His motion alone was rhythmic. There was cadence in his talk and spunk in his walk. His conduct in the boxing ring was forcefully confident. The ardor of Muhammad Ali radiated feelingly into the souls of the people in domestic bound black communities and spread effectively abroad to dissonant territories all over the globe. For this reason, it is beyond safe to say Muhammad Ali is a Hip-Hop Precursor.
Starting in the early sixties, mostly, prior to boxing matches, Ali projected an earthy delivery as he boasted about his stellar skill set, signaling predictions to the masses about the outcome of his fights. When it came to dropping knowledge, an act that gave birth to his profound deed as a headstrong black social activist, his wisdom was as fluent as an ocean that will never go dry. Bold and apologetic.
Genuinely ridiculing his opponents with harmonic phrases like his most noted and referenced one to date,”float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” Ali emulated a competitive edge that is uniform to the height of West African gods, a direct reflection of the storytelling oral tradition of the ancient African griots-an identity that hoards the foundation of the Hip-Hop MC.
Still under the heading of his “slave name” prior to joining the Nation of Islam, Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., in 1964 Ali wrote a poem, where he showcases a severe balladry collective of braggadocios words dedicated to his next battle with opponent Sonny Liston titled, “Clay Comes Out to Meet Liston.” With lines such as: “Liston keeps backing but there’s not enough room / It’s a matter of time until Clay lowers the boom” and “Liston still rising and the ref wears a frown / But he can’t start counting until Sonny comes down” Ali oozed the stronghold appeal that is later evident in the hip-hop’s rap element. The strategic measure was used in rap battles, where the superior emcee undertakes the mind of their opponent assuring their own victory.
The presence of Ali was tangent in the black community, with young black boys, in particular. Bearing witness to his valor as he spoke on how he would defeat his opponents with use of a poetic rhyme scheme was mesmerizing to them. This is an energy that stuck with them as they grew into young men. Once the early to mid-seventies hit, Ali was a certified figure in the black community and when it came the brewing birth of hip-hop culture, he was a staple in the movement’s energetic development.
He was a fighter. Not a fighter that promoted unrighteous bound violence, but one who fought for the sake of demonstrating the might and vitality of the black man in America. Verbal combat against emcees was a common trend amid the infancy of hip-hop culture. Besides from bragging about their how personable they were and how fly they rolled when house rockin’, old-school rappers were also eager to show and prove such identity against one another. This rage of assurance can be found in classic battles such as Busy Bee Starski vs. Kool Moe Dee or The Cold Crush Brothers vs. The Fantastic Five, and even in hip-hop’s DJ element when DJ Kool Herc battled disco DJ legend Pete DJ Jones back in 1976.
The identity Muhammad Ali is synonymous with the essence of hip-hop culture. A culture that was created out of the manufactured oppressed state of the black and Latino community where the youth was in search of pacifying ways to discover the freedom of expressing their realities, contrary to imposing harm. It was a broad, accepting showcase of black male masculinity. An identity that became the baseline for any man who entered the hip-hop arena. Ali’s serene, polished, and exquisite approach was iconic to the minds of the youth, who later curated a multi-billion dollar industry-teaching many the fundamentals of manhood.
Ali’s personable approach, which trailed along fellow hip-hop precursors in the likes of Malcolm X (el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz), Gil Scott-Heron, Rudy Ray Moore, and many more, set the tone for hip-hoppers to gain universal traction. Which, evidently is a natural tactic of bodies from this culture. Starting from his deed of converting to Islam, his politically poetic activism, and entertaining rhetoric, this fearless behavior formed into what we pidgin as “a vibe,” to an extent Ali has become one of the most reference sports figures in the history of hip-hop lyricism.
One of the first hip-hop records on wax, Sugarhill Gang‘s “Rapper’s Delight” of 1979 steered reference to Ali’s sharp fashion sense (“You see I got more clothes than Muhammad Ali and I dress so viciously”), while in 1993, Big Daddy Kane maintained his signature braggadocