As everyone in the world knows, we lost who many consider to be the greatest of all time, Muhammad Ali. To list his athletic, humanitarian, and political achievements would take all day.
OogeeWoogee is an outlet that focuses on millennial lifestyle and hip-hop culture; therefore, it’s only right that we talk about what the man formerly known as Cassius Clay has contributed to hip-hop over the years.
It’s often been said that Ali was a pioneer of rap music in his own way, which is quite obvious once you study his pre-fight trash talk sessions at press conferences. He often spoke in rhyme, sometimes exclusively, boasting about his own prowess and handsome appearance, all while belittling whatever opponent he was about to face. This rhyming form of smack talk was indubitably a precursor to what’s now grown into battle rap culture; also, rap music in general began with facetious, fun-loving braggadocio as a whole. And lest we forget, Muhammad Ali kinda rapped over recorded music before on the 1976 pro-dental hygiene record The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay.
It wasn’t straight up hip-hop, as the genre had not quite come into its own yet, but I wouldn’t call the Champ’s rhyming spoken verse “singing” by any stretch of the imagination.
But beyond Ali’s own personal contributions towards the overall creation of emceeing, he’s one of the most referenced pro athletes in history when it comes to rap lyrics. It makes perfect sense; he was widely considered the best at what he did, he was fly AF, and he was defiantly self-made. Chuck D, frontman for the legendary Public Enemy, even recorded an ode to Ali’s greatness, complete with a video to boot.
Underground hip-hop luminary Brother Ali (one of the best lyricists in the modern era in my opinion) has been directly influenced by him, coinciding his Islamic name with his artist name in tribute to the man formerly known as Cassius, as well as going as far as covering his 2003 Champion EP with an iconic image of the boxing hero standing over a fallen Sonny Liston.
As a more recent mainstream example, The Game named 2013 single “Ali Bomaye” featuring 2 Chainz and Rick Ross after the chant that motivated Muhammad Ali to defeat George Foreman in the historic “Rumble in the Jungle”.
And of course, he’s been mentioned innumerable times over the years by rappers from all walks of life, with all sorts of different styles. Ali’s universal respect in hip-hop is undeniable, and perhaps unmatched when it comes to athletes. Let’s take a quick look at 10 of the best Muhammad Ali references in hip-hop, from the old to the new.
“Rapper’s Delight” – Sugarhill Gang – 1980
“You see, I got more clothes than Muhammad Ali and I dress so viciously”
“You’re A Customer” EPMD – 1988
“Because I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
Woah, I’m the E of EPMD”
“Ready Or Not” Fugees 1996
“I refugee from Guantanamo Bay
Dance around the border like I’m Cassius Clay”
“Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” Will Smith – 1997
“Met Ali, he told me I’m the greatest!”
“No Matter What” T.I. – 2008
“Ali say even the greatest gotta suffer sometimes”
“The Game” Common 2009
“They try to box me in like Cassius
Clay, hey, I’m like Muhammad when he fasted
Opposing the fascist, make cuts and got gashes
Scratches over third eyelashes”
“Gorgeous” Kanye – 2010
“Remind me of when they tried to have Ali enlisted
If I ever wasn’t the greatest nigga, I must have missed it”
“My Generation” Nas & Damian Marley – 2010
“Now if you can’t relate then maybe you are too complacent
Athletes today are scared to make Muhammad Ali statements”
“Underground King” Drake – 2011
“I’m the greatest man, I said that before I knew I was” (paraphrase of an Ali quote)
“F.U.T.W.” Jay-Z – 2013
“America tried to emasculate the greats
Murdered Malcolm, gave Cassius the shakes
Wait, tell them rumble, young man, rumble
Try to dim your lights, tell you be humble”