NEW YORK — Slick Rick earned his status as a hip-hop legend because he was one of the genre's most interesting early storytellers — an eye-patched MC delivering "great adventures" in a sleepy voice.
The adventure Rick has been on for the past 17 months has been interesting, but it hasn't been great. As he disembarked a cruise ship he'd been hired to perform on, immigration officials picked up the rapper in Miami. They've held Rick (a.k.a. Ricky Walters) in a federal detention center ever since, threatening to deport him to England, where he was born and lived until 11.
The happy ending is that he's now back at home in the Bronx, reunited with his wife and cats. "One good thing came out of it — I lost 40 pounds," Rick said during a recent visit to his house. "I don't think I ever looked this good."
Rick is in good spirits despite the ordeal, which was sparked by his 1991 conviction on attempted second-degree murder charges, for which he served five years and 12 days in prison. U.S. law states that foreign nationals who serve more than five years in prison must be deported.
But six months of that time was due to immigration issues, and despite winning the right in court to stay in the United States in 1995, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has been appealing to enforce the deportation ever since. On Halloween Rick finally had his U.S. residency restored, and a week later he was free (see "The Great Adventures Can Resume: Slick Rick Is A Free Man").
The worst part, Rick said, was being away from his wife and facing such uncertainty. "You don't know if you're gonna be in America, you don't know if you're gonna be in England. You don't have control over life. That's what really had me stressed out the most. It's like, 'How am I going to manage over there [in England]?' "
In jail, Rick passed the time by doing everything from crossword puzzles to writing rhymes. "You could play dominos, cards, watch TV, stuff like that," he said. "Pretty much what I did was exercise. I could recommend [that to] a lot of old-school rappers, fling your black ass in the cell real quick for like six months and get your career back. No, I'm just playing."
Despite what he went through, Rick doesn't hold a grudge. But he said the way the legal system handles immigration issues needs some work. "There's nobody in place to make it seem like this country, which is supposed to be the most advanced, has any common sense," Rick explained. Hopefully, he said, "cases like mine open the door for other people that have been treated in the same inhumane way."
Many times during his stay, Rick was convinced he was being deported. At one point last summer, his wife, Mandy, was in London shopping for a house. In his home now, there are still boxes of things his wife packed in preparation for the move.
Rick said he doesn't remember much about the England he grew up in. "[I was] just a little boy. With the shorts, the gray socks, you know, kids stuff. I remember the horrible school lunches. You don't get franks and chicken and all that. You get liver. Things kids don't like."
Now Rick's plan is to get back in the studio and record an album. A lot of time spent watching BET and MTV has convinced Rick he can fill a niche that isn't being catered to now: "The mature audience," he said. "We don't want to be entertained with the womanizing and the gangsterism."
Rick knows that, at age 38, he won't be competing for Eminem and 50 Cent's audience, but he doesn't want to become an old-school charity case, either. "I gotta earn my bread. And if I don't make no ruckus, then you can go and laugh at me, 'Ha ha.' I'm not trying to be a big shot. I'm just trying to earn my bread."