The Green Room with Lil Dicky (2015)

Advertising, Comedy, Interviews, Music, Published Material, Videos

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This article was originally published on NahRight.com in 2015, just prior to the second leg of Lil Dicky’s Professional Rapper tour, and also as he was first starting to write his hit FX comedy series Dave.

Written by Daniel Isenberg

Lil Dicky ain’t your stereotypical Jewish rapper. Okay yes, he has a silly name. And yes, he’s a lanky guy from the suburbs with a beard. And yes, he makes funny songs. He checks all those boxes. But there’s one very important thing that separates him from the pack—he’s not wack. Watch his video for “Lemme Freak” once and you’ll instantly understand. Dude is legitimately nasty with the bars, an insane storyteller, a natural comedian, and a born performer. Stop fronting and give LD his props.

With the spring leg of his Professional Rapper tour starting this week, we got on the horn with Lil Dicky for our latest edition of The Green Room to get a detailed look at what life is like on the road for the blossoming rap star. Turns out things aren’t as glamorous as you might expect, though it sounds like that might change this go-around. Read below to find out all about Lil Dicky’s live show steez, in front of and behind the curtain.

First Live Performance

Lil Dicky: “In my case, it’s bizarre, because I wasn’t a rapper to the world until two years ago. I never really did anything until my first mixtape. So I put it out as a guy in his room making these songs on his computer by himself, and it blew up. And I was faced with the situation that I had to start doing concerts.

“Literally, my first concert was in my hometown of Philadelphia. I sold out the TLA which is like 1,000 people, and I honestly had never even rapped in front of more than like three friends. Ever. I would actually label that day as one of the worst days of my life. Obviously, it’s not a tragic day—it’s a good worst day to have. But in terms of my overall stress level leading up to the show, that day was pretty unbearable.

“After that first show, it felt like I was born to do it. It came very naturally to me. However, my biggest memory is for my first song, I walked out there, and I had so much energy that I went way too hard in the first minute and a half. And I got extremely tired. From that point on, the whole concert was an uphill battle to survive. I was rapping my verses like, ‘Just make it to the hook. Just survive this verse.’ And I did that for twelve straight songs. The stage was huge, and I didn’t know how to pace myself.

“But it was great. It was my hometown. Some 76ers came. Like, this is my first public foray into rap. I knew people were paying attention in my mind, but that fact that Nerlens Noel decided to come to my rap concert just felt like an alternate universe.”

Rehearsing

“In between songs is really stand-up comedy-based. There are planned jokes. So what we mainly rehearse is the transitions. The songs just don’t end and then another one starts. Everything is driven by language. The rehearsal is less about me rehearsing my raps. Although, I want to do some more choreographed dancing. I haven’t done that yet. But it’s basically just making sure we’re all on the same page from a cue perspective.

“We put in like two rehearsal days before the tour. And then, you’re doing it every night which is like a rehearsal too, and then soundcheck every day too, so it just gets better and tighter as it goes on.”

Packing

“I’ve been working on my album, and that’s kind of been my sole focus, so I don’t even know what what my go-to on-stage outfit or what my look is for this tour. Since the tour starts tomorrow and I don’t know it, I’m gonna have to go with what I own.

“I’m less into basketball jerseys than I was before. And I can’t be in any sort of jeans or skinny pant up there. It needs to have air. Like, sweatpants or sweat-shorts are ideal, and those take up a lot of space. So I pack a few pairs of sweats, a bunch of hoodies because the hoodie is a great look on and off the court as a rapper. I pack a few choice button-downs that I would never wear on stage but that I would go to a bar afterwards in. And usually one or two pairs of shoes—I’m not a big sneakerhead.

“My big thing is that I have all of my bathing products sorted out. I bring a loofa, towels. I’m pretty anal about showering so I bring all my facewash. I make sure I have all that stuff at all times. I shower twice a day, and honestly, a lot of stuff that happens on tour is predicated around my showering.”

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Travel Activities

“Last tour, we got an RV and went four weeks straight without going home. This tour, I have shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, then I fly back to L.A. and I’m here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. We’re doing that so I can finish my album.

“I like to rent movies on my iTunes, but then my battery dies. But honestly, there aren’t a lot of movies that I need to see that I haven’t seen. I’m at that place where it’s great when I find out there’s a great movie out that I haven’t seen.

“Usually I’m listening to rap music. At this point in my life, I only listen to rap. The new Drake, the new Big Sean, those are like what I flip and flop back and forth on currently. And Forest Hills Drive, the new J. Cole. I’m in need of a new one. I’m over those to some extent. I’m looking forward to Kendrick’s album, that’s coming out at the right time for me.

“In the RV, there was like a full bedroom, so I was able to have a bed. There’s a lot of weed being smoked. I actually try not to do it during the day, because it will just make me burned out and tired if I have a concert. But everyone else is smoking weed.

