Slick Rick doesn’t look like most rappers. He’s toothpick-thin, with a black patch over his right eye--sightless since it was struck by shattered glass when he was 18 months old. His smile sparkles with gold teeth decorated with diamonds.
Rick’s accent is a startling mixture of Bronx and British, a result of growing up in England and moving to the Bronx when he was 12. Otherwise, Slick Rick’s traits--the swagger, the rebelliousness, the swearing--are normal for rappers.
At a hamburger joint in West Hollywood on a recent afternoon, he was explaining how good he is--also typical for a rapper.
“My stuff hits home, it hits hard,” he boasted. “I’m a great rapper. I have insight. I have humor. I have it all. Some people say my material is offensive--that’s their problem. They should listen to something else if they don’t like me.”
On his Def Jam/Columbia album, “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick,” Rick’s coy, droning, playful raps make him sound, as someone once cracked, like an English gentleman on speed. The music is eclectic, branching out in all directions, highlighted by bizarre rhythm patterns. The album--which is No. 1 on the black-music charts and has sold nearly 750,000 copies--includes standard radio fare, like the tame, sentimental “Teenage Love.” But there’s also the riotous, X-rated “Indian Girl” and “Children’s Story,” a violent, clever bedtime tale.
Rick, whose last name is Walters, grew up in London. When he was 12 his parents, who are of Jamaican ancestry, moved to the Bronx. He was an art major at a special New York high school for musicians and artists.
Rick first gained fame as part of Doug E. Fresh’s Crew. In 1985, they did a 12-inch single whose B-side, “La-Di-Da-Di"--a racy, rambling romp featuring Rick’s distinctive, smug style--established him as a rapper on the rise.
Then Rick, 25, hooked up with rap impresario Russell Simmons, head of Rush Artist Management. It was the beginning of what Rick called “the ugly adventure.”
Rick disappeared for three years. Rumors circulated that he was a drug casualty--in jail or even dead. But he says he was really just working all that time on the album.
Though he co-wrote the album, Rick is not fond of some of the production or the songs.
“Some of versions of the songs on the album aren’t the best versions,” he said. “What they put on the album is garbage compared to what could have been on there.”
Rick claimed Simmons was trying to turn him into a pop-rapper, like another Simmons client, D.J. Jazzy Jeff. “I wanted the album to be real and he wanted it to be more like that phony stuff Jazzy Jeff does--that namby-pamby, whitewashed junk,” Rick said.
A primary point of contention is money. “Russell says I owe him $120,000 for all the work done on the album,” Rick said, fuming. “It’s more like $40,000--and that’s stretching it.”
Rick can’t wait for June, when, he said, he’ll be contractually free of Simmons.
For emphasis, Rick tore off a small piece of his hamburger bun, put it down on the table and pounded it with his fist.
“Get me Rick on the phone!,” Russell Simmons yelled to an associate during a separate, later interview. “We’ll straighten this out now.” But Rick wasn’t around.
First, Simmons, 31, responded to Rick’s charges about the $120,000.
“Rick doesn’t understand the money part of this. A lot of artists are like that. They don’t add things up right sometimes. I advance him money all the time. Technically, he owes me that $120,000. It comes out of what he’ll earn on the album.”
When asked about Rick’s contract terminating in June, Simmons replied, “That’s not right. It’s a five-year contract. In June, it will be 2 1/2 years.”
Ultimately, despite his initial anger, Simmons didn’t seem to take Rick’s comments that seriously. “He’s an artist,” Simmons calmly pointed out. “They all have these mood swings. One day he’s mad and the next day he’s bringing me a bottle of champagne and we’re laughing and having fun. He hasn’t brought me a bottle of champagne in a while, though.”
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