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Muhammad Ali: A Transcendent Life: The Artist

Muhammad Ali in Song

Songs that mention Muhammad Ali>
Song Artist
"Getting' Jiggy Wit It" Will Smith
Under Ground Kings Drake
Blow EPMD
F.U.T.W Jay Z
Rappers Delight Sugarhill Gang
Rose Clique Nipsey Hussle
Gorgeouss Kanye West
No Matter What T.I.
Whole Hood Master P
The Message Nas
You're A Customer EPMD
Built Like Me Migos
Classical Gucci Mane
Ready or Not Fugee
Ali Bomaye The Game
My Generation Nas and Damian Marley
Primetime Kanye West and Jay Z
The Game Common
Jungle (Remix)  X Ambassadors, Jamie Common
Rumble in the Jungle Fugees
Greatest Eminem
The Greatests Futuristic
Win Again Nicki Minaj
Why I Hate School But Love Education Suli Breaks
Will (Remix) Joyner Lucas & Will Smith
Back on the Road Gucci Mane
Mama Said Knock You Out LL Cool J
Wish I Had It Kevin Gates
Top Floor Gunna
Get on Your Kneez MC Pat Flynn
King Speech Futuristic
DQYCK Gang Star
Michael Jordan vs Muhammad Ali Epic Rap Battles
Ease Bryson Tiller
Don't Stop Child Rebel Soldier
The Light Joey Bada$$
Ali's Battle Raps Muhammad Ali 
Til I Get There Lupe Fiasco
I Was a Rock Chance the Rapper
The Greatest Whitney Houston
The Louisville Lip Eddie Curtis
Black Superman Johnny Wakelin
8ieme Round Trio Madjesi and Orchestre Sosoliso
I am the greatest! Cassius Clay

Muhammad Ali: The Artist

  1. Overview - The Eclectic Muhammad Ali
  2. News Articles – Ali and Hip Hop
  3. Ali On Broadway
  4. Books
  5. Multi-media Sources
  6. Songs and Hip-Hop Lyrics That Salute Muhammad Ali

The Eclectic Muhammad Ali

By Enid Trucios-Haynes
Director, Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Justice

Muhammad Ali did much more than transform the world of sports during his lifetime, influence the civil rights and the anti-Vietnam War movement, and advance global justice. He has been called the most famous Muslim in the U.S. who has shown through his life journey how religion can transform and inspire.

Muhammad Ali was also a pop culture icon on the par with Frank Sinatra according to Rolling Stone Magazine. Rolling Stone.[1] Muhammad Ali has a star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame. It is the only one displayed on a wall and not on the sidewalk because he refused to have anyone step on the name of the prophet Muhammad.

He made a major impact on the entertainment industry with record albums and received two grammy nominations. The first album was issued in 1963 as a spoken word record on I Am the Greatest! This and his poetry have led many to refer to Muhammad Ali as the father of rap music. The album reached No. 61 on the record charts. Muhammad Ali was nominated for a Grammy in 1976 for a children’s dental hygiene record called “The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay.”

Muhammad Ali’s life has been chronicled in over ten 10 films including documentaries such as When We Were Kings, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 1996, and The Trials of Muhammad Ali about his legal case to recognize his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War. Movies about Muhammad Ali have featured major actors including Will Smith in the 2001 movie “Ali.” Smith’s portrayal of Muhammad Ali was recognized with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Muhammad Ali’s 1975 boxing match against Chuck Wepner has been reported to have inspired the first “Rocky” movie written by Sylvester Stallone, although this connection has been denied by Sylvester Stallone.

Muhammad Ali has been called the “Spiritual Father of Rap” because of his freestyle poetry before boxing matches and in other media appearances.[2] His “early media appearances featured him holding court with the rhymes, flow, and braggadocio that would one day become typical of old school MCs like Run DMC and LL Cool J.” Before his first title match against Sonny Liston in 1964, Muhammad Ali rhymed for the media:

“Who would have thought when they came to the fight,”

“That they’d witness the launching of a black satellite?