“I’m actually working on a TV show right now, which is based off of my life. It’s like Curb Your Enthusiasm, but instead of being in Larry David’s world, it’s in my world, and I’m a 26-year-old rapper. So I take heavy notes on what’s happening at all times on tour, and then try to put them together. I don’t really write the show on the road. I get all my notes done and organize my thoughts and think about things.

“I don’t think I could be in a moving vehicle and write rap music. I can barely even be in a studio. I need to be at my desk and locked in. I pretty much spent every day writing raps for the past year-and-a-half, and I started doing this whole thing to be a comedian, to be honest. I didn’t know I was going to become as good of a rapper as I became. So when I’m actually on tour, it’s my only time that I can’t focus on writing raps. So I take advantage of that time to focus on writing TV.

“That’s where my head’s at on tour, because when I’m on tour, that’s probably the most entertaining backdrop of my life. So I can imagine a lot of Episode 5 coming from that. Like, I have grown men coming up to me like, ‘Yo, can you sign my dick?’ Stuff like that is happening.

“I just say, ‘No. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I can’t be the guy signing everybody’s dicks. I can’t be that rapper yet.’”

Backstage

“I have friends who whenever I do a show are like, ‘Hey, can I come backstage?’ And I always warn them and say, ‘Sure, but it’s probably way more underwhelming than you’d expect.’ I haven’t been backstage at another rapper’s show, but I imagine it’s far more entertaining. Mine is really just four guys kind of sitting quietly. Half the time people are napping. I don’t really nap, I just kind of sit there.

“I used to never do anything in terms of drinking or smoking before went on stage. I used to just go on sober. Only recently have I started smoking weed before shows. I don’t do it every time, and I can’t go overboard. There’s been times where I’ve gone on stage high and it was too much stimulation to handle. I remember being on the first song, like, ‘Dude, please don’t collapse.’

“There’s usually dinner. A few menus being thrown at us, and then a conversation as to which type of food we should have that night. That’s what goes on, those type of discussions. It’s not like, ‘Oh man, Meek Mill just came through.’

“I’m open to change, though. I’m not absolutely sold on the current construct. And I think because it was it was my first tour last time, I took it seriously as a job. I was as responsible as responsible can be. But I think I’ll get more laidback in terms of letting myself have fun. My New Year’s resolution is genuinely to have more fun. There’s a lot more fun to be had. I don’t have any stories from my first tour to tell my grandkids that would blow them away. Even if it’s for my TV show, I just need to get out of my comfort zone a little more and see what happens.”

On Stage

“I’m still educating people. There’s still a PowerPoint presentation in the show, which I always think is really funny. There’s hundreds of drunk people who came to hear rap music, and all of a sudden I take them through a 12-minute slideshow. I show them a deck. I say, ‘Before I get into this, I just want to make sure everyone is on the same page. I don’t know if you know this about me, but I have a little bit of a business background.’ And I get everyone’s minds in the same place for the show.

“I’m not sure if I’m gonna stick with it, but I have added the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ to my set list. An acapella where I get real Whitney Houston. I make everyone take their hats off. [Laughs.] I tend to go into the crowd and rap. I go down there, I gotta get with the people. So new things keep presenting themselves, then I keep assessing.

“I don’t know if I’m there yet, but the more money I get—I don’t really care about money—the more I’m going to invest in my show. In three years it will be a Kanye times Book of Mormon experience, hopefully. Imagine me on top of a huge mountain called ‘The Rap Game,’ and there’s chocolate milk pouring down the mountain out of what appears to be my butt, with strippers drinking the milk. It can go a bunch of different directions.”

Dry-Humping Girls During “Lemme Freak”

My favorite person I’ve ever seen live was Usher. And this is a trick I saw Usher do back in the day, when these R&B guys bring girls on stage and do a lot of dry humping. So I always wanted to have an excuse to do that. ‘Lemme Freak’ was the first time I ever wrote a song where I’m asking girls to have sex with them. I’ve never done the song live without doing that.

It’s never really gone bad, but there was one time that the crowd was so male dominant and the girls there weren’t really volunteering, and it took too long to get a girl on stage. It was weird, like I was forcing the issue. But it was funny how it took like 25 seconds to make that happen. Normally, girls scream and they want to do it.

In theory, I don’t ask her permission to do this before, so it’s a longshot, but you could see someone—if they really hated me—suing for sexual harassment. So I make it a point to whisper in their ear as it’s happening, ‘Are you okay?’ That’s my favorite part of the show, when I ask the girl if she’s okay. She’s like, ‘Yeah, this is cool.’ And I’m like, ‘Cool.’ [Laughs.]

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Fan Interaction

“After a show, I’ll go by where I sell merch, and I’ll literally meet anyone who wants to meet me. So if the entire audience wanted to meet me, they would meet me. It takes like an hour and a half. People line up and it’s really fun.

