(14) Classic Sounds…

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“Here’s an oldie but Goodie!”

That opening line from “Treat ‘Em Like A Prostitute”, the first track off of Slick Rick’s Magnum Opus is so appropriate at this time.

This classic LP  is the source of so many references, borrowed lines, borrowed swag, and is apart of that top ten of Golden Era releases whose songs litter the sound scape of 80’s themed stuff from movies to parties. You’ll be hard-pressed to find much pertaining to the urban lifestyle in the 1980’s without some Slick Rick song playing in the background or being mentioned. And it would more than likely be from this particular album.

Reason being is that Slick is of that oh-so-rare cluster of artists who only made 1 memorable album. However, that’s all that he ever had to do. This one album made an indelible and irreversible impact on the culture and music history period, to the point that it’s hit songs still get played in the contemporary party scene today…Re-looping it’s lifespan for each generation since it’s inception. It helped revolutionize and redefine Hip-Hop with new slang, new approaches to social situations, and a new voice most importantly.

This debut had been highly anticipated since the great alley-oop introduction lent to him by his partner in rhyme and then mega rap star Doug E. Fresh. His guest features and solo spotlights on the eternal hits, “La Di Da Di” and “The Show” helped cement him as a force to be reckoned with, but no one could have anticipated the bomb that he was about to drop.

As an outsider in more than one way, it almost appears as tho Rick’s immigrant status as a Brit and unmistakable King’s English has always been overlooked. When I was growing up in the 80’s I don’t ever recall hearing anyone trip off the fact that this guy was str8 up London rapping like he’d been in Brooklyn his whole life. As if he didn’t sound like a cartoon character. There was no masking his speech. Unlike other English performers – even fellow British rappers like Monie Love, his accent didn’t fade and slip out as he recited. It was here to stay. Now add to that a penchant for breaking out into random melodious riffs and interpolations of other popular songs, and Slick Rick was never intended to be the norm. He was far from conventional, but he wasn’t weird. He was just giving the Hip-Hop audience something that they didn’t hear before. And not because he was trying. But this was genuinely his interpretation of bragging, establishing identity and being stylish. This was his vision of cool. And we knew it was. Maybe the foreign thing played a huge part in his confidence, or maybe I was just too young to remember, but everything this guy did was accepted. Eye-patch and all.

This may explain his brazenness as well. Although many a rapper had dedicated their fair share of time to odes about the opposite sex and being the best, Slick took things from a different angle and delved more into situational relations. He demeaned his competition by not aggressively denouncing them, but by using witty jabs and sharp comparisons. Listening to him amongst his peers now can be likened to being in school and seeing how the other kids would settle conflicts with fist fights and then seeing that one kid who was the best snapper and would send other kids away in tears just with his words. This is also the case for how he approached female scenarios. Noted in rap as quite possibly the best storyteller, this was Rick’s chosen approach. It was always linear, yet easily digestible chronicling, full of characterizations and punch lines. Everything was and is a story for him. Yet what made him so bold was that at the time, the only rappers painting such vivid depictions of day-to-day life were the “gangsta” rappers. Slick was so appealing because he brought elements from each existing field of Hip-Hop at the time. He was topical, creative, a known party rapper with a talent for crafting the most compelling parts in a song to sing and rap along with, but he dealt with mostly street based issues and spoke about them like the hardcore rappers would. A good amount of curse words, which was not too prominent in the average rap recordings of the time. Even Rakim would use like 1 swear word per album. Around then, only Rick and maybe Big Daddy Kane were mixing that playboy image with the raw delivery and bravado, while still making time to speak on social issues.

Apart of that playboy image would be addressing male-female situations. And that boldness that Rick exudes is present from the moment the aforementioned “Treat Her Like A Prostitute” comes on. Just the idea to title the song in such a way, and furthermore, to start his debut album off with, speaks volumes to the balls this man had. And balls this man had indeed. So much so that he taunted his competitors to “lick” them on the closing track. The titles of his introductory and ending songs let you know the manner of hubris you are dealing with. Yet there’s a humble undertone in Slick’s ‘I-just-like-being-fly’ ethos, so consider these 2 songs to be the bread of a sandwich full of adventure and humor. On the former, Slick provides a cynical commentary on female infidelity based on crude accounts from stories that sound like something out of a Richard Pryor routine. On the Latter, Rick proves my point about his brash nature on this late 80’s braggadocio fest “Lick The Balls” with crazy sentences like “act trife, I’ll let my dog cold fuck your wife!”

