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Return of Slick Rick

(ran TP edition)

The rapper imbues his songs with tales that ring true.

You'd be surprised to hear the average rapper say, "On stage, I have everyone dress coordinated so that the color schemes look pretty."

But the purveyor of that quote, 34-year-old London-born Slick Rick, is not average.

Since 1985, Slick Rick, with his U.K. via Brooklyn accent and trademark eye patch (the result of a childhood accident involving broken glass), has been not as much rapping as telling stories.

His 1988 solo debut, the much exalted, platinum-selling classic The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, featured humorous linear narratives with beginnings, middles and endings. Rick's tales, such as his hit Children's Story, where a thug kid is eventually shot by the cops, also often have morals.

But Slick Rick has not always heeded the morals of his own street-life tales. His recent record, The Art of Storytelling, marks Rick's return to the spotlight after a six-year prison stint he earned for the attempted murder of a bodyguard whom Rick claims was threatening his family and trying to extort money from the rapper.

During the time between The Great Adventures of Slick Rick and The Art of Storytelling, Rick released two unsuccessful records, Behind Bars and Ruler's Back. "Time wasn't able to be spent," Rick says by phone from his home in Brooklyn. "Both albums were recorded while I was on bail for three weeks."

Rick recorded his raps, then headed back to prison, leaving his fate to the producers who would later construct music around Rick's vocals. "Those two albums are not good mainly because the music was put onto the raps," says Rick, who's not defensive of his past musical mishaps. "There was no chemistry. I hadn't time to go back and change things."

The man who spun yarns like the infidelity tale Treat Her Like a Prostitute, and the goofy, sexually explicit Indian Girl, is now back on his game. "(The Art of Storytelling) is the real second album," Rick says. "You can see I'm more laid-back, having fun with my craft."

Not only does Slick Rick's comeback record boast guests such as Atlanta's Grammy-winning OutKast and Reakwon of Wu-Tang Clan, The Art of Storytelling showcases what has always been Rick's strong points; his conversational tone and sense of humor. "It's easier to fall into, you can visualize it," Rick says of his humorous storytelling approach. While other rappers take a confrontational thug stance, the music of Slick Rick draws the listener and hopes to keep them there until the end of the story.

Fresh from appearances on Chris Rock's latest comedy special and concert dates with Lauryn Hill, Slick Rick performs at the USF Sun Dome tonight.