Chains, grills, watches and rings are staples of the hip hop scene, where spending and stunting often come with the territory. There is one accessory, however, that remains the purview of a single emcee: the eyepatch.
Richard Walters was born in 1965. Raised in London, Walters was blinded in his right eye at an early age. In 1976, his family moved to the Bronx, throwing a young Walters into the heart of the then-exploding hip hop scene. He met a likeminded artist, Dana Dane, at high school, and the pair formed The Kangol Crew, performing in local competitions and contests. It was at one of these contests that Walters, then going by MC Ricky D, met Doug E. Fresh in 1984. Fresh and Rick released “The Show” and its b-side, “La Di Da Di,” the following year. Whilst “The Show” hit #4 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, it was the latter which became a hip hop standard: the titular refrain, “la di da di,” reverberated across popular culture through a score of interpolations.
Ricky D didn’t get to capitalise on this momentum: he signed with Def Jam in ‘86, though conflicting visions from Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen held up his debut effort. It wasn’t until November 1988 that Ricky D - now Slick Rick - unleashed The Great Adventures of Slick Rick onto the world. Rick himself produced a bulk of the album, though there were a number of assists from Hank Shocklee and Eric Sadler (of production team The Bomb Squad) and a fleeting appearance from Run-DMC’s resident producer, Jam Master Jay. The resulting records would become Rick’s defining statement, and the influence the album wrought on hip hop can be traced through the hundreds of samples since sourced from the classic LP.
In celebration of the record’s thirtieth anniversary, we’re breaking down the samples that comprise Rick’s debut album!
"Treat Her Like a Prostitute"
The Great Adventures opens with one of Rick’s most incendiary and outright sexist titles. Whilst many albums from the era have aged poorly, Rick’s debut stands as one of the more obscene and distasteful efforts.
The sole sample on “Treat Her Like A Prostitute” is courtesy of hip hop pioneer Kurtis Blow, the first emcee to sign with a major label and earn Gold certification with the RIAA.
“AJ Scratch” was included on Blow’s Ego Trip, his fifth album, released in 1984. Though it failed to chart on release, the track has since been sampled in over 300 subsequent songs, largely due to the popularity of Blow’s four count at the open.
"The Ruler's Back"
Produced by Jam Master Jay, the DJ from hip hop pioneers Run-DMC, “The Ruler’s Back” opens with a Robin Hood pastiche before launching into some suitably medieval horn hits. Rick himself was born and, for a time, raised in London, which explains his affinity for the nation’s folklore.
The only sample on “The Ruler’s Back” is taken from Rick’s own Doug E. Fresh collaboration, 1986’s “La Di Da Di.” The sample appears at 0:14, with the phrase “stop lying!” lifted from the original.
Originally included as a b-side to “The Show,” another classic Doug and Rick joint, “La Di Da Di” has since become a frequently sampled song, appearing on over 900 tracks. The most notable sample appears on Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize,” which interpolates the self-aggrandising hook.
Perhaps his most enduring single, “Children’s Story” is one of the best examples of golden age hip hop storytelling. Rick was one of the emcees who pioneered narrative raps, and “Children’s Story” was his biggest hit. It peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart, and has since been sampled in almost 100 different tracks. Check out our look at Black Star’s lauded 1998 cover, included in the 20th anniversary edition of Behind ‘Black Star.’
The bass that enters at 0:07 is interpolated from Bob James’ oft-sampled jazz hit, “Nautilus.” The 1974 song was the final track on James’ debut album, One. The smooth jazz pioneer inadvertently became a hip hop staple by way of sampling.
The “fresh” turntable scratch that can be heard at 0:46 is taken from “Change The Beat,” the most frequently sampled turntable sound effect of all time.
The sound effect also appears on “The Ruler’s Back,” another Great Adventures cut. It was also featured on other ‘88 cuts by acts such as Ice-T, Tuff Crew, Eric B. & Rakim, Biz Markie and Big Daddy Kane.
"The Moment I Feared"
The titular moments in “The Moment I Feared” are violent confrontations: first, Rick himself getting jumped, second, Rick shooting an aggressor dead, and third, Rick getting sexually assaulted in prison. The grim track details the consequences of living a life of crime, and though it’s compelling enough, the uncomfortable outro is one of Rick’s more outrageous choices.
