NEW YORK – Muhammad Ali was not a rapper, but to many of the genre’s best lyricists, he was influential in paving the way for hip-hop stars to succeed and had a lasting impact on the art form.
Ali was hip-hop: He was boastful, he trash-talked, he was a strong poet and he could freestyle. He also was not afraid to tackle race relations head-on.
From Jay Z to Eminem to Chuck D, some of hip-hop’s strongest voices remember the late, great Ali in their own words.
Ali died June 3 at the age of 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
JAY Z: “His bravery and selflessness was inspirational. The most impressive human I have ever come across. He is literally my hero.”
EMINEM: “Muhammad Ali has been a constant source of inspiration and a heroic figure throughout my life. He’s always been there, as a symbol for fighting against the odds, the system and the hatred. It’s hard to believe he’s actually not with us anymore, but he will never be gone.”
SLICK RICK: “Without question, Muhammed Ali’s rhymes were the beginnings of rap music. Along with his tremendous athletic talent, he provided all of us with an image of strength, intelligence, self-assurance, and an in-your-face confidence that one could only admire. To me, Muhammed Ali was a rare unique gem – no additives, no preservatives. All walks of life could feel Ali’s passion with everything that he touched.”
NAS: “Float like a butterfly & sting like a bee was bigger than all rap hits combined. Ali wasn’t a rapper but was the first rap superstar. He was one of the first Americans who you didn’t even have to meet in person but can still learn how to be a man by watching his ways,” said Nas, who referenced Ali in his songs “The Message” and “My Generation.”
CHUCK D: “Muhammad Ali was an Earthizen,” Chuck D said, referring to the 2015 Public Enemy song “Earthizen.”
“He transcended what he was told to be in Louisville to become the maximum definition of a Human Being.”