Slick Rick: The Storyteller 35 Years Later

slick rick eye

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Slick Rick (born Ricky Walters) was born in London, England, in 1965, and moved to New York City when he was 11, a time when hip-hop culture was just beginning to form.

In the 1980s, Rick’s ability to tell a story earned him fame as Slick Rick, the gold-draped rapper, also known as Rick the Ruler, with an eye patch and an English accent whose adventures propelled him to stardom. That was followed by prison time for a shooting, immigration problems and — to his relief — a 2008 pardon from Gov. David A. Paterson of New York.

He came into prominence in the early to mid-‘80s with his partner-in-rhyme, Doug E. Fresh, and their group, the Get Fresh Crew. It was their hit songs, “The Show” and “La Di Da Di” that brought Rick to the forefront and ultimately got him his record deal.

But how they got that record deal was an act of faith.

In his book Life & Def, Russell Simmons tells the story of a drug episode that went bad for Slick Rick. “I first met Slick Rick at a nuthouse. He’d smoked too much angel dust and had to stay in a mental ward for a few days,” Simmons wrote. “Rick Rubin at Def Jam and Lyor Cohen at Rush Management both thought we should sign him. So I went with Rick to meet him at the hospital. Ricky was completely out of it. I’d seen a lot of people in that dusty state in the street—I’d been that way myself—so I knew that after a few days he’d be fine.”

Much of Rick’s early drug use stemmed from the accident that now led him to wear his signature eye patch. Before the patch, Slick Rick used to just wear dark sun glasses when he went to rhyme at local hip hop shows trying to sharpen his skills as an MC. At only 18 months old, he was left blinded in the right eye after a window broke and his eye was struck by glass. If caught at the time of the incident, partial vision of that eye could have returned.

The injury had a huge impact on his personal development, psyche and, eventually, the history of hip hop. “I was always pretty shy because of the eye”, he says, “so rather than going out and playing sports, I stayed indoors and wrote stories.”

Using an eye patch like Rick’s is actually a treatment used for children who have been struck or have vision problems in one eye.

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Amblyopia is a vision problem that occurs in a child when one eye is not used enough for the visual system in the brain to develop properly. This leads to poor vision in the affected eye.

Treatment corrects amblyopia by training the brain to use the eye that has weaker vision. This allows vision to…