March 15, 2010

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Run through the class of ’88. Rakim’s last album was so sleep inducing you’d have thought the 18th letter stood for Rohypnol. No one’s checked for a Public Enemy song since they sampled Buffalo Springfield, and Chuck D writes the words “ex-Air America host” on his resume. Kane was last seen in velour, wandering around Bed-Sty in pursuit of a girl in Juicy Sweatpants, while KRS-One still believes the only “real” definition of hip-hop involves B-Boys and Bambaataa. Kool G Rap still murders almost every verse, but hasn’t had a new idea since people wore Conart. Which leaves the Grand Ruler the last one continuing to innovate out of his first ballot HOF peers. Nor should you be surprised, Ricky Walters was always advanced — the guy who had swag when it was called “staying fly.” You can trace a straight line from the chain worship of your favorite swag rapper du jour to Uncle Ricky, who wore a crown when T.I. wasn’t allowed to walk the streets of Bankhead without holding his mother’s hand. And Snoop and Mos Def’s cover choices and styles said more about Rick’s influence than any heavy-handed VH1 Hip Hop Honors could tell you.

By and large, the rappers that have achieved longevity in the rap game are the storytellers. Narratives are timeless and 25 years after “La-Di-Da-Di” few if any have ever topped the eye patched one’s ability to craft clever and occasionally poignant tales. See last year’s appearance on “The Auditorium,” where Rick inhabits the persona of an American soldier assailed by a young Iraqi child. The cameo was one of four Ricky did last year, with Raekwon and even Asher Roth aware that even at 45, no one writes a 16 like the ravishing one (no Rude).

Most recently, he marked his semi-annual return from hiatus by rhyming over Snoop’s “I Wanna Rock” and proving that he still hasn’t lost his ability to offend — a full three decades after “Treat Her Like a Prostitute.” The rhymes are quintessential Ricky D, laced with British lilt, strange voices, and the mocking of Harry Potter fans, and “soulless assholes who need to find religion.” He also promises to “do the Yoohoo on Arnold Schwarzenegger.” The question of Rick’s legacy was never one of influence but rather of catalogue. Cynics would only point to the “one classic album,” conveniently dismissing the fact that The Art of Storytelling was better than 99.3 percent of all rap releases last year. For all the damage his mid-career prison bid (and subsequent lackluster albums did), the last few years have seen Ricky reaffirm his spot as one of the greatest of all-time, and perhaps the best of his generation. To take the throne, someone’s going to have to pry the scepter from his cold claws.

Download:
MP3: Slick Rick – “I Wanna Rock Freestyle”
MP3: Dynas ft. Slick Rick – “Family Jewels”

MP3: Mos Def ft. Slick Rick – “Auditorium”

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