Muhammad Ali’s Influence on Hip-Hop

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Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest boxers to step foot in the ring. His brilliance showed every time he put on his gloves. Besides being a sports and entertainment legend, Ali was a social icon. His impact reached all around the world, and he is a role model for many people in many ways. Hip-Hop has been impacted by Muhammad Ali greatly and it shows. Muhammad Ali tremendously influenced hip-hop through rhyming, dissing, nicknames, and most importantly, his activism.

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Muhammad Ali, born January 17, 1942 with the name Cassius Clay, would soon become one of the most important and praised African American role models ever. He grew up in Louisville, Kentucky during a period of segregation. His father supported his wife and two sons by doing billboard paintings and sign work. His mother worked around the house. At age twelve he began his boxing career, and little did he know it was the start of him becoming the greatest American professional boxer. His boxing career included, being the first fighter to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions, winning medals at the Olympics, getting crowned as the world and the male athlete of the year on several accounts, and being celebrated as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures in history. Ali was not only rewarded for his achievements in boxing but was honored for his social activism and philanthropism.

Even though it originated from Africa, hip-hop is a culture and art movement that was developed on August 11th of 1973 in the west Bronx, New York City. The innovation for this style of music was brought to life by its founding father, Clive Campbell-better known as DJ Kool Herc. Ali was in his prime during the 70s and that was when hip-hop was first starting up. The popular styles from the 70s were disco and funk that were constantly played in clubs during this time. The economy started to decline during this era resulting in many discos and night clubs forced to close their doors due to the lack of money being made to support them. Parties were brought back on the streets in urban areas where DJs would use sound systems to mix funk and soul style music. DJs would add in breaks, a tradition adopted from Jamaica, which led to many people dancing in a way that is today referred to as break-dancing. Through the years as more inventions came about, hip-hop had soon spread across the country and was becoming the top selling music genre by the 90s. To this day hip-hop is globally recognized and continues to influence music, styles, and culture around the world.

Muhammad Ali might not have been a hip-hop artist, but his character and personality influenced many rising hip-hop artists to adapt his ways in their music. One way he did so was through his activism. Muhammad Ali, along with African Americans everywhere, had to deal with racism. Becoming a professional boxer gave him fame and a platform to speak out about the brutal system of oppression that he and others had to face constantly. Because he was so well known, he had a large audience that saw how they could accomplish much more than being the slaves they’d been forced to be. He used this to his advantage to ask for change and encourage his fans to speak up and fight for a change with him. Many people idolized him for putting everything on the line to fight for his rights, especially those who were musicians. Hip-hop music, when it started getting lyrics, mostly related to social issues and personal experiences and feelings. African American hip-hop artists began protesting through their music in the same way Ali had been protesting. The general oppressions of African Americans and the need to speak out were very strong and already happening, but Ali gave a boost of confidence for many to speak out to a wider audience and bigger platform. Hip-hop spread the feelings of the African American community to territories all around the world. This soon became the main focus of the genre.

Rhyming is a huge component when dealing with hip-hop music. Rhymes help make the flow better, make sure the lyrics lie easily on top of the rhythm, and give the songs a more poetic and storytelling feel. Muhammad Ali was known for talking trash to his opponents by rhythmic poetry. The most famous of his poems consisted of two lines that read:

[bookmark: _Hlk531104239]“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.”

This famous Ali rhyme was sampled in a Lupe Fiasco song titled “Till I Get There.” Most professional boxers would try to belittle their competitors by threats, but Ali’s diss stood out from all of the others because of the rhyme that made it memorable and unique. Hip-hop artists used Ali’s rhyming tactic in their music so it would attract listeners. The subtle flow and catchy pattern appealed to the general audience quickly. It helped improve music so immensely that rhyming is still commonly used in hip-hop today.

To have the most famous poem in sports history, Muhammad Ali had to use disses in the boxing ring. Dissing is seen regularly in sports like boxing. Opponents trash talk each other for publicity, to increase fight buzz, or to intimidate the other into losing the fight. Muhammad was the best at insulting his rivals. Some of his most famous trash talk included:

It’s gonna be a chilla, and a killa…” and

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.”

Hip-hop started to include bragging, insults, and boasting content into songs. Hip-hop battling can occur on recorded albums, though rap battles are often recited or freestyled spontaneously in live battles. This added an entertaining and exciting element to hip-hop because listeners were fascinated by the amusing and provocative things being said about artists. Hip-hop artists still use this method today to draw in listeners.

[bookmark: _Hlk531168205] Muhammad Ali wasn’t born with this given name. He was born as Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. He changed to Muhammad Ali because he didn’t want to be referred to by his “slave name.” As his boxing career progressed, Ali began nicknaming himself the GOAT (Greatest of all Time). Nicknames were a huge part of boxing that all the competitors took part in. They were memorable and built confidence. Hip-hop artists are also widely known for going by a nickname, which is often described as a stage name. 2 Chainz, 50 Cent, 21 savage, Big Sean, ASAP Rocky, and Cardi B are just a few of the hip-hop artists today and through the generations who adopted the use of a pseudonym. It allows for easier pronunciation of an actual name, or a chance to give artists a worthy title of being the greatest or a savage.

Tons of hip-hop artists credit Muhammad Ali for influencing their genre. Chuck D, a popular hip-hop artist from the mid-90s, said he recognized Ali for influencing hop-hop with his rhyming and his braveness. His name is also mentioned in several hop-hop songs by several musicians. The songs either refer to his boxing skills or his contributions to hip-hop. 2 Chainz and Rick Ross’s “Ali Bomaye” references a showdown between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in which the audience chanted the saying that translates to “Ali, kill him.” Nicki Minaj calls herself the greatest and mentions Ali in her song “Win Again.” Like Minaj, 50 cent says he is the greatest like Ali in his song “Many Men (Wish Death).” In T.I.’s song “Rubber Band Land”, he gives credit to Ali for being the reason for how he can live how he wants through singing hip-hop music. Lupe Fiasco used Ali’s most famous poem, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and his name as lyrics in his song “Till I Get There.” The most well-known of songs written about Muhammad Ali was LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” that is all about fighting like Ali. Many more artists have him mentioned in their songs, and many have acknowledged Ali’s impact through interviews and on social media platforms.

Overall, it may be said that Muhammad greatly influenced hip-hop. Through his strong activism and fight for equality, he encouraged and inspired African Americans to protest with him, and many did through their music. He attributed to the rhyming aspect of the genre through his poetic ways of speaking. Ali dissed his boxing opponents before, during, and after the match, and hip-hop musicians frequently have live battles where disses are freestyled or include the insults on their recorded albums. Artists in the genre usually give themselves a stage name to use in place of their real name similarly like Cassius Clay did to Muhammad Ali to the GOAT. Hip-hop artists from the era of Muhammad Ali to now have given him credit for inspiring them in their music, whether it be from his political and social actions, his poetic rhyming and dissing, or his use of nicknaming. Muhammad Ali is a significant component in the development of hip-hop culture and composition that is still commonly used today.

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Muhammad Ali’s Influence on Hip-Hop. (2019, Aug 02). Retrieved November 29, 2022 , from

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