November 9, 2008

Slick Rick - The Ruler's Back (July 2, 1991)

The Ruler's Back proves that it is entirely possible for a rapper with an undisputed classic debut album (in this case, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick) to release one of the shittiest sophomore discs my ears have ever heard.

My two readers know how much I hate to tip my hand at the beginning of a write-up, so this album must really suck balls, right?

The answer is a definite "yes", but with the qualifier "but". You see, Slick Rick's personal issues (and subsequent jail sentence) interfered with his music career. In 1990, he received five years in prison for attempted murder and various other issues, and even though he completed his sentence, his criminal record resulted in the possibility of deportation (at least, until earlier this year), something that still hangs over his head to this day. Def Jam Records had Slick Rick record two albums worth of material in a very short period of time, and left the outcome of the final product to chance.

And therein lies the problem. The Ruler's Back was produced almost entirely by Vance Wright, who will go down in history as one of the worst producers HHID has ever written about. Vance's interference led to the majority of The Ruler's Back to sound like fucking house music, with an infinite amount of samples piled on top of one another like a Dagwood sandwich, and drum loops that frequently failed to match the pace that Ricky was running. (To be fair, Rick himself allegedly co-produced some of these tracks, and the final song on the album can't actually be blamed on the guy, but I stand behind my statement.) A couple of decent songs somehow found their way into the mix (an oversight, I'm certain), but overall, this disc sounds like Def Jam was quietly punishing Slick Rick for his past indiscretions by fucking up his career.

And now, the sophomore album that never should have been...

There's an episode of Friends where Ross (David Schwimmer) explores his love of making music, culminating in a live performance at that godforsaken coffee shop that no people of color ever hung out in, where it was revealed that his music was an experimental mix of sound effects and more sound effects, none of which blended well together. All of the beats on The Ruler's Back, save for a couple, sound like Ross on his fucking keyboard.

Of course it makes sense for you to completely change up your sound, Ricky! House music is (was) very in right now, and it will never fucking die! Why would you even consider the possibility of creating music that sounds more like a natural extension of The Great Adventures of Slick Rick? Perish the thought! That's just plain silly!

Although elements of Vance's beat fail to impress, this song mostly works, mostly because of Rick's easy flow, which is awfully laid back for a guy who was about to be sent away for five years. Still, this is a good song.

Ricky's religious tale is actually pretty good, if not a bit awkwardly paced. Vance's beat is only slightly annoying: he has a tendency of refusing to let the instrumentals breathe on their own, which is proven by the random vocal samples and sound effects scratched in at inappropriate times.

Ricky's lyrics sound both goofy and misogynistic, but it's blatantly obvious that Vance's beat was not only inserted after the lyrics were recorded, but also conceived many months afterward. Fuck it, I demand to see proof that Vance Wright was even alive when Rick laid his vocals down, that's how much of a disconnect there is.

The beat can't decide if it wants to accompany a slightly serious Slick Rick tale, or if it gives fuck-all about the lyrics and wants to grow up to be a club banger. Vance may have believed himself to be clever, but he made this song suck.

The (admittedly cool-sounding) drums drown out Ricky's vocals almost entirely, so much so that I wouldn't be able to tell you what the fuck the guy was talking about with the assistance of a map, a flashlight, and a Sherpa.

The instrumental sounds like it's being played back at a speed that's faster than it truly is, which creates the musical illusion that Slick Rick can't keep up. Not like it really matters, since the song blows elephant dick, but I felt that newer readers should be made aware that Slick Rick is, in fact, quite capable of rapping on beat, thanks.

Somehow, all of the elements to this song merged to create a decent track. Not that an attempt wasn't made to fuck this shit up royally, of course. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Vance Wright had been planning to sabotage Rick's career ever since 1988, and has a mad scientist's laugh and everything.

I was hoping for a musical appreciation of that Hanna-Barbara cartoon cat that always hung out with his boys around a group of nondescript trash cans. No such luck.

My two readers should take this title's advice.

Don't say I didn't warn you. What the fuck is this shit? This single track will be the reason that Slick Rick eventually gets deported, as a lesson to all other rappers that want to test their audience's patience. This shit is worse than both of U-God's solo albums combined.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The odds are usually against musicians making a good sophomore album anyway, and Slick Rick's personal circumstances only made the situation worse. However, he isn't the problem with The Ruler's Back, although his lyrics sound mostly uninspired (although you'd probably have the same problem, too, if you had to record all of your songs in a very short period of time before being locked the fuck up). No, the beef I have is with the project manager Vance Wright. I don't know what kind of shit he was on, but I'm certain it was cut with bleach, resulting in a disc that was such a waste of time to listen to that I'm pissed that CDs were pressed to begin with, as their production resulted in more toxins being released into the atmosphere, destroying the ozone layer.

BUY OR BURN? The fuck do you think?

BEST TRACKS: "Bond"; "It's A Boy"


Slick Rick - The Great Adventures of Slick Rick


  1. Ha ha ha. True indeed. Deported - ha ha ha

  2. Yeah, this album is weird. Ricky D raps a bored breathless tone to bad house-rap beats. When you listen to it, you feel like you're not hearing it. It just doesn't connect.

  3. I actually loved this album much the way I loved Nice & Smooth "Jewel Of The Nile". I hated that final track House remix, though.

    "King", "Ship", "Bond", "Tonto", "Moses", "Runaway"...ah, memories of 1991.


  4. Dart-I digged "Jewel of the Nile" as well. Notice I didn't mention anything about "The Ruler's Back".