If you listen to hip hop today, you probably owe Slick Rick a thank-you. Rick's 1988 album, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, is a classic of the genre, with storytelling that's like your most interesting friend telling his most interesting story -- it altogether lacks the trite boasts and gloating that sinks much of today's hip hop.
Rick, along with fellow rap relics Doug E. Fresh and Chubb Rock, will headline the Ole Skool Cabaret at the Homewood Coliseum, on Fri., Nov. 19.
England-born and Bronx-raised, Rick made his name in underground hip-hop battles in the early 1980s, where he soon began performing with Doug E. Fresh. The friendship led to a Slick Rick guest spot on Fresh's hit "The Show," which caught the ear of hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and landed Rick on Def Jam Records.
The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, with its smooth, British-tinged rhyming and surprisingly slick beats, made Rick one of the biggest names in the then-burgeoning rap scene. Then, in 1990, Rick was arrested for attempted murder. His work-in-progress, The Ruler's Back, was cut just before he entered jail, but Rick's career languished while he remained in prison until 1996.
Still, when you're a key figure in a new scene -- one that happens to eventually take over popular music -- one album can cement your status. And it has: In May 2010, Rick performed Great Adventures in its entirety at the annual hip-hop fest Rock the Bells, alongside other alums of the so-called Golden Age of Hip Hop -- the Wu Tang Clan, Eric B. & Rakim, and KRS-One.
Ole Skool Cabaret's additional performers, Doug E. Fresh and Chubb Rock, also had golden moments. Fresh was the first emcee to popularize the human beatbox, and his release The World's Greatest Entertainer was a hit in 1988. Rock had a minor hit in 1989 with And the Winner Is ..., which features some of the most hilarious cover art to date.
These are still fairly young men, but old-timers in rap years, seldom touring or recording; the Cabaret is a rare chance for a hip-hop education. Ole skool indeed.
Ole Skool Cabaret feat. Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh and Chubb Rock 9 p.m. Fri., Nov. 19. Homewood Coliseum, 7310 Frankstown Ave., Homewood. 412-728-5787