The Ruler’s Back

Once upon a time not long ago, when hip-hop was young and the school was old, there lived a man they called The Ruler. Arguably an architect of hip-hop, Slick Rick a.k.a. Ricky D a.k.a. The Ruler played master of ceremonies Friday night at the intimate new lounge, Plan B, in downtown Burlington. As he took the stage his jewel-encrusted eye patch glistened and winked at the crowd. Rick, after being detained by the INS (which was attempting to deport him to his home country of England) for several months in 2002, has made one thing clear with his performance: The Ruler’s back. There was no need to sound the trumpets though because the old school (and old-aged at 41) hip-hop legend made his presence known simply by rocking a b-boy stance and blinding the crowd with his excess of ice. In the weeks leading up to the performance Burlington was abuzz with anticipation, but a little confusion also. “Where has he been?” seemed to be the question of the hour for many, as The Ruler’s past has been dotted with rumors of murder (he was convicted of attempted murder and spent five years in jail) and deportation. Questions like this became moot when he took the stage though, and all that mattered was Rick’s flawless oral tradition as he told his “Children’s Story” with his trademark silky, slightly British air. Burlington, though an unlikely venue for The Ruler, received him well. Plan B’s atmosphere is more New York City than North Country and Rick, raised in the Bronx, may have felt more at home there than say, Radio Bean. One got the feeling that Slick Rick The Ruler, as he has dubbed himself legally, still has his moves together as he shuffled around the stage-not weighed down by his many gold chains-and let the crowd finish his lyrics about Dave the dope fiend who “don’t know the meaning of water nor soap.” Sticking to the classics like “La Di Da Di,” it would have been ideal to hear some tracks from his incredibly secretive comeback album “The Adventure Continues,” apparently to be released later this year, but no one could complain considering the legendary king was just feet away from us mere peasants. The audience hung on his every word like he was relaying a message of divinity. And in effect, he was. At one point Rick took a break to make a point about the shape of hip-hop today, having his DJ play rap travesties like “Shoulder Lean” and “Ridin’ Dirty” to get the audience’s reaction. He then countered with his own music, eliciting cheers and air punches reminiscent of Arsenio Hall. Rick’s set was short, but concentrated and powerful nonetheless. The intimate stage at Plan B more or less puts the performer in the crowd, so The Ruler was not just performing, but joining the party as well. Whatever alias he is called, Slick Rick The Ruler has apparently returned to bring the old school into the new.