the greatest voices to grace any MC. Simply the best song of his career comes next, and one of the Top Ten hip hop tracks of all time – “Children’s Story.” It is a genuine temptation to include the whole song – but peep this for a taster:
“Once upon a time not long ago
When people wore pyjamas and lived life slow
When laws were stern and justice stood
And people were behaving like they ought to – good
There lived a little boy who was misled
By another little boy and this is what he said:
‘Me and you Ty, we gonna make some cash
Robbing old folks and making a dash!’
They did the job, money came with ease
But one couldn’t stop, it’s like he had a disease
He robbed another and another and a sister and her brother
Tried to rob a man who was a D.T. undercover”
Nowadays, certain “serious” artists make out as if Slick Rick were no more than a joke-teller, or some nursery rhyme-slayer – tell them to make a song better than that… Morality tale, “The Moment I Feared,” has a tough job following on, but still the level of quality doesn’t drop – and the outro is enough to make anyone wince (think “Deliverance”). The next couple of songs prove lighter fare, with a solid party jam “Let’s Get Crazy” and the guilty pleasure of “Indian Girl (An Adult Story).” The single “Teenage Love” marks the start of the LP’s second half, and in all honesty, this would be a hit in any era – the subject matter is something that all adolescents can relate to, and it is superbly executed. The emotional depth and sensitivity with which it is handled may surprise the listener as much as the previous track – and you start to realise at this point that Slick Rick really can do it all:
“And break up time, and you’re receive the words
‘Yo, this is from the heart’ and I know that part hurts
Get over it, from now don’t take short slick
If it’s not true love, you shouldn’t deal with it
Just think of your future, and what is to come
And pay attention to the words that’s in this song”
Up next for your viewing pleasure is the beguiling, yet intriguing, “Mona Lisa” (“You know, like the picture?”) – and the ambiguity is, as Russell Peters would say, “mind-blasting.” It is followed by a slightly lesser album track, “Kit (What’s the Scoop?)” – we find Rick the Ruler interacting with the Knight Rider car, although nowadays we may forget just how big a show it was at its heyday (goodness knows, it was the highlight of my week as a kid). The most uplifting and positive track on the album raises the quality level once again – “Hey Young World.” We find Ricky D lacing a luscious reggae-flavoured beat with indispensable advice to the youth – many claim that this kind of track couldn’t be released nowadays, that it is too innocent and good-natured for an audience grown up expecting hip hop to be all about sex, drugs and rebellion. If this is true, then more shame hip hop for not trying to make a difference anymore – regardless, it could really have been the last song, in terms of track listing, acting as the perfect album-closer. The final two tracks “Teacher Teacher” and “Lick the Balls” find Rick the Ruler back in arrogant mode, reinforcing the opinion upon us that he is, in fact, the King (we really don’t need convincing by now).
“The Great Adventures…” is, quite simply, one of the true and undeniable classics of hip hop. It broke so many boundaries that we now take for granted, unifying the underground and commercial forms of rap in one eternal long play. Aided by guest contributions from luminaries such as Jam Master Jay, the production is nothing short of genius, as is the MC. He doesn’t need any guests to assist – with more than enough flows, vocal switches, and topic matters to cover the album. Listening to this, I can’t help but feel like I finally understand what the big deal is about the “Golden Age” of hip hop. How this must have sounded to uninitiated ears – such futuristic music, such a charismatic rapper, such an intoxicating cocktail of controversy, morality, divine comedy and positivity. Anyone listening to this now would also recognise, for a fact, that Slick Rick cared deeply about trying to guide the youth, and he knew how to hook them into his message – after all, the album went platinum within a year. There is a reason that rappers like the Notorious B.I.G. and Nas, Tupac and Snoop Dogg all claim this to be one of their all-time favourite albums. The marks you see below are truly historic – beyond-perfect scores for an album that leaves perfection jealous, facedown in the dust – and if it convinces you to pick it up, thank Slick Rick, not me.
Music Vibes: 11.0 Lyrics Vibes: 11.0 TOTAL Vibes: 11.0