“This is all so new, and I do so much of it by myself. Even now with my level of fame, I don’t really go out much or take advantage of it. My lifestyle isn’t any different than before I started. But when I’m here with all these people that are fans of my music, it’s like they see me as if I saw Denzel Washington, which is interesting to me. It’s so fun for me to meet people. I sign autographs, take pictures, and that whole thing.

“I want people to meet me and like me. A lot of me is reflected in the music, but I’m definitely Dave. 99% of the time, I’m not Lil Dicky. I want people to like Dave.”

Dream Female Tour Encounter

“After the show, I’m signing my autographs or whatever. Obviously, a beautiful girl walks up. And she’s not like the rest of them. [Laughs.] For whatever reason, I’m seeing a brunette. She says something like, ‘I had never heard about you until tonight when my friend…’ Basically, she’s not a huge Lil Dicky fan. She got brought there by a friend, and she just found out about it. So she’ll say, ‘I just found about about you. My friend brought me here. But I just want you to know I’m a believer, and I want you to know that I really appreciate what you’re doing and I think it’s awesome.’

“Then I’ll say, ‘Oh, thank you. What’s your name?’ And she’ll say like, ‘Kirsten,’ or something. I don’t know. And I’ll say, ‘Kirsten, do you live out here? Well, you’ve gotta tell me where I should be going next.’ And I’ll be able to know from that interaction if she’s interested in hanging out. Ideally, there’s a shower at the venue, and I say, ‘Kirsten, I think we should hang out after the show. Let me just shower real quick. Are you down to hang out for like fifteen minutes?’

“Then we end up going to some bar where me and Kirsten are really in our own world. It’s not that loud, and we’re just simply talking. She’s probably like 25, and she’s really confident. And I think it’s a situation where it’s the end of the night and everyone’s leaving, and I’m like, ‘Listen, I can’t leave now.’ I’m just kind of locked in.

“Ideally, we’d have sex. But that’s not what this is about. I think we could end up just talking. To me, when I watch movies and stuff, there are times when you meet a girl and you’re just blown away. I feel like that happens all the time in movies, but it never happens in real life. I’m waiting for that to happen. So I think this is an example of where it’s like, ‘Holy shit. This girl seems like she’s legitimately perfect for me.’

“I’d probably end up spending the night with her, and then try to get her to come with. She never will, because she’s got her own job and her own life. She’s got such an impressive life that she would never entertain the idea of doing that. But we’d stay in touch, and keep texting, and maybe it even turns into like Skyping every now and again. Then I’d see her when I’m back in town, and the connection is just as real. Maybe she moves to L.A., I don’t know.

“It’s not a drunk night where I’m grinding with a girl having the best sex I’ve ever had. It’s like a sober night, where it’s heavily conversation-based. And the first kiss is just as exciting as sex.”

Eating on the Road

“I’m pretty into fast food. I’ve got a bunch of fast food favorites. I’d say the Taco Bell/KFC combo is my favorite thing, because under one roof you’ve got great options. Chipotle is a great thing for me. I love Wendy’s—the Spicy Chicken sandwich has been a big factor in my life. Then, there are occasions where I’ll insist on going to Morton’s Steakhouse one night. It’s fast food, then every now and then there’s an unnecessarily nice dinner.”

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Favorite Tour Stops

“My favorite show I’ve ever done was Madison, Wisconsin. All my shows before Madison seemed to be in major cities. Those are cool, but they’re not like a college town. The first time I went to Madison was the first time I was faced with a college crowd. And they just want it more. College kids go out every night with the sole purpose of having the best night of their lives. It’s really great. Everyone just buys in. So I’m really looking forward to going back to Madison.

“It’s my birthday on Saturday, and I’ll be in Utah. I’ve never been to Utah, so I’ll be spending my birthday in Salt Lake City. Maybe that will be cool. Actually, I’m looking forward to going to Indiana. I feel like that will be a very similar vibe to Madison. Chicago I’m looking forward to. I had never been to Chicago before, and after being there once, I think it’s a top 3 city in America. Minneapolis sold out like a month ago, so I think I have a really strong fan base in Minneapolis. Plus I’ve never been there. Going to places I’ve never been is great. It’s like, everyone’s seeing a PowerPoint presentation at a rap show for the first time, and I love that.”

Upcoming Tour Goals

“My goal is to have fun. The more I have fun, the more fun the shows will be. Beyond that, it’s just growing the fan base and connecting with the people I’ve never met. I think once people meet me, it will be even easier to be a lifelong fan. Then once the album comes out, I have different goals. But this tour is pre-album, so it’s getting people to keep spreading the word.”