Yes the crowd did not dream

When they put up the money

That they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny.”

Others have said Muhammad Ali “was hip-hop before hip-hop existed. He is a father of hip-hop. He's one of the men who the young hip-hop generation watched as we shaped our idea of what it meant to be a man.” Of course, there are others pivotal figures who have influenced hip-hop. One author would also recognize Malcolm X, Richard Pryor, James Brown, and Bruce Lee. "Ali was a core influence on the essence of hip-hop culture as broadly understood." A culture that includes performers such as Jay-Z and Rakim, as well as Jamie Foxx, Serena Williams and Leslie Jones. “Hip-hop culture is bold and brash and sometimes at war with the nation that's enthralled with it.”[3]

Muhammad Ali was an actor on Broadway in 1969 while he was banned from boxing. He starred in a musical, Buck White, in which he sang virtually all of the songs. In the play, Muhammad Ali acts in the role of “a militant black lecturer who addresses a meeting organized by a black political group.” The play was a musical adaptation of an Off-Broadway play, Big Time Buck White.[4] The New York Times published about a dozen articles about the play at the time, and it was on the cover of Jet Magazine. The cast, including Muhammad Ali, appeared on famous “The Ed Sullivan Show.”[5]

 

News Articles – Ali and Hip Hop

Muhammad Ali: The original rapper: Legendary emcee Chuck D of Public Enemy talks Ali’s impact on hip-hop, By Chuck D as told to Michael Tillery, The Undefeated (June 9, 2016) at https://theundefeated.com/features/muhammad-ali-the-original-rapper/

  • “Hip-hop wasn’t the term used back in those days for the champ’s poetic rhyming — a style showcasing prefight predictions of when and how he would defeat opponents along the way to a 56-5 professional record.”
  • “If you consider Muhammad Ali and his relationship to hip-hop, you automatically think of rhymes, right, because he was such an orator (‘I’m so mean, I make medicine sick’), right? But everybody also tried to do the Ali shuffle as much as they tried to do the James Brown. That’s dance culture right there. Those aspects were clear. The next generation that came out post-Ali that influenced a great passion of the youth in the ’70s and ’80s was Sugar Ray Leonard. His aura definitely came from that ‘Book of Ali.’”
  • “And, as far as Muhammad Ali, as legacy goes … at first it was like, What is this? Who is this man that looks like us? There was a time when the definition applied, my family, in a 10-year period, went from Negro to black. When we were Negroes, I very much remember, at 5 years old [in 1965], who Cassius Clay was. ‘That’s Cassius Clay! That’s Cassius Clay! Cassius Clay is fighting! Cassius Clay is fighting!’ And then he became Muhammad Ali. We were totally confused as kids about what civil rights were and why we weren’t Negroes anymore — some of us would still refer to ourselves as colored and Negro. One thing that was absolutely certain is that, by the end of the decade, thanks in part to Muhammad Ali, we knew that black was beautiful.”

How Muhammad Ali Invented Hip-Hop, Toure, VICE (June 6, 2016) at https://www.vice.com/en/article/nnkjvd/how-muhammad-ali-invented-hip-hop

  • “By being big, bold, beautiful, and black, Muhammad Ali charted a path for hip-hop's pioneers to follow, and taught us how to be men.” Muhammad Ali was hip-hop before hip-hop existed. He is a father of hip-hop. ... Hip-hop culture is bold and brash and sometimes at war with the nation that's enthralled with it. That's because hip-hop is the son of Muhammad Ali.
  • “ . . . the greatest boxer who ever lived was also a cornerstone in the early development of hip-hop music. “Without Muhammad Ali, there would be no ‘Mama Said Knock You Out, and the term G.O.A.T. would have never been coined,” LL Cool J tells Rolling Stone. Generations of youth who grew up during the hip-hop era may have missed out on his boxing exploits in real time, but his outsized personality has been experienced through countless black-and-white newsreels, TV and film documentaries and four-color adventures like Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, the classic 1978 comic where the heavyweight champion of the world demolishes the Man of Steel.”

