Friday, May 20, 2011

May 20: Slick Rick, "Children's Story"

Artist: Slick Rick
Song: "Children's Story"
Album: The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick
Year: 1988

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Within the world of hip-hop music, on can argue that it is necessary to have two complete elements to be truly successful as an emcee.  The most noticeable necessity is that of having a unique sound and style to the rhyme, and while this certainly does not mean one must be loud, there needs to be some sort of swagger or intrigue within the vocals.  The second, and perhaps more difficult element, is that of exceptional writing talent, and it is the overall lacking in this area that has dulled a majority of the current hip-hop scene.  If the emcee cannot pull in the listener by spinning vivid images and thought provoking rhymes, then there is really no reason for them to be rapping in the first place.  Though there have been many emcees that combined these two elements in a number of different ways, there has never been another artist in the history of hip-hop that sounded or wrote quite like Slick Rick.  Bringing a smooth delivery that remains completely unrivaled, it is impossible not to get caught up in his voice.  Yet it is also the unapologetic words which he raps that pushed him to the status of "icon" within hip-hop, and few records can stand alongside his flawless 1988 release, The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick.  Containing a number of true hip-hop classics, it is almost impossible to measure the impact the album has had over the years, and few songs continue to hit as hard and remain as captivating as Slick Rick's 1988 single, "Children's Story."

Though to the modern ear, the musical backing on "Children's Story" may sound quite familiar, the fact of the matter is, when the song was first released, it was as exciting and fresh as one could imagine.  In fact, the artists that have lifted the beat and musical progression since have done so with complete knowledge that they were simply copying the tone found here.  Yet this does not detract in the least from the tone set forth by the music, which revolves around samples of Lyn Collins', "Think (About It)" and Bob James', "Nautilus."  The smooth, yet unquestionably dancable progression from the synthesizer is the key to the songs' appeal, and it is just as enjoyable now as it was more than two decades ago.  In many ways, the fact that the musical arrangement remains so fresh and enjoyable is a testament to just how influential a song one can find within "Children's Story," and it represents the "Golden Age" of hip-hop as perfectly as any other song.  The way in which the beat bounces across the track gives "Children's Story" an aggressive edge to match the vocals, and yet overall, the sound shows the blueprint for a majority of the early Def Jam recordings.  It is the way in which the musical arrangement perfectly locks in with the rhymes that makes "Children's Story" such a brilliant effort, and this amazing level of fusion is likely due to the fact that Slick Rick handled nearly every aspect of the song on his own.

Yet as unforgettable as the music remains, there is simply no getting past the fact that the vocals of Slick Rick remain completely unmatched.  In both his delivery style, as well as the content of his rhymes, he stands far above other emcees, and few other rappers have even attempted to copy his style.  Much like the music over which he raps, there is a smooth, almost cool tone within the voice of Slick Rick, and the way in which his British accent comes through from time to time only makes his vocal tracks more intriguing.  To this point, one can argue that without Slick Rick, the hip-hop movement would never have taken off in the U.K., and he also proved that the dark and gritty conditions found in the U.S. cities was similar to that of his own country.  Though many of his songs have a lighter or more racy overtone, on "Children's Story," Slick Rick delivers what remains one of the most unapologetic and brutal rhymes on the downfall of inner-city youth that has ever been recorded.  The lyrics are straightforward and non-stop, and the lack of any bridge or chorus makes the words hit even harder.  As the songs' single verse continues, Slick Rick gets deeper and deeper into the dark choices of the protagonist, ending in his arrest, and it is the fact that the story is so vivid that makes "Children's Story" completely unforgettable.

The influence that has been taken from the raw and in-your-face style of "Children's Story" is impossible to measure, as one can find traces of the song throughout a massive amount of songs that followed.  Many emcees even pulled complete lines from the song, and everyone from Eminem to Tricky have sampled "Children's Story" in part or whole.  Along with the lyrical copies, the music to "Children's Story" has become one of the most overly-sampled songs in history, most famously used by 'Ol Dirty Bastard's, "Baby I Got Your Money," as well as on Montell Jordan's chart-topping, "This Is How We Do It."  The fact that "Children's Story" has had so much impact is a testament to the unique perfection that can be found on the track, and yet one can argue that the song is distinctive within Slick Rick's catalog, as it is far more serious and cautionary that his usual subject matter of women and pimping.  This song can be seen as one of the first "warning" songs to rise to prominence within hip-hop music, and it also strangely foreshadowed the next "big thing" to rise in the genre, as "gangsta" rap would explode only a few months later.  Yet even without all of the influence and accolades that followed in the wake of the songs' release, at its core, Slick Rick's 1988 single, "Children's Story" is an ideal example of how vivid lyrics and an exceptional musical arrangement can combine to become the very definition of hip-hop perfection.

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