The Professional Rapper Album

“I’m making it thinking that I’m going to get a lot of first time listeners. I know my fans are going to be into it, but I’m thinking about it from the perspective of people who haven’t heard anything. I think it’s great. I think it’s one song away from being truly tremendous. I think it’s still tremendous even if I don’t get that last song. But I’m always fighting for that last song, that cherry on top.

“I’m not gonna give anything away, but there are definitely some really cool features. And it shows off my diversity. My style is in the way I say things and my lyrics, but I don’t have a go-to sound. I don’t want to be limited to one sound. Also, before my music sounded like a comedian who could rap. But now, half my songs aren’t even funny. It sounds more like a rapper who’s funny half the time.”

*Bonus*

After our NahRight interview, I became friendly with Lil Dicky’s manager Mike Hertz. And we ended up working together to bring LD to Trojan Condoms—a brand/client I was writing for during my early advertising days—for what would become a long-term relationship.

Here’s the first video we made with Lil Dicky and Trojan Condoms, titled “The Big Talk with Lil Dicky.” I love this so much, and I’m still so grateful I had the chance to work with LD and his team—they really are some of the most creative and talented people on the planet. 

Special thanks to Mike Hertz for all of the above! And big congrats to LD for all the success! You deserve every bit of it!

Fly Art

Art, Music

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I love everything about this new Jay Nice and RU$H tape. Their rhymes are on point, the production by JLVSN is loaded with ill samples, and two of my favorite MCs of all-time—Roc Marciano and Willie The Kid—are all over it. Plus, they got FRKO to do the cover, who you may remember from his work with Action Bronson.

Do yourself a favor and go pump this fly underground rap shit right now.

 

Purple Anniversary

Mixes, Music, The Good Old Days

Celebrate the 25th anniversary of Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… with Side 1 of this brand new DJ Filthy Rich tribute mix, featuring blends, remixes, OG samples, and of course, classic cuts off the LP. Rich always comes correct, so you’re in for a treat.

Stay tuned for Side 2.

BEATBOX MIX

Mixes, Stan Ipcus, The Good Old Days

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Here’s a new mix I put together, featuring a collection of live and recorded beatbox tracks, including new joints by me and Max B. Stream/tracklist below.

Grap Luva “Freestyle”
Stan Ipcus ft. Max Bent “Dope (Big Ip Don’t Play)”
The Roots ft. Rahzel and Dice Raw “The Lesson Pt. 1”
Slick Rick ft. Doug E. Fresh “Sittin’ In My Car”
Slick Rick ft. Doug E. Fresh “La Di Da Di”
KRS-One ft. D-Nice “Freestyle (Live)”
Roxanne Shante ft. Biz Markie “The Def Fresh Crew”
GZA ft. Ol’ Dirty Bastard “Video Music Box Freestyle”
Rahzel “Wu-Tang Medley (Live)”
RZA ft. Ol’ Dirty Bastard “Talent Show Freestyle (Live)”
MF Doom “Hoe Cakes (Beatboxappella)”
Chubb Rock “Mr. Large”
Lyricist Lounge MCs “Outside The Lounge”
The Roots ft. Rahzel “100% Dundee”
Black Thought ft. Rahzel “KALX Freestyle”
Nas ft. Doug E. Fresh “Virgo”
Lil’ Vicious ft. Doug E. Fresh “Freaks”
Snoop ft. Doug E. Fresh “Lodi Dodi (Live)”
Stan Ipcus ft. Max Bent “Ippy What, Dippy Who”
Stan Ipcus ft. Matisyahu “My Ferris Buellers (Live On Hot 97)”
Beastie Boys “Get On The Mic”
Fat Boys “Human Beat Box”
Just-Ice “Latoya”
T La Rock ft. Greg Nice “Tudy Fruity Judy”
DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince “Rock The House”
KRS-One ft. D-Nice “The P Is Free (Live)”
Phife Dawg ft. Q-Tip “Arsenio Hall Freestyle”
The Roots “No Great Pretender”*

*This mix is dedicated to the memory of Malik B

Slick Talkin’

Interviews, Published Material

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This article was originally published by Urban Legends in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick.

By Daniel Isenberg

The Notorious B.I.G.’s “I Got a Story To Tell.” Nas’ “Blaze a 50.” Kendrick Lamar’s “The Art of Peer Pressure.” These captivating songs all use storytelling as a device to make their raps come to life inside our minds. And though these three MCs and many others have been praised for their storytelling abilities, there is only one who has been undisputedly crowned by rap fans, critics and his peers as the greatest hip-hop storyteller of all-time—and he goes by the name of Slick Rick. And if there’s one body of work that defines this greatness, it’s his debut album The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month.

