A two-sided smash credited to Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew and released on a tiny independent label in the summer of 1985, “The Show/La Di Da Di” is esteemed today for having introduced the world to one of hip-hop’s most enduringly influential talents — Slick Rick.
Just 19 years old when he stepped up to the mic, MC Ricky D (as he was then billing himself) was clearly ready for his close-up. Anyone with ears could hear that he could write and rap at a world-class level. His voice was a thing of wonder, boasting the trace of a British accent and a cartoonish elasticity. He also displayed a wonderful sense of humor…including the ability to laugh at himself.
But it may have been as a writer that Rick really distinguished himself. Very few rappers before Rick had attempted to sustain a narrative over the course of an entire record. Rick did it on both sides of his debut single. “The Show” finds him backstage with Doug Fresh, counting down the minutes before a live performance. “La Di Da Di” describes a day in Rick’s life, from the time he wakes up, showers, and gets dressed, to his confrontation with the sexually aggressive mother of one of his girlfriends. Both of these stories were so well told that millions of young people memorized them word for word.
And they were just as influential to a generation of aspiring artists. Salt’n’Pepa made their debut (under the name Super Nature) with a sassy little answer record to “The Show” entitled “The Showstopper.” Snoop Dogg remade “La Di Da Di” as “Lodi Dodi” on his debut album in 1993. And Biggie Smalls’s “Hypnotize” (1997) took both its title and its hook from “La Di Da Di.” Miley Cyrus sings the title of “La Di Da Di” in “We Can’t Stop,” a hit single from 2013.
According to whosampled.com, “The Show” has been sampled at least 96 times, by artists including Eminem, Jay Z, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, LL Cool J, and Redman. “La Di Da Di” has been sampled some 613 times, by artists as various as Eminem, Jay-Z, Ludacris, Big Daddy Kane, Ini Kamoze, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, E-40, and the Beastie Boys. It is one of a handful of the most sampled rap songs in the history of all genres of music.
Rick’s original version reached number three on Billboard’s Hot Black Singles chart and cracked into the top five in England achieving multi-platinum status world wide. It was also released in Spain, Italy, France, Australia, and New Zealand.
More importantly perhaps, the success of “The Show/La Di Da Di” led directly to Rick’s 1986 contract with Def Jam, which released Rick’s debut solo album, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, in October of 1988. The rest is history.
Words by Bill Adler