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Muhammad Ali: Celebrating His Hip-Hop Legacy

Over the weekend, boxing legend Muhammad Ali passed away at the age of 74. He had been battling Parkinson’s disease for 32 years and died of respiratory complications.

Ali was an astonishing fighter, but when remembering the champion, his poeticism also is as inspiring now as it was when he first uttered the words. Even his worst trash talking had an eloquence about it.

In fact, his lyrical jabs at his opponents stemmed from a long culture of West African folklore and ushered in a new force in hip-hop and rap.


According to rapper LL Cool J, “Without Muhammad Ali, there would be no ‘Mama Said Knock You Out,’ and the term G.O.A.T. would have never been coined.”

Muhammad Ali BandRumors.com

Muhammad Ali had dozens of knockouts during his career.

In 1964, before fighting Sonny Liston, the heavyweight champion of the time, Ali gave a poem titled “Song of Myself” to the press. In it, he stated that he would emerge victorious over “the Bear.”

Of course, Ali fulfilled his prophesy by beating Liston in the ring. According to writer David Toop, who released a study on hip-hop culture called Rap Attack, Ali beat Liston with not just physical prowess, but mental acuity as well. “History records that Liston was humiliated twice by Ali,” said Toop.

Gil Scott Heron, who submitted essays on Ali to the Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, has often been considered a founder of rap music thanks to his 1970s songs like “Whitey on the Moon.” In an essay, he said, “I’ve been credited with giving birth to rap, but the first rap was done in 1789. I believe that Ali’s attempts at rap were a part of the spirit of the brotherhood.”

Read more to check out Muhammad Ali’s song about Sonny Liston:

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