The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, originally released by Def Jam Records on November 1st, 1988, is a timeless collection of hip-hop hits, anchored by story-driven street raps like “Children’s Story,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Teenage Love.” Hip-hop records will often sound stale when aged three decades, but not in the case of this era-defining opus. Sure, there are moments on the album when the production is defined by ‘80s trends, but Rick’s futuristic rhyme schemes, melodic cadences, crisp delivery, and one-of-a-kind, English-infused accent make the songs still sound as fresh as the day the album dropped. 

Ricky Walters a.k.a. Slick Rick was born into a Jamaican household in South London in 1965. As an infant, he was blinded in his right eye after an incident involving broken glass, hence the distinguishing eyepatch he’s rocked throughout his career. But Rick was shy as a kid because of the injury and spent most of his time inside, where he developed a love for writing stories. And this passion for storytelling would prove to be invaluable when his family moved across the pond during his adolescent years, settling down in the burgeoning home of hip-hop—The Bronx.  

Rick’s coming-of-age in the Baychester section of the BX aligned perfectly with the popularization of rap music, and though he held tight to his British accent, his assimilation into hip-hop culture came naturally. At the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, he formed his own rap circle, The Kangol Crew with fellow MC and classmate Dana Dane. But it was his run-in with Doug E. Fresh at a talent show in 1984 that led to an official release on wax with The Get Fresh Crew, giving the world its first taste of his uncanny storytelling skills. 

On the B-side to Doug E. Fresh’s 1985 single “The Show” was the beatbox banger “La Di Da Di,” a highly-quotable party cut that details a wild encounter—described play-by-play—with an older woman. It was Rick’s breakthrough moment—and one that compelled Def Jam executive Lyor Cohen to sign Rick to a solo record deal in 1986. Lyor spoke to us about his first time seeing Slick Rick perform, and why he was determined to add him to the Def Jam roster. 

“Slick Rick was one of the most unique storytellers I’d ever heard,” Cohen says. “To me, he represented something in such a high quality—unreplicable. He’s a remarkable person, but he is a different type of person. He’s in his own imagination, in his own head. They performed ‘La Di Da Di’ and ‘The Show’ all over the place. That was back when him and Doug E. could do five shows a night in the tri-state area. I saw him, and I wanted to sign him desperately. He was gonna be my first signing, and it was really critical and important to me. All I wanted to do is sign him and protect him as best I could. I knew that by signing him, he would make Def Jam greater. And that’s the only thing that mattered to me—making Def Jam greater. In terms of the storytelling and conceptual architecture, I left that to him.”

From there, Rick worked with the powers that be to piece his debut album together, pairing songs he masterfully-crafted himself with tracks produced by The Bomb Squad and the late Jam Master Jay. Two years later, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick was finally released, at a time when Def Jam was thriving with acts like LL Cool J, Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys. But quite easily, Slick Rick stood out from the pack—and not just because of his accent or the patch over his eye. It was his abilities both as a storyteller on the mic and a beat-maker behind the boards that led to the birth of hip-hop’s newest superstar, and the creation of one of the most revered rap LPs in hip-hop history.

And now, ladies and gentlemen—and Lo-Lifes—the story behind the making of The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, as told to us by the G.O.A.T. storyteller himself. Heeeere we go.

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“I was always into telling stories, and humor.”

Slick Rick: “I was just being myself. Everyone else was into battle raps, and—no disrespect or nothin’—there was a one-dimensional thing going on. I wasn’t really into the battle thing as much as telling stories and humor, with my leftover English accent. It stood out because of the accent and the stories, and it gave rap variety instead of just being one big battle for supremacy.

“I wrote them like an essay form, where you have your introduction to what it’s about, your body of the story, and your ending—with a moral message or something. In high school English class, that’s how you’d lay out the format. I’d start with four cute, hot lines. Then I’d just keep going and going until I’d have a whole record length. An intro, a body, and an outro.

“I was always into telling stories, and humor. It’s like watching the Eddie Murphy movie Raw, when he shows you in the very beginning how he used to do stand-up in front of his relatives? It was very similar to that—telling stories in front of your friends, and seeing what makes them laugh. So when I played with my friends in my age group, that’s how we would play. I would tell them stories, give a little humor and shit. Then when rap came about, I just transferred it into rap form. It just rhymes now.”

“Your imagination is just running wild.”

“‘Treat Her Like a Prostitute,’ and all that type of stuff—that’s really just young, adolescent, girl crazy shit. Getting your heart broken, you’re new at romance, your hormones are raging. Think back to when you’re like between 18 and 23, this is the mentality of most youth. So you tell stories that match your age and your environment. 

“It wouldn’t be like a Joan Collins book—it wouldn’t be that sophisticated, because she’s a mature, older woman. It would be more of how kids talk and what’s happening with them at your age. If you were a young adult in the ‘80s, this is how you interact with each other. This is how you talk. Like, ‘Imagine if I met a cute Indian girl, and I was running around with that raccoon hat Davy Crockett was wearing, and I had to meet her parents.’ Your imagination is just running wild.

“And you get it from old TV shows. Like the melody, ‘Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier.’ Shit like that. It’s like when Will Smith made ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ over—it was something his age group was familiar with. It’s pretty much the same thing—they all grew up on it. You draw from your environment, and have fun like the kids your age.”

“I tried to take what I was banging on the desk, and transfer it to the drum machine.”

“We used to just bang on the desks, and repeat songs that were popular in the early ages of hip-hop—duplicate the break beats.

“Then, the first time I went to Teddy Riley’s house, I saw he had a drum machine and an organ and stuff, that he used to make songs. I found out what the name of the drum machine was, and the organ that he had, and I got it myself. Once I tried to take what I was banging on the desk, and transfer it to the drum machine, it worked instantly.

“I couldn’t really play instruments, I just knew they had the sounds on it. And if you take, one, two, three steps, you can basically come up with a bassline. Once I got the organ, I knew how to get the upright bass and the sax and the violin loaded up. Then I’d get the drum track together, and then decorate it with the instruments.

“Sometimes, you’d get inspired by other records that was hot, like breakbeats or ‘70s, ‘80s records, and you’d try to duplicate them in your own way. So it has that feel that minorities liked at the time. Anything that moved your feet, that gives you that soul, I tried to put it down like that with the drum machine and the organ. 

“I learned to play the organ—not fancy like Stevie Wonder, just one finger at a time. Because bass lines are not that complicated. The bass player has a simple job. It’s just repetition. Then the violin gives it that nice, angelic feel. And the sax gives it that fulfillment, that substance. So you’re basically just relying on the drum track, and the melody to go with it. 

“I went to the High School of Music & Art, but I was there for art. But hip-hop was like, grabbing from our youth. Hip-hop wasn’t really musically inclined, from Flash to Melle Mel to Cold Crush Brothers—you had a good ear for music, and you’d take other people’s music and make it even better. There was no real musical training like that. Once you learned the drums and put the little melody on top and it felt good to you and your people, you just kept it moving like that.”

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“When you’re making an album, that’s when the pressure comes in.”

At the time, I was only used to making a single here and there. ‘The Show’ with Doug E. Fresh, and “La Di Da Di. I wasn’t really looking at it like a job, like, ‘Oh, I gotta make this and bring it to the record label, hope I get a contract.’ We was just having fun and shit, getting noticed. And if it works that instantly, it should continue to work the same way when you make your own album.

“But it’s a lot more songs when you’re making an album, that’s where the pressure comes in. If I said to you, ‘All you have to do is make one hit record a year’—that’s nothing. But if I said you gotta make, ten, twelve—now you gotta narrow it down to your best ideas. But you still ain’t finished, because they want twelve! So let’s say you got eight, nine. Now you’re gonna have to toss a couple album fillers in there to make the whole cake.

“I had ideas that were just sitting there. It wasn’t really like demos, or anything like that. It was like playing with a toy. You play with drum machine and the organ, you come up with something, like ‘That sounds kinda hot.’ Then you get an idea of how to rap on it—a pattern—and a story that would fit it.”

“It was a laid-back, dark, creepy spot.”

“Back then, there was a studio called Chung King, somewhere near Canal Street. It was a laid-back, dark, creepy spot, but I guess it was the birthplace of Def Jam Records and stuff. So that’s where we went.

“I had an 8-track, a drum machine and an organ at home. Once I got to the studio, now it was 24 tracks, a drum machine and an organ. So now I had 24 tracks, for whatever. Ad-libs, sound effects. You see how ‘Mona Lisa’ has a sound effect of an audience clapping in the front, when I say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, and Lo-Lifes.’ That’s because I had 24 tracks I could play with. ‘Mona Lisa’ is like two voices talking to each other, but it’s really just me. I just rewinded the track and filled it in. 

“Most of the sessions, you’d have your engineer, and a couple execs to make sure everything is going according to plan. But when it came time for other producers, that’s when they’d give you their tracks, and then you gotta rap on their stuff. It wasn’t like someone was overseeing my stuff, but when it came to other people’s stuff, it was like that. We did song songs with Public Enemy’s people—Hank Shocklee and them—Jam Master Jay, and that’s pretty much all I can remember.

“Back then, nobody was really doing collabos. Eric B. and Rakim did their own album, LL Cool J did his own album, Public Enemy did their own album. It wasn’t really collabo time yet.” 

“I leaked it to Red Alert.”

“I pretty much made ‘The Ruler’s Back’ by myself, and I leaked it to Red Alert. Def Jam was taking too long to release stuff. I had been on the shelf since ‘86 to like, late ‘88. So I needed something to keep me alive. So I took one of the songs I made at home, and I leaked it to Red Alert. It was a cassette.