Muhammad Ali: World’s Greatest Boxer Was Also Hip-Hop Pioneer: His legendary putdowns, toasts and snaps are a part of hip-hop’s DNA, Mosi Reeves, Rolling Stone (June 6, 2016) at https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/muhammad-ali-worlds-greatest-boxer-was-also-hip-hop-pioneer-152560/

  • “The New York Times compared Ali to the English satirist Alexander Pope. However, he was merely the most prominent representative of a renaissance in black spoken word, that included the revolutionary verse of Imamu Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni . . .” (Rolling Stone)
  • “. . . he personified a one-upmanship that dates back to West African folk heroes such as Anansi the spider, bringing the oral traditions of the Motherland to the spotlight of American popular culture.” (Rolling Stone)
  • Gil Scott-Heron ( “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”) - “I’ve been credited with giving birth to rap, but the first rap was done in 1789. You can go back far as Pearl Sweetly and Jupiter Jones,” wrote the late Scott-Heron. “I believe that Ali’s attempts at rap were a part of the spirit of the brotherhood.” (Rolling Stone)

Muhammad Ali's influence ran deep through rap's golden age, Angus Batey, The Guardian (June 6, 2016) at https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2016/jun/06/muhammad-ali-influence-rap-golden-age

  • “No music is closer to the quality of a sport than rap – and no sport is more akin to the quickfire lyrical combat of rapping at its purest than boxing.”
  • “. . . when we go looking for Ali in rap, what we find isn’t so much a constant string of allusions, his name dropped into lyrics and his powers invoked as metaphors: it’s the spirit of what he meant that courses through the music.”
  • Ali is mentioned in Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang, the first hip-hop hit
  • “Even beyond his religious and political views, though, Ali was a touchstone for rappers who saw in him an ego and a lyrical playfulness to emulate in the heat of battle. There are those who have argued that Ali was the first rapper – the insulting rhyming couplet was his preferred pre-match weapon of choice, and the cheerful disdain he showed to opponents gave his press conferences the air of swaggering solo performance. (At least one perceptive commentator has argued that his defeat of Sonny Liston in 1964 marks the beginning of hip-hop.)”

E Ticket: Did Ali Invent Rap? Reason for the Rhyme, Chuck Klosterman, ESPN http://www.espn.com/espn/eticket/story?page=alirap1

  • “The ESPN documentary "Ali Rap" (airing Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN) is built loosely on the premise that Muhammad Ali unknowingly invented rap music, simply by being himself in public. If true, this would mean that rap did not originate (as commonly believed) in the South Bronx during the '70s; it would mean rap was invented in Kentucky during the '60s.”

Was Muhammad Ali also the heavyweight inventor of rap?, Jack Coyle, The Seattle Times (January 17, 2007) at https://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/was-muhammad-ali-also-the-heavyweight-inventor-of-rap/ (review of Ali Rap)

  • “He was able to engage his social surroundings into his whole persona. That’s what hip-hop was able to do — to be an antenna for social reflection,” Chuck D said. “He’s one of the few black people to get on TV in the ’60s and speak their minds — thank God — and also back up what he talked about.”
  • “It was important to the early rap artists and DJs to understand and tie into Muhammad Ali’s persona and brilliance,” says Chuck D. “The further we got away from that and the further away we get from history, hip-hop and rap seemed to form its own sort of story — which is not always good to get away from the reasons you were doing it in the first place.”
  • Another possible progeny of Ali’s motormouth is the less-esteemed art of trash talking. Though it was then a little-used tactic, trash talking is a constant in today’s sports.
  • “Most of it was done with such humor,” says Lois, noting the exception when Ali “lost his cookies” to be when Floyd Patterson refused to call him Muhammad, instead repeatedly calling him by his original name, Cassius Clay. “But there’s trash talk and there’s trash talk. The guys who trash talk today, maybe Ali doing it gave them permission to be trash talkers, but I don’t think it’s his legacy.”

