Slick Rick, the London, England-born rapper behind hip-hop classics like “Mona Lisa” and “Children’s Story,” has finally been granted his U.S. citizenship after a 23-year legal battle. The influential rapper (real name Ricky Walters) was sworn in as an American citizen Friday at an official ceremony in New York alongside dozens of other new U.S. citizens.
“I am so proud of this moment – and so honored to finally become an American citizen,” the rapper said in a statement. “This has been a long time coming for me, and I am relieved to finally put this long chapter behind me. I want to thank everyone – my family, friends and fans – who have supported me and stuck by me over these 23 years. I am truly blessed – and stay tuned, I will have more to announce soon.”
In 1991, Walters pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted murder and eight weapons charges stemming from an incident where the rapper shot his cousin Mark Plummer and an innocent bystander; both survived. Plummer served as a bodyguard for the rapper until he was fired for allegedly attempting to extort Walters; Plummer then threatened the lives of Walters and his family. In July 1990, after seeing Plummer near his home, the rapper opened fire on his cousin, hitting Plummer once and another person in the foot.
Walters was sentenced to three-and-a-half to 10 years for the shooting; he was released from prison after six years and completed his parole in 2000. During that time, a judge canceled deportation proceedings against the rapper, granting him a waiver of admissibility, though the charge hurt his attempts to gain citizenship.
In 2008, then-New York Governor David Paterson officially pardoned the eyepatch-rocking rapper on the attempted murder charge, citing how Walters had become “a symbol of rehabilitation for many young people.” “Given these demonstrated rehabilitative efforts, I urge federal immigration officials to once again grant Mr. Walters relief from deportation, so that he is not separated from his many family members who are United States citizens, including his two teenage children,” Paterson said in his statement.
Walters will maintain a dual citizenship with the United Kingdom. The rapper’s U.S. citizenship will now allow for him to travel to and from the country in order to perform overseas.
“Rick was lucky to have champions and receive a pardon,” his rep tells Rolling Stone. “He has since lived a peaceful life. Today is about looking forward, not back.”