“I said, ‘Red Alert, I need you to to play this shit on the radio and keep my name alive, because, I don’t know, niggas is moving slow over here.’ So when Red Alert released it, it rejuvenated my name and career, instead of just sitting there like you ain’t doing nothing, or you’re lazy, letting rumors spread. Then after that, Def Jam started doing what they had to do. It was like, ‘Let’s get this moving, kid. Can’t just sit here for three years doing nothing.’” 

“I wanted to put out ‘Children’s Story’ first.”

“The first record they dropped was ‘Teenage Love.’ I wanted to strangle them niggas. [Laughs.] ‘Cause it’s slow. I got ‘Children’s Story’ in the stash, I got ‘Mona Lisa’ in the stash, so I’m like, ‘Come on, now. What is this, ‘Kill A Nigga’s Career Day?’’ I was a little upset about that.

“The record label went a different direction. They put out the slow one first. I’m like, ‘Nah nigga, you gotta strike while the iron’s hot.’ Then you trinkle down to slow stuff. I wanted to put out ‘Children’s Story’ first, then ‘Mona Lisa,’ then ‘Hey Young World,’ and then maybe ‘Teenage Love.’ But they went with ‘Teenage Love’ first. So what’cha gonna do? They the power. 

“At that time, Big Daddy Kane was out, Rob Base, and lots of fast-paced stuff was running around. So it’s best that you put your best foot forward, then go into slow love songs. See LL can do that, because he’s already famous. And he started off with ‘I Need a Beat,’ and built up a reputation. And he was a ladies man, so he could do that. But you can’t come out the gate like that when nobody’s heard from you since ‘85, ‘86.  

“Hip-hop is not really into love songs like that. It’s cute, sometimes, like LL Cool J shit. But hip-hop is really more upbeat and gritty.

“‘Children’s Story’ was the one I was most excited about, because I knew it was gonna be a hit, before it even hit the air. I knew it was gonna be a problem. When I saw what ‘La Di Da Di’ and ‘The Show/ did with the listening audience, I knew that ‘Children’s Story’ had to match or go beyond it.

“We had just pulled up to a gas station, and we was playing ‘Children’s Story’ in the car. Me, my friends, a couple girls was in the car. And I knew that right then it was a problem. It gave me a sense of confidence, and they wasn’t saying nothing negative, so I knew it was over. Once they started playing “Children’s Story” on the radio, I was good to go.”

“I had my little ring game going on, with the Ray Bans.”

“It was right before Christmas, ‘88. We had an album release party, and we had on Santa Claus hats. A couple other celebrities was in the house, like Eric B. and Run. We was just having a good time. You had girls with the hats on trying to promote it. I had my little ring game going on, with the Ray Bans—it was very exciting.

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The Great Adventures of Slick Rick was embraced instantly by both fans and critics. Def Jam publicist Bill Adler remembers the time around the album release fondly. “It was recognized as a masterpiece from the day it came out,” he told us. “The popular reaction to the album was huge, and the critical reaction was very, very positive—immediately.” And that favorable critic response has continued on to this day, with The Source granting it an honorary Five Mics rating in 2002, and Complex ranking “Children’s Story” No. 1 on their 50 Best Storytelling Rap Songs list in 2012. 

Artists have also used Great Adventures as a source of creative inspiration for their own music, with everyone from Montell Jordan to Mos Def to Action Bronson interpolating album favorites for their own hits, and heavyweight producers like Kanye West still using his vocals to create hooks for modern-day rap releases. The influence of Great Adventures on hip-hop over the past 30 years has been endless, as cited during Complex’s 25 Favorite Albums interview series by legendary Slick Rick collaborators Nas and Big Boi of Outkast, as well as one of rap’s most celebrated MCs of 2018—Roc Marciano.

Nas: “It’s a musical storybook. It’s from a New Yorker with an English accent with an imagination that’s never been heard of before in music. He’s just amazing.” (Complex)

Big Boi: “He was one of my favorite MCs coming up. I had that tape as well. I might’ve been in the 5th or 6th grade or something like that, and he was just the coolest rapper on the planet. Him and Big Daddy Kane were just the coolest guys ever. And not just for the roast. He spit game. He was one of the greatest storytellers of all time, when it comes to hip-hop music. And that was just a great record. You could visualize the words and things he was saying. He was so cool. I’m all about the cool shit.” (Complex)

Roc Marciano: “Storytelling at its finest. Nothing but hits. Records to this day that dudes still have not topped. Who’s made a record better than ‘Hey Young World’ since? Is there anything that’s been released between then and now that can really touch that? Storytelling like ‘Mona Lisa’? Has anyone done that? They’ve tried, but dammit, they failed. Slick Rick is top five for me, forever. Who’s fuckin’ with Slick Rick? There’s nobody that can out rap Slick Rick. Slick Rick’s The Ruler, and this body of work proves it.” (Complex)

It’s clear that The Great Adventures of Slick Rick has been cherished consistently since its release in ‘88. But there still are young rap artists who may have never heard the album. Lyor Cohen stressed to us the importance of these new artists—and fans—doing their hip-hop homework, and delving into Slick Rick’s debut.