The Greatest: Muhammad Ali’s Hip-Hop Legacy - Remembering the boasts, poetry, and trash talk that changed the world, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, MTV (June 4, 2016) at http://www.mtv.com/news/2888784/muhammad-ali-hip-hop-legacy/

  • “Ali was the first great MC, the mouth from which all other mouths came, the voice that rattled the mountains and shook out 100 children.”
  • “In 1964, before the first Ali-Liston fight, when he was still going by Cassius Clay, Ali wrote a poem. It's a rhyming boast called “Clay Comes Out to Meet Liston,” filled with couplets like “Liston keeps backing but there's not enough room / It's a matter of time until Clay lowers the boom.” Ali imagines punching Liston clear out of the boxing ring: “Liston still rising and the ref wears a frown / But he can't start counting until Sonny comes down.” These moments, Ali loud and boasting, were mind games, without a doubt. A way to get into an opponent’s head and render him defeated before even throwing a punch.”
  • “It is, ultimately, about how the mouth can earn respect. How to name your rivals before they can name you, how black people have survived fights, how rappers have survived battles, how Ali survived in a country that wanted him submissive, silent, and fighting — fighting either another man in a ring or a war in another country. The fight, and knowing that there are no ways to escape it coming toward you, either by chosen profession or by birth, creates an urgency in the voice. Everything has to be heard, and has to echo long enough to be carried down to the generation after your own.”

Ali On Broadway:

Muhammad Ali in a Broadway Musical? It Happened, By Adam Langer, NYTimes (Nov. 28, 2018) at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/28/theater/muhammad-ali-broadway-buck-white.html - Fifty years ago this week, “Buck White” opened, and very quickly closed.

What does this footnote to theater history still have to tell us? Playbill – Ali’s bio for the play Buck White. https://www.playbill.com/person/muhammad-ali-vault-0000094680

Muhammad Ali, Broadway Musical Star, Dies at 74, Robert Viagas, Playbill - Jun 04, 2016 at https://www.playbill.com/article/muhammad-ali-broadway-musical-star-dies-at-74. “Though not known as a singer, Ali is listed as singing virtually every song in the score, including such titles as “We Came in Chains,” Mighty Whitey” and “Get Down.” The supporting cast included Ted Ross and Don Sutherland. The show opened December 2, 1969 at the George Abbott Theatre and New York Times critic Clive Barnes wrote that the master of ring footwork “sings with a pleasant, slightly impersonal voice, acts without embarrassment and moves with innate dignity.” The show ran seven performances.”

Books on Ali and Hip Hop:

Ali Rap: Muhammad Ali, The First Heavyweight Champion of Rap, edited and designed by George Lois (Taschen/ESPN Books)

Rap Attack by David Toop (study of early hip-hop culture mentions Ali)

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, Comic book (1978)

Multi-Media Sources:

Video - Muhammad Ali honored in Hip-Hop | 1942-2016 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1lWjHg6jAs

Record Album - I Am the Greatest! By Cassius Clay (Audio CD) - https://www.amazon.com/I-Am-Greatest-Cassius-Clay/dp/B00000JT3K. Cassius Clay had yet to win the heavyweight championship or, indeed, to change his name when this 1963 recording was made. Incredibly young sounding, he's at his best here when making swipe after verbal swipe at Sonny Liston, both in verse and in (scripted?) answers to audience questions. One silly sketch ("'I Have Written a Drama,' He Said Playfully") isn't up to the solo spots, but even that hardly disrupts the record's giddy tone. This reissue of a once-rare LP, augmented by several other hard-to-find sides, is a must for Muhammad Ali fans, American Studies scholars, and anyone else who seeks further illumination of the Greatest's self-mocking but total confidence. --Rickey Wright

ESPN documentary "Ali Rap"