Of course this was in the scope of a story. The tale being Slick at a show along with some less than comparable comp. This is also one of the only straightforward songs on here. In a similar but way more creative and intricate plot, on the song “KIT What’s The Scoop”, Rick and co. find themselves on the trail of a group of imitating rappers. Enlisting the aid of the high-tech talking sports car from the 80’s hit series Knight Rider, Rick catches the biters in the act, confronts and reprimands them, recapturing his style just in time to rock a show. This is rap as art to the highest level. The dialogue between he and the car (K.I.T.) is pure genius. 

Another interesting point in the Slick Rick profile is that he voices different characters in his rhymes. Most of the times this simply means that he softens his cadence to indicate that it’s another speaker or another pattern of thought, but sometimes this extends to include full on different personalities – even in adlibs. This is exhibited in songs like “The Moment I feared”, that finds him in a series of unfortunate mishaps where Murphy’s Law takes the wheel.  It’s when he characterizes female characters however, like on the über classic party hit “Mona Lisa”, or “Indian Girl” that he has gained the most notoriety. Where most males are unwilling to portray a woman or less than masculine roles, Slick presents full on conversational exchanges between his assumed characters. On “Indian Girl”, Rick uses all of the gross Native American stereotypes to tell an “adult story” that’s set to be a crassly humorous cautionary tale. Yet it’s exactly this kind of unabashed bluntness that separated him from the other rappers at the time. Only the super underground street rappers were reciting lines about having sex until “the pussy started yawning”, but by the same token this was a song that at its underlying core was about safe sex.

Blame it on the Libra balance, but Slick hits all of the angles on this album. He even willingly lets his cooler-than-thou guard down at times to play the victim in his stories. He also plays the grown man, but not the preacher on “Hey Young World”. For all of his finger waving and commentary, the song avoids that cheesy quality that lots of rappers like say a Run-DMC would display when speaking on social issues. It seemed to come from a place of experience and warning. Yet what set him apart from being a one-note rapper is that his songs with deeper content became as popular as his party songs. So much so that they get played in the same space. Anyone who knows the Slick Rick catalogue or anyone who has breathed air within the last 3 decades knows that “Children’s Story” is as popular as “Mona Lisa”. “Children’s Story” is hands down a lesson in Hip-Hop that I’m surprised not too many other rappers have taken a cue from. It’s an example from the Golden Era that was set early on for the rap generation of the future to learn that any song with any kind of subject matter can be made into a banger. It meant that you could be conscious and dance too. You would think this would catch on, but alas, we’ve had to endure 2 subsequent decades of deep-sounding, soul sample laden and gothic slow songs to get our thought-provoking rap fix. It wasn’t until “Jesus Walks” that another rap song tackling such hefty material got the same regard as a club hit and even still, that doesn’t get party play like “Children’s Story” does. By all accounts, it broke the rules. This is a song with no chorus, about a kid who sticks innocent people up, goes on the run from the police, has a shootout with them using an assortment of firearms (one borrowed from a dope-fiend), commits grand theft auto, grabs a pregnant woman as a hostage and ultimately ends up in prison by the end of the song at the age of 17. It’s dark and against 80’s format, but it worked because it was perfectly coupled with a thumping beat. It was the ultimate marriage of concise storytelling and great instrumentation. 

Speaking of beats, this LP encapsulated the entire 1980’s Hip-Hop sound. Using the popular synths and drums of that age, everything hits where it’s intended to. The party songs hit like party songs designed to rock any house jam. And the more subtle tracks are melodious. Just as the rhymes are evenly varied, so are the beat selections. So on a 12 track LP, this has the effect of a diverse spread of sounds, albeit of the Casio variety, but diverse nevertheless. From the twinkling on “HeyYoung World”, to the Blaring horns on “The Ruler’s Back” and constant scratches from the DJ all throughout, every song has its own lead sound, but nothing deviates too far to stand out-of-place.

With the exception of the sub par “Let’s Get Crazy”, which sounds like a song that was meant for somebody else, all the songs here are tightly knit. And even that is forgivable, because lyrically Rick doesn’t necessarily falter. This is a classic album that serves as both a great debut and a pivot piece for a new wave of rap styling. It’s well-rounded and crisp, full of wit and creativity. The most important thing about it being that it has proved to stand the test of time as a bona fide classic.

My favorite songs on here are “The Ruler’s Back” , “Hey Young World” and the ever-so-Dope “Teenage Love”

One of my favorite rap songs and videos of all time.

Overall, The Great Adventures Of… gets 16 Candles out of a possible

4812 or 16.

4(Classic Just because where it stands in Hip-Hop, whether it be the time of it’s release, it’s influence, or the popularity of it’s singles overall)

8(Classic because it was solid for it’s time, but may be a little dated or less than amazing by today’s standards)

12(Classic as a complete release and probably celebrated widely on the surface, but possibly lacking one key element – be it one song that doesn’t fit, a wack guest appearance, lyrics, lack of depth or beats)

16(Classic all around)

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