Lyor Cohen: “I think all these new rappers—and fans—should spend a couple minutes in understanding the art form. And by doing so, they’ll have to bump into Ricky. I think there’s a lot of things they can take away. In my mind, part of art is about borrowing. It’s just the nature of art. I think they will be richer artists and richer fans for understanding the historical references. And by the way, the joints still feel fresh—to this day.”

As for Slick Rick himself, well, he still gets a kick out of listening to Great Adventures—and performing it—30 years later. And he’s proud of the impact the record has made on hip-hop through the years. 

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“Certain songs will always last the test of time.”

Slick Rick: “Listening to it again 30 years later, some things still crack me up. Some of the humor is still refreshing, and makes me earnestly chuckle. The sex scene part in ‘Indian Girl,’ I still like on ‘Mona Lisa’ when I say, ‘Shut up, eat your slice of pizza and be quiet.’ I like ‘Moment I Feared,’ because it had a gritty effect. But the humor, and the beats. 

“‘Children’s Story’ and ‘Mona Lisa’ will still move a modern hip-hop audience. Certain songs will always last the test of time because of something about them—a James Brown song will always rock a party. Some records are dated, and some can go beyond. And that’s what some of these songs still do—that’s why we’re able to still do shows and bring about intrigue, and have an audience nostalgic about their youth or the ‘80s.”

“I’m flattered that artists would remake the songs they like.”

“I’m flattered that artists would remake the songs they like. It’s a form of flattery. A lot of them are inspired by the stories, maybe it grasped some part of their youth.

“A lot of my records are easy to sample, because you got a lot of nice, crisp, clear sentences that can be used as another individual’s chorus. Hip-hop is a lot of samples, and it was easy to make choruses from my vocals, taking lines and making nice choruses and do what they need to do on their newer records. I’m part of their creativity.

“I liked the Lost Boyz version of ‘Hey Young World,’ and Nas ‘Cops Shot The Kid,’ that joint was hot. And I liked Color Me Badd ‘I Wanna Sex You Up,’ and Snoop’s remake of ‘La Di Da Di,’ that was appreciated.”

“I’m not trying to cater to one small, youthful audience.”

“When I make a new record, I’m not trying to cater to one small, youthful audience. It’s better to show that your audience from your generation still exists, and it draws other ages towards you. It’s like when you see younger kids like Stevie Wonder. 

“You don’t want to seem too preachy, because that’s what everyone expects—that’s not really the market I want to go for. I want to be more of a Redd Foxx. He was hilarious, and that’s what stands the test of time. Like, a Richard Pryor. You talk about where you’re at now in life, and then it resonates. They’re not catering to anyone, and that’s what makes them become classics, icons—legends forever.”

“You gotta keep your identity.”

“It’s still a pleasure to perform—it’s still a joy. If you truly enjoy it, then it resonates with the audience and they truly enjoy it. Then you’re good to go.

“I’m happy that younger audiences enjoy themselves. They enjoy the grit, the soul, the groove of the song. It makes you dance, it makes you happy. Being yourself, your audience comes to you, whatever age—young, old. You gotta keep your identity. There’s a lot of pressure for an older artist to act like a younger artist, but sometimes it won’t work. Because you don’t seem authentic to yourself.” 

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“I ain’t playing no bubble gum trap shit tonight,” exclaims Funkmaster Flex as he addresses the Sony Hall crowd on one of the last summer weeknights of the year in Manhattan. With Slick Rick and co-headliner Jay Electronica waiting in the wings, Flex warms up the “25 and older” rap fans with an onslaught of ‘90s gems, ranging from Brand Nubian’s “Step To The Rear” to Redman’s “Tonight’s Da Night” to the DMX, LOX and Mase posse cut “Niggaz Done Started Something.” It’s the type of red carpet rollout only Flex could provide for an artist of Slick Rick’s royal rap stature.

After almost an hour of Flex destroying the decks, Slick Rick emerges from backstage draped in a self-designed tank top, a diamond-studded eyepatch and in his signature, oversized truck jewels—the same ones he so gracefully sports during a cameo in the new French Montana and Drake “No Stylist” video (he even dips out mid-set to change chains, displaying the full breadth of his majestic collection). Backed by his dancers “The Slickettes,” Rick runs through his most notable classics and smiles as the spirited crowd shouts out every quotable, controlling the mic with the confidence of a king. It’s clear that 30 years later, nothing has curbed Slick Rick’s desire to tell his stories—all hail The Ruler. 

Photos via UpNorthTrips and Photo Rob. And a very special thank you to Lauren Nostro!