The distinctive, recognisable drums that run throughout “The Moment I Feared” is courtesy of the Godfather himself. The drum break from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” is one of the most pervasive Brown samples and, by extension, one of hip hop’s premier breakbeats.
At 0:44, Rick shouts out Bronx-based hip hop legends Boogie Down Productions, who’d released both their violent debut, Criminal Minded, and their politically-bent sophomore LP, By All Means Necessary.
Though he shouts them out himself, there’s a quiet sample of emcee KRS-One naming his group, taken from “Criminal Minded.” You can hear him say “productions” after Rick says “Boogie Down.”
Whilst “Children’s Story” featured elements from Bob James’ “Nautilus,” from his 1974 LP One, “The Moment I Feared” features elements from James’ rendition of Paul Simon’s “Take Me to the Mardi Gras,” included on his 1975 sophomore album, the aptly-titled Two.
The Bomb Squad also sample another track at 0:55, making subtle use of the horn hit from John Davis & The Monster Orchestra’s “I Can’t Stop.” Despite their lofty name, Davis & The Monster Orchestra were a mid-’70s orchestral disco outfit who released just four albums before disbanding.
"Let's Get Crazy"
An irreverent joint in which Rick celebrates his emceeing talents, “Let’s Get Crazy” is full of braggadocios claims and party-ready rhymes. All four of the samples within are courtesy of The Bomb Squad, who handled production.
The sample the kickstarts “Let’s Get Crazy,” one of Rick’s most energetic cuts, is taken from The Magic Disco Machine’s “Scratchin’.” The short lived disco outfit was comprised of in-house musicians from Motown who came together to make two MDM LPs in ‘75 and ‘76.
A new mix of the track - their foremost hit - was issued in ‘88, presumably to capitalise on its popularity amongst hip hop producers.
The phrase that’s scratched into the intro - “get a little stupid—” - is lifted from Original Concept’s 1986 single, “Pump That Bass.” That group, founded by a radio DJ named Doctor Dré, released just one album, 1988’s Straight from the Basement of Kooley High!, on Def Jam Records.
The recurring saxophone lick that plays throughout the verses is courtesy of Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango.
“Soul Makossa,” first released in 1972, is most famous for its Cameroonian vocal refrain, which was sampled by Michael Jackson on Thriller track “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” Jackson was sued for the unlicensed sample, as was Kanye West, who used it on 2010’s “Lost In The World.”
The high-pitched “oh my god” and subsequent phrase, “excuse me Doug E. Fresh,” are scratched into the track at 2:11.
They’re taken from Doug E. Fresh’s 1986 single, “The Show,” which was one of Rick’s earliest appearances on wax. The b-side to that single, “La Di Da Di,” was previously sampled on “The Ruler’s Back.”
"Indian Girl (An Adult Story)"
Another of Rick’s bizarre and irreverent stories, “Indian Girl (An Adult Story)” isn’t really any more sexual than album opener “Treat Her Like A Prostitute.” Despite this, it’s specifically labelled as adult fare.
The interpolation that opens the track is a non sequitur, and the lyrics have little to do with the track’s overall trajectory. Rick borrows lyrics and melody from “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” a track with lyrics by Thomas W. Blackburn and music by George Bruns.
Though it’s decidedly old-fashioned, the track first debuted on the first episode of ABC’s Disneyland, which aired on October 27, 1954.
The track, which has been sampled just four times, appeared on another 1988 release: MC Lyte’s “I Cram to Understand U.”
The first single released from The Great Adventures, “Teenage Love” is a melancholy recollection of love gone wrong. Though it’s produced by the Bomb Squad, known for their intense microsampling prowess, the track seems to contain entirely original instrumentation. NYC contemporary Big Daddy Kane makes an appearance in the music video: he’s the man taking a drink at 0:16. What’s more, just one second earlier, a pre-fame Lil’ Kim can be seen.
Though it’s produced by Hank Shocklee and Eric Sadler of The Bomb Squad, there’s just one identified sample on “Teenage Love,” and it’s the handiwork of Rick himself.
The Ruler interpolates a musical phrase from Diana Ross’ “Theme From Mahogany,” a track better known for the opening lyric: “do you know where you’re going to? / Do you like the things that life is showing you?”
