There are many close parallels that can be drawn between the persona that Muhammad Ali exhibited throughout his life and the general image of a rap superstar.
With the tight relationship between Hip Hop and sports, rappers generally have favored boxing since the genre’s inception. So when it comes to both the rap game and the fight game, no higher praise comes to mind that to draw a comparison to the great Muhammad Ali.
That said, thumb through this list featuring 10 of the best Muhammad Ali references in Hip Hop while commemorating his life. Note that raps featuring the legend’s birth name, Cassius Clay, have been included.
SONG: The Game featuring 2 Chainz and Rick Ross – “Ali Bomaye”
“Ali Bomaye! Ali Bomaye!
I’m ’bout to rumble in the jungle in these new Kanye’s
Ali Bomaye! Ali Bomaye!
My lawyer threw them gloves on the beat another case”
PROJECT: Jesus Piece
RELEASE YEAR: 2012
This track is named after the chant heard during Ali’s famous ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ fight in Zaire during October 1974, which translates to “Ali kill him.” Technically speaking, this is one of the most oddly laid out songs on any rap album in recent memory. The Game gives a half-rapping, half-spoken word-esque interlude to start, then 2Chainz delivers a strong verse before Game comes back with about eight more bars before the chorus starts. Hurricane Game goes for a full verse then comes a second chorus, which is followed by a 24-bar verse from Rick Ross and finally a single back-and-forth exchange between Game and Chainz before the second chorus plays again to end the song.
After being featured on Grand Theft Auto V, this is one song that a lot of people know but possibly not fully appreciate the high level of raps.
SONG: Nicki Minaj – “Win Again”
“Soon as I came in I told them I could become the greatest,
Muhammad Ali of these bitches and that can’t be debated”
PROJECT: The Pinkprint
RELEASE YEAR: 2014
Nicki mentioned this song at least twice on Twitter in December 2014. One fan page asked her for the “song u wrote for us?” and she replied with “Win Again,” and another tweet came later on that month without Nicki @ing anyone directly, where she went on to say most of the bars on this track came from a freestyle and the rest from adjustments after specifically taking the track back home with her. The Muhammad Ali reference in the same rhyme with the word “greatest” is kinda obvious, but not too debatable with then-active female rappers.
SONG: T.I. – “Rubber Band Man”
“Young Cassius Clay of my day,
Marvin Gaye of my time;
tryna stay alive,
living how I say in my rhymes”
PROJECT: Trap Muzik
RELEASE YEAR: 2004
Tip has this air about him that makes you believe he can throw hands if he has to, so the reference to Muhammad Ali is very on-brand. Still early on in his career, having Puffy in the music video was an icing-on-the-cake cosign.
It should be noted this song came out before “Rubberband Man” (both as singles and tracks on the album) and T.I. shouts out 2003, but it wasn’t until a year later the Trap Muzik album came out.
SONG: Sugarhill Gang – “Rapper’s Delight”
“You see I’m six foot one and I’m tons of fun and I dress to a tee,
you see I got more clothes than Muhammad Ali and I dress so viciously”
PROJECT: Sugarhill Gang
RELEASE YEAR: 1980
Right when our man Hank comes on the second verse, history is made because this whole rhyme is the most stuntastic s*it ever. Setting off a Hip Hop wave off that continues today, with several deep bars that are only slightly outshined by all the floss talk. The reference to The Champ comes early on when Hank claims to have more gear than Ali, a tall order given how in 1980 Ali was at the tail-end of his career.
SONG: Nas – “The Message”
jump out the Range,
empty out the ashtray,
A glass of ‘Ze make a man Cassius Clay”
PROJECT: It Was Written
RELEASE YEAR: 1996
After referencing Muhammad Ali by his birth name, Nas goes on to describe the feeling of invincibility that many get after knocking back a few drinks. It Was Written also started with an Intro and didn’t have Nas rapping until the second track.
SONG: Lloyd Banks – “Without My Glock”
“I make the heads bop in the streets like speed bumps,
cause every bar will hit ya, hard as a Muhammad Ali punch”
PROJECT: The Big Withdraw
RELEASE YEAR: 2006
Though this was a promotional song off The Big Withdraw, it very much points to the leak of every other track from this project as the event in the music industry that broke Bank$’s spirit—this album was going to follow up the popular Rotten Apple and be something special for his career. What should be noted also is the rumor a very early copy of the finished album was stolen after an alleged female rendezvous as well as the whole Joe Budden indirectly/directly talking about this situation on his “Dumb Out” track.
The high lyrical skills from Banks makes him a worthy MC to invoke Muhammed Ali’s name in reference to how hard his bars hit you.
SONG: Fugees – “Ready Or Not”
“I refugee from Guantanamo Bay,
dance around the border like I’m Cassius Clay”
PROJECT: The Score
RELEASE YEAR: 1996
Lauryn Hill reportedly already wasn’t pleased the first single off The Score prominently featured her singing and the story goes she allegedly was furious at how well-received “Ready Or Not” was at radio. It’s a strange coincidence that on a song directed at rappers, one of the best female MCs is most remembered for being on the chorus singing rather than her strong verse on the record.
SONG: Big Pun and Cuban Linx – “Toe 2 Toe” Freestyle
“I never back down, I hold my ground and pound the body
Like Muhammad Ali papi, we could lock up in the lobby”
PROJECT: Best Of DJ Clue Freestyles Part Two
RELEASE YEAR: 2009
This track features Big Pun and Cuban Link trading 16-bar verses on one of the most popular records from this official DJ Clue-hosted mixtape. Punisher went hard trice, and the second verse from original Terror Squad member Felix Delgado a.k.a. Cuban Link is where the Ali reference comes in the form of the personification of his self-proclaimed aptitude in a fist fight.
SONG: Big Boi featuring JAY Z and Killer Mike – “Flip Flip Rock”
“Focused on every word and line,
like a young Cassius Clay in his prime;
I was born to talk shit and prove mine,
and I’m the epitome of raw rhyme”
RELEASE YEAR: 2003
It is very much fitting that an avant garde rap pairing invoking the name of The Champ be highlighted here. For Big Boi’s side of this two-disc CD, Sir Lucious Leftfoot enlisted the help of JAY Z and Killer Mike. Very rare instance of the Jiggaman doing a chorus by himself, though that’s likely the reason for him batting cleanup in the close out of the track.
SONG: Reflection Eternal featuring Jay Electronica, J. Cole, Mos Def – “Just Begun”
“Hitting like Muhammad Ali you more like Tatyana,
all this is probably karma you dishonored the father”
PROJECT: Revolutions Per Minute
RELEASE YEAR: 2009
Often thought of (but not necessarily named as) one of the greatest MCs ever, Talib Kweli is the one to spit the Muhammad Ali reference on this strong posse cut. Reflection Eternal is Kweli and producer Hi-Tek and technically this could be deemed a Reflection Eternal x Blackstar track, featuring Jay Electronica and J. Cole.