Ricky Powell's Official Guide to Rappin' With The Rickster, His Legendary '90s Public Access TV Show
Sitting on a park bench in Washington Square Park on a Thursday afternoon, with a small silver transistor radio clutched in his left hand and his trusty Minolta AF2 Hi-Matic camera slung around his shoulder, 49-year-old Ricky Powell breaks off from conversation to yell at a gaggle of teenage girls strutting by: "Shut up! Don't you know how to conduct yourself in public?" Their sin, he explains, is talking too loud. "They're cacklers. Did you hear the way they were cackling? I have a thing with that. I'm turning into an old fogey."
When it comes to hollering etiquette from a park bench in a public spot like a crotchety but funky uncle, there are few people you'd pick over Powell. Back in 1986, he ditched his job selling Frozade lemon ices out of a street car--where, if you tipped him a dollar, he'd add a dash of rum to the refreshment--to tag along with the Beastie Boys on Run-DMC's Raising Hell tour. Ostensibly there to take photographs of the band, he acted, as he boasts, "like a rascal," and was eventually immortalized in rhyme with the line, "Homeboy, throw in the towel/Your girl got dicked by Ricky Powell."
In tandem with his ties to the Beasties, Powell's status as a face on New York's downtown party scene in the late-'80s and early-'90s saw him running into what now sounds like a royal roll-call of latter-day hipsters: Sonic Youth, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Russell Simmons, Harold Hunter, Dondi White, Sofia Coppola. It was access he decided to exploit in possibly the world's hippest-ever public access TV show, Rappin' With The Rickster. The show's episodes, first aired in 1990, were stitched together like "a visual pause-mix-tape," peppered with presenter Powell's skewed take on the slang of the day. Rappin' With The Rickster was as likely to show candid footage of Ad Rock and then-girlfriend Ione Skye shooting the breeze across the street from the West 4th Street basketball courts as an interview with actor Laurence Fishburne, circa King Of New York. Or, say, a random guy from New Jersey repeatedly puking up while slumped over a bench. As Powell puts it, "It's a time capsule of someone growing up in Manhattan during that era and being around the music scene."
With an official DVD release finally coming in the form of a "best of" compendium, we got the man often termed "the fourth Beastie Boy" to pluck ten memorable segments from Rappin' With The Rickster...
1. Washington Square Park Homeless Guy
"The very first person I filmed for the show was this homeless man, a black dude, who wore a plastic sandwich bag on his head. It was in Washington Square Park, on August 22nd in 1990. He came along with a supermarket cart and I approached him. He was a genius, full of lots of wisdom, and was very prophetic. He asked if he could borrow a subway token. A classic first guest."
"The first musical guests were Run-DMC. I filmed them on East 4th Street and Lafayette on the patio of Russell Simmons' triplex that he had just bought from Cher at the time. I remember Jam Master Jay having a great sense of humor. He was cracking jokes, laughing at jokes, and he was real witty. I knew them from touring together with the Beastie Boys, so we had a good rapport; they were always cracking jokes about me."
"The exchange between me and Eazy-E was classic. It was 1993, he had his record It's On (Dr Dre) 187 Um Killa out, and I met him at the Hilton hotel where he was staying. As soon as I came through the door he presented me with this big blunt. We just hit it right off. I brought my video camera and he was cool. He was taking the camera and turning it and looking into it at weird angles. I was calling him the black John Cassavetes."
4. Def Jam Receptionist Simone Reyes
"Simone Reyes was Russell Simmons' receptionist at Def Jam. She was an animal activist so I did a segment for the show with her and her girlfriends doing a thing against fur in front of Bergdorf Goodman. My mom's also an animal activist, her whole life is animals, she's real cool with bringing home strays. She's retired now so she walks people's dogs. She walks Candace Bushnell's dog. It's like a giraffe, it's a weird dog." (Nerd note: You can spot Simone in the Beastie Boys' video for "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)," reading a copy of Popular Science magazine with Ricky.)
5. Sonic Youth's Kim Gordan And Thurston Moore
"I met Kim and Thurston in '93 through the Beasties. They knew my shit through Grand Royal magazine, which I was writing for at the time. Thurston's into old school sports shit, so am I, so that's what we ended up talking about, like early '70s and '60s basketball. I also remember showing Kim my portfolio outside a gig in Portland. She liked it."
6. Sandra Bernhard
"I got her to kiss me on the lips for an episode. I got lucky that day. She turns me on. When I met her I was standing in front of the Orpheum on 2nd Avenue and St Marks Place. She had a one woman show called Without You I'm Nothing. She saw me looking at the marquee, I had a Def Jam jacket on from the Beastie Boys tour thing, and she was like, 'Oh, shit! How are you?' I'm like, 'How are you?' She gave me some free tickets and I took some dope pictures of her too."
7. The Beastie Boys
"I used to throw in a lot of clips from Beastie Boys tours into the shows, like just snippets here and there. The Check Your Head tour in 1992 was my favorite one to use. At that point I had my own camcorder with me all the time so I filmed a lot of shit and dropped these crazy behind-the-scenes type of erotic shenanigans into the shows. For that tour I became the luggage dude for the band. Before, on the License To Ill tour, they just flew me around and let me take pictures at will, but for Check Your Head they said I had to work and have an official title. I didn't mind doing luggage. I didn't mind bustin' my ass for the Beasties, they weren't over the top, but [their D.J.] Hurricane? Oh, boy, he was a nightmare. He had too much fuckin' bulky gear from Adidas, all these suits and sneakers, he was a pain in the ass."
8. Laurence Fishburne
"Laurence Fishburne was mad cool. For some reason he knew me, and I'd hang out with him quite a few times. He'd come to the East Village a lot; I once ran into him by the arch in Washington Square Park and took some dope pictures of him and his nephew; one time he took me to Life Cafe on 10th Street and Avenue B for lunch. I'd also run into him making little indie movies in Tompkins Square Park. He was someone I had real good luck with in so far as bumping into him, and he was always cool. At the time he was on the show he was already such a big deal with Apocalypse Now, and then in 1990 he'd already been in King Of New York, where he fuckin' ruled, but we just kicked it and chilled down by the East River. He was always one of my favorite people."
9. Tone Loc
"Tone Loc was on Rappin' With The Rickster real quick. People still knew him from the song "Wild Thing." He wasn't real interesting. He's not too witty. I actually find the rap superstars today, none of them are witty. They all suck, they're all overrated, like Jay-Z and Diddy and Kanye, they all suck. I think they're bad role models too, they're poseurs and fakes. Trust me."
10. Sofia Coppola
"Ah, Sofia, the one that got away! She actually gave me some run. She was actually nice to me. She posed for me a couple of times-she wore my first t-shirts that I put out in front of the store X-Large, on Avenue A. She rocked it for me. I've always found her to be extremely charming of course, but also very humble and with a quiet demeanor. And she never acted like a spoiled bitch. I really liked her. I kinda, sort of went for it. But you know, Spike Jonze slipped in right in front of me, right at that time! I had a chance to make out with her once. I like her. She's one of my all-time favorite girls. She's one of my Mona Lisas. Another one is Kimmy the Hippie Wigger, this hippie blonde chick from downtown. She's gorgeous. She could be a hippie or a wigger."