On “Mona Lisa,” MC Ricky D invites Slick Rick to perform a track about a girl he met in a downtown Manhattan pizza parlour. Though it’s hardly a consistent quirk, Rick presents Ricky D and Slick Rick - both incarnations of his stage name - as alter egos. Whilst Slick Rick raps, Ricky D provides the ad-libs.
The five-note riff that first enters at 0:40 is taken from Eastside Connection’s “Firsco Disco.” The single was released in 1978 as a precursor to their sole studio LP, ‘79s Brand Spanking New!.
At 0:59, Rick interpolates the titular phrase from Nat King Cole’s 1950 pop tune, “Mona Lisa.” Cole recorded the track - which was written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston - for the soundtrack to Captain Carey, U.S.A..
The third and final sample is another of Rick’s generous interpolations. From 2:41 onward, Rick himself sings elements of Dionne Warwick’s classic 1963 pop hit, “Walk On By.”
The track was written by her longtime collaborators and legendary pop songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who also penned Warwick hits “I Say A Little Prayer” and “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.”
"Kit (What's The Scoop)"
Though it’s misspelled in the title, Kit actually refers to KITT, the artificially intelligent Pontiac in the Hasselhoff-starring Knight Rider series. The track opens with a brief skit that name checks Hasselhoff’s character, Michael Knight, and insinuates that KITT’s loyalties lie with Rick the Ruler. In this crazy story, the supercar helps Rick thwart an impersonator.
The vocal sample that repeats “are you ready?” is taken from “Planetary Citizen,” a track by jazz-rock fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra. The track was included on 1976’s Inner World, their fifth studio LP. The lineup went through several changes over the years, and Inner Worlds features the second
The subtly scratched sample that enters at 0:40 is taken from The Mohawks’ 1968 track, “The Champ.” The song was included on their one and only album, also named The Champ,
Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It).” The 1972 hit single was produced by James Brown, a frequent Collins collaborator, and has since joined a swathe of Brown-associated releases frequently used as a breakbeat.
The brief vocal sample at 0:58 - “a DJ saved my life” - is sourced from Indeep’s aptly titled “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life.” The 1982 track is considered a post-disco tune, one of a swathe of early-’80s dance tracks crafted in the wake of disco’s sudden (and violent) demise.
The track peaked at #10 on the Billboard
Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and has since been sampled more than 130 times.
Perhaps the most subdued sample on the record falls at 2:46, when The Bomb Squad insert elements of Jackie Robinson’s 1976 classic, “Pussyfooter.” If you listen carefully, you can hear the distinctive riff play alongside the scratched vocals, which I’ll discuss next.
The vocal sample that obscures the “Pussyfooter” sample is yet another vocal grab from Doug E. Fresh’s “La Di Da Di,” on which Slick Rick - then MC Ricky D - rapped.
The sampled line, scratched into the track, asks “who is the top choice of them all?”
"Hey Young World"
The third and final single, “Hey Young World” was released in July 1989. Though this fell more than six months after the release of The Great Adventures, the track still found some success, peaking at #42 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs Chart. The song, which features the refrain “the world is yours,” may have been an influence on Nas’ 1994 classic, “The World Is Yours.”
The horn sound and breakbeat that kickstart “Hey Young World” are taken from The Soul Searchers’ 1974 cut, “Ashley’s Roachclip.”
The horn blast falls before the track’s much-sampled breakbeat, perhaps most famous for underpinning Eric B. & Rakim’s 1987 hip hop classic, “Paid In Full.” What’s more, if you skim to 2:17 you’ll hear the famous whistle melody from the very same track.
The backing vocals that enter at 1:11 - “you know what?” and “we like to party!” - are taken from Rick’s 1986 Doug E. Fresh collaboration, “La Di Da Di.” The same track was previously sampled on “The Ruler’s Back,” and subsequently appears on “Teacher, Teacher.”
The Bomb Squad frequently sample from the earlier work of the artists they produce: check out our breakdown of Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation… for some more examples.
The scratching at the close of “Hey Young World” makes use of Beside’s “Change The Beat (Female Version),” which features hip hop’s most sampled scratching sound effect.
The vocoder heavy phrase from Fab Five Freddy, which was previously sampled on “Children’s Story,” is more recognisable here: you can clearly hear the original word, “fresh,” from 4:07 onward.
