Slick Rick Talks U.S. Citizenship, Voting For Hillary Clinton & Possibly Making New Music: Exclusive

Pablo Frisk
Slick Rick photographed with his attorneys Ira Kurzban and Craig Kaplan​ on April 15, 2016 in New York City.

Slick Rick has spent some 30 years touring around the country, performing the memorable rhymes behind rap classics like “La Di Da Di,” “Children’s Story” and “Teenage Love.” But on Friday morning (April 15), he recited some of the most memorable lines of his life: the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. 

Dressed in a white dress shirt, a green patterned tie, and a sleeveless gray vest with matching slacks, the hip-hop legend born Ricky Walters and about a dozen family members, friends, and lawyers went to the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where he was one of a few dozen immigrants to participate in a ceremony to officially become citizens. When Rick entered the room of the ceremony and filled in paperwork, a court employee asked Rick to take a selfie with her. Rick obliged, leading members of his crew scrambling around the courtroom to make sure the photo wasn’t shared on social media.

His family applauded from the first row of seats; his wife, Mandy Walters, wiped tears from her face as Rick proudly walked up to receive his certificate of citizenship. Hours after taking group photos outside of the court building, Rick joined friends and family for a victory party that evening in a Manhattan penthouse. Attendees, who were dressed to the nines, danced and took photos before sitting at a long table for dinner, headed by a throne with pillows that read “Slick Rick The Ruler” and “Victory.” And the man of the hour is now wearing an outfit that his fans more easily identify him with: a pink, short-sleeved linen shirt, with shoes and eyepatch to match.

“My family has been going through this for so long. It’s a blessed time, to see what the future has to hold for us,” Rick said, as a plate was presented to him at the table. “Like a new beginning, you know?”

Slick Rick Becomes a U.S. Citizen

The journey started in 1990, at the peak of Slick Rick’s rap career. His Doug E. Fresh collabs and his 1988 debut The Great Adventures of Slick Rick had built his celebrity and success, and his mother hired Rick’s cousin as a bodyguard. Rick fired him early on, with money and a vehicle as severance, but the cousin would later threaten his family and try to extort him for money. Rick armed himself and shot at the cousin, citing self-defense.

“When you’re new to something, you don’t run to licensed security, you try to employ your family and stuff like that. People I employed were trying to take advantage of the situation,” he remembers. “I got caught up in that, and sometimes, people who were supposed to watch your back end up taking advantage of you and looking at you like you the [victim]. It was a situation like that, so I took matters into my own hands.”

He pled guilty to charges including attempted murder, and served five years in prison. He has steered clear of crime since his exit, continuing his music career and touring around the country. Yet, his prison time has followed him through the immigration process -- Rick was born in London and moved to the Bronx at age 11. When he returned to Miami after performing on an entertainment cruise in 2002, customs officials found an order of deportation stemming from the conviction. Rick spent more than a year in a deportation prison in Bradenton, Fla., before a New York judge stayed his deportation shortly before he was about to be shipped back to London.

Friend and music industry vet Wendy Day remembers visiting Slick Rick in what she describes as “a very rough and primitive prison” in Bradenton. She had worked with his wife to open a bank account in London for him and had prepared to visit the country to find him a place to live.

“It was really heart-wrenching, because there was no air conditioning. I went down there in June, July. Bradenton is just a little south of Tampa, and it was hot as hell. He was living in a place he knew he shouldn't but he knew that if he allowed them to bring him out of prison, he would have been deported,” Day said. She added, “They’re treated worse than the worst pedophiles or murderers in this country. It’s crazy what they go through, just because they want to be here and want a better life.”

Will Smith Defends Imprisoned Slick Rick

Rick still remembers the threat of being deported. His wife and children are in the U.S.; the few relatives he had in the UK had died. “[You don’t know] where you’re going to end up at. You have to give up your whole foundation and restart all over again in a foreign land. You were only 11 years old when you were there, so most of your family is in America, and the ones you have there, they died. That can be frustrating, not knowing where you’re going to be situated at,” he said. “You’ve got buildings, you’ve got property, you’re established here, and you have to uproot everything. You have to sell your buildings or manage it from a foreign land with your peoples.”

The threat of deportation has surfaced several times since then, even after New York Gov. David Patterson pardoned him of his crimes in 2008 in an attempt to help halt the process.

“He has lived with this Sword of Damocles over his head since 1995. This is a man who has contributed to our society in so many ways, and it makes so little sense … One would’ve thought [the pardon] was the end,” said Rick’s lawyer, Craig Kaplan. “But there’s this immigration system, which does what it’s going to do. It is unfathomable to me that we have spent 10 years dealing with this, after Governor Patterson said, this is a man who has contributed to society, and we don’t want to deport him.”

Kaplan added that other immigrants have lower chances of making it out the way that he did. “Because Rick is a person with some means -- not massive means, but some means -- and a loyal family, his wife Mandy kept this together. There are things one can do, whether they be procedural, political,” he said. “We lucked out. This is all serendipity.”

“It can be very frustrating, but some things are out of your hands. You have to take it one step at a time, make sure you have the right people behind you supporting you, and you have the right attorneys, and everyone you can afford doing the best for you under the circumstances,” Rick said. “Just make sure everything is in place and leave it in God’s hands. Luckily we had a strong team, we had a good argument, and things worked out.”

Def Jam Launches 'Free Slick Rick' Petition

Now that he’s officially a U.S. citizen, Rick said he plans to “do a little voting and a little traveling.” He plans to visit family in Jamaica and also vote for Hillary Clinton. “[The Clintons] have a history already in the White House. When her and her crew was in the White House we stayed out of the red ink. They’ve got an audience that follows them,” he said. “They’ve been around two or three decades so people know them already. We know your heart, you’re sincere. That posse, it doesn’t matter if they switch places, it’s still the same mindset.”

Then comes the possibility of new music. For the past few years, Rick has done shows with other golden era stars like Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, and he’s done a few guest appearances for other artists. The most recent ones he can remember are collaborations with Chamillionaire in 2007 and Asher Roth in 2009 (he also appeared on “Auditorium” from Mos Def’s 2009 album The Ecstatic, and on “We Will Rob You” from Raekwon’s 2009 album Only Built For Cuban Linx...Pt. II).

He said he’s still looking to work on new music, though he didn’t elaborate on if he would craft an official follow-up to his last album, 1999’s Gold-certified The Art of Storytelling. “I still want to break into some new stuff here and there. So when the opportunity arises, gotta dust off my shoulders, and may be able to think of a song idea here and there,” he said. “It couldn’t hurt. We can just throw it out on the Internet or with a new artist. Just for fun.”

As far as new artists, his co-signs include DrakeMissy Elliott and Kanye West. "Missy Elliot is carrying the torch right now. Sometimes Drake strikes oil," he says. "Sometimes, other cats got it too [like] Kanye. But right now, I’d say Drake and Missy Elliot got the torch burning right now for the hood."

Even though Slick Rick is praised for his storytelling, the newer music he loves is fueled by feeling. “The speed, the tempo, melody, soul, swag,” Rick explained. "It gets the body moving. It isn’t what you’re saying too much. As long as the track is hot and you’re flowing right, it’s all good.”


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