Slick Rick’s Slip Up Is Deeper Than Rap

November 28th, 2012

(Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

By Gee King

The idiotic tweet from New York Daily News scribe Frank Isola, which questioned Slick Rick’s status as a hip hop legend, is distracting us from the larger issue of Rick the Ruler’s halftime performance. While Knicks and Nets fans simply had their mid-game buzz blown by a clearly intoxicated Rick, the cringe-worthy exhibition by the man hip hop has long known as the world’s greatest entertainer is heartbreaking on levels that far exceed an NBA halftime show. The fact that it occurred at the Barclays Center, which Jay-Z has established as perhaps the greatest current symbol of hip hop’s global ascension, creates a strange feeling about where the culture is going and whether those who laid the groundwork will be able to make the journey.

No matter what excuses we make for Rick, there’s no defending that performance. Maybe he couldn’t hear — he did ask the sound guy to turn the music up at the beginning of his performance — but he was clearly high, drunk or some combination of the two and made little attempt at turning things around once he lost the crowd. Whatever the cause, the effect is damaging to both Rick’s legacy and hip hop’s future ambitions. The world doesn’t care if Rick got his title as the world’s greatest entertainer from rocking block parties and night clubs and not arenas full of wealthy folk, all they know is that what they saw. And what the saw was obsolete.

It was bad enough to make Daily News‘ Isola think he was making a clever joke when he tweeted, “The Nets are claiming that halftime performer Slick Rick is a ‘Hip Hop legend.’ On what planet, exactly?” The vitriol he received back was encouraging. From Rick Ross to RapRadar, at least we have our own backs. But this episode has made it clear that the planet of hip hop’s worldwide takeover clearly isn’t as far along as Jay Hova would have us believe — unless we’ve been mistaking acceptance for respect all along.

While the world has been happy to dance and sing along with its favorite MCs, the connection to the culture rarely goes beyond catchy rhymes and banging beats. Subcultures and countercultures within hip hop have branched out to create their own loyal followings — think Wu-Tang — but the culture as a whole is still yet to receive international respect as anything more than a genre of popular music. To see Isola mock Slick Rick, who not so indirectly influenced the way he and his colleagues dress, speak and woo women, is ironic at the least. At most, it’s blasphemy that validates recent moves by Jay, Diddy and others to take all of their endeavors to the highest level and demand respect over acceptance. It’s the reason why 9th Wonder would rather teach hip hop history at colleges and universities than make soul stirring beats. And why Jay-Z wrote Decoded and bought a stake in the Nets. Putting Slick Rick at the center of the Barclays Center was supposed to be another grand statement of how far we’ve come. But all it did was show how much further we have to go.

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