Slick Rick himself is the titular teacher on “Teacher, Teacher,” another track dedicated to his rapping prowess. Rick complains that he’s inundated by upstarts and aspiring emcees who strive to nail his style of rap, but he’s as unwilling to teach as they are unwilling to put in the time and effort.
The breakbeat that enters at 0:09 is courtesy of a George Clinton-free Funkadelic. “You’ll Like It Too” was featured on Funkadelic’s 12th LP, 1980’s Connections & Disconnections, which was actually recorded by a disgruntled group of former The Parliaments members.
Rick uses yet another sample from “La Di Da Di,” this time sampling his own introduction and using it to kickstart the track. The sampled phrase - “Ricky D!” - appears at 0:47 on “Teacher, Teacher.”
"Lick The Balls"
Rick bookends the album with outlandishly inappropriate titles, following opener “Treat Her Like A Prostitute” with closer “Lick The Balls.” The track isn’t as specifically lewd as the title lets on, with Rick dedicating much of his time to extolling his greatness and reiterating just how peerless he is.
The electric guitar that enters at 0:04 and continues throughout is lifted from J.J. Johnson’s “Pull, Jabul, Pull,” a track from the 1971 Man And Boy score. The film found now-disgraced comedic actor Bill Cosby taking on a serious role, but opened to largely negative reviews.
The horn hit and breakbeat layered alongside Johnson’s score is courtesy of Funk, Inc. The instrumentation is lifted from 1971’s “Kool Is Back,” a track included on their self-titled debut.
The “woo” vocals scratched into the hook at 0:56 are taken from the opening to George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog.” Clinton, the bandleader around which the Parliament-Funkadelic collective orbits, released the track in 1982, as P-Funk began to wind down after their late-’70s successes.
The Further Adventures…
On release, The Great Adventures was hailed as a slice of peerless hip hop storytelling. It’s since been called one of the 100 Greatest Hip Hop Albums by The Source, as well as being called the 99th Best Album of the ‘80s by Slant Magazine. Nas has cited it as one of his 25 favourite albums.
Unfortunately, Rick’s career was interrupted by one of hip hop’s more outrageous series of events. The year following The Great Adventures, Rick’s mother hired his cousin, Mark Plummer, as his bodyguard. What started as a family affair quickly spiralled into something more serious: Plummer tried multiple times to extort money from Rick, going as far as to threaten violence against both him and his mother. In July of 1990, after finding bullet holes in his door, Rick finally attacked Plummer. He fired four shots: one hit Plummer in the foot, and another hit a bystander. Whilst no one suffered life-threatening injuries, Rick was swiftly taken into custody.
The ensuing case - The People of the State of New York v. Richard Walters - found Rick pleading guilty to two counts of attempted murder. He spent five years in prison, all the while fighting to remain in the United States, as he was born in the UK. Efforts to maintain his artistic momentum were fraught: Russell Simmons bailed him out in ‘91, leading to the recording of The Ruler’s Back, which was both critically and commercially lukewarm. ‘94’s Behind Bars, released whilst serving his sentence, was similarly disappointing. Simmons interviewed Rick at Rikers Correctional Facility for 1995 hip hop documentary, The Show.
It was his first post-release record, 1999’s The Art Of Storytelling, that finally made good on the promise of his ‘88 debut. After a decade of legal troubles and disappointing LPs, the 21-track album featured appearances from acts such as Outkast, Redman, Nas and Raekwon, and production from Kid Capri, DJ Clark Kent and Jazze Pha. It became Rick’s most commercially successful album, peaking at #8 on the Billboard 100 and earning rave reviews. It remains his most recent solo LP.
The trouble didn’t end there: Rick was detained by Immigration officials in June 2001, who started the drawn-out process of deporting the UK national to his country of origin. After their initial attempt failed, they attempted to push the case through a more conservative court, an attempt that was subsequently frustrated by Governor David A. Peterson’s 2008 pardon. It stopped the deportation efforts in its tracks, and since then, Rick has become an American citizen.
Slick Rick’s story is one of excellence, hardship and atonement. Though his journey has been defined by hardship, his shadow still casts long over the rap game. One of the most sampled hip hop artists of all time, interpolations of the Ruler abound: from Miley Cyrus to Future, his legacy continues to appear on the charts, three decades doing little to lessen the cultural memory of his greatest hits. Whilst his own adventures were oft-trying, his impact on the scene is nothing if not truly great.