  • Hip-Hop Lyrics That Salute Boxing G.O.A.T. Muhammad Ali, Adelle Platon, Billboard (June 6, 2016) at https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/7393568/boxing-champ-muhammad-ali-hip-hop-lyrics-the-cham-the-greatest-cassius-clay
  • "Met Ali, he told me I'm the greatest" -- Will Smith, "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It"
  • "I'm the greatest man I said that before I knew I was" -- Drake, "Under Ground Kings"
  • "Ayo, I'm the greatest, I'm like Muhammad Ali" -- EPMD (Erick Sermon), "Blow"
  • "America tried to emasculate the greats / Murder Malcolm, gave Cassius the shakes/ Wait, tell them rumble young man rumble / Try to dim your lights tell you be humble" -- Jay Z, "F.U.T.W."
  • "You see, I got more clothes than Muhammad Ali and I dress so viciously" -- Sugarhill Gang, "Rapper's Delight"
  • "I'm the greatest of all time like I'm young Ali / Played Muhammad to these thoughts" -- Nipsey Hussle, "Rose Clique"
  • "Remind me of when they tried to have Ali enlisted / If I ever wasn't the greatest n---a, I must have missed it" -- Kanye West "Gorgeous" feat. Kid Cudi and Raekwon
  • "Ali say even the greatest gotta suffer some time" -- T.I., "No Matter What"
  • "Be all u can be, be the greatest like Muhammed Ali / Make them love you when they hate to see" -- Master P, "Whole Hood"
  • "A glass of 'ze make a man Cassius Clay" -- Nas, "The Message"
  • "Because I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee / Woah, I'm the E of EPMD" -- EPMD, "You're A Customer"
  • ""Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" / That's the late great words of Muhammad Ali" -- Migos, "Built Like Me"
  • "Like Ali I'mma float like a butterfly sting like a bee cuz its big" -- Gucci Mane, "Classical (Intro)"
  • "I refugee from Guantanamo Bay / Dance around the border like I'm Cassius Clay" -- Fugees, "Ready Or Not"
  • "I'm bout to rumble in the jungle in these new Kanye's/ Ali Bomaye! Ali Bomaye!" -- The Game feat. 2 Chainz & Rick Ross "Ali Bomaye"
  • "Now if you can't relate then maybe you are too complacent / Athletes today are scared to make Muhammad Ali statements" -- Nas and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley feat. Lil Wayne and Joss Stone, "My Generation"
  • "Primetime, basking in the lime/ Cassius in his prime, coloring out of the line / 'Cause they don’t want nobody that’s colored out of the lines" -- Kanye West & Jay Z, "Primetime"
  • "They try to box me in like Cassius Clay / Hey I'm like Muhammad when he fasted" -- Common, "The Game"
  • "Don't box me into the corner, I/ Float like a butterfly, sting like Muhammad A/ On training day I go too hard, ask Antoine Fuqua" -- X Ambassadors, Jamie N Commons feat. Jay Z "Jungle (Remix)"
  • "I remember when Cassius Clay flipped the script/ Taking trips to Zimbabwe/ Africans started calling the God, Ali Bombaye" -- Fugees feat. John Forté, A Tribe Called Quest & Busta Rhymes, "Rumble In The Jungle"

[1] Mike Rubin, Muhammad Ali: 4 Ways He Changed America, Rolling Stone (June 5, 2016) at https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-sports/muhammad-ali-4-ways-he-changed-america-155463/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Toure, How Muhammad Ali Invented Hip-Hop, Vice (June 6, 2016) at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/nnkjvd/how-muhammad-ali-invented-hip-hop.

[4] Robert Viagas, Muhammad Ali, Broadway Musical Star, Dies at 74 (June 04, 2016) at https://www.playbill.com/article/muhammad-ali-broadway-musical-star-dies-at-74.

[5] Adam Langer, Muhammad Ali in a Broadway Musical? It Happened, The New York Times (Nov. 28, 2019) (photo of Muhammad Ali performing a scene from the play on the Ed Sullivan Show) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/28/theater/muhammad-ali-broadway-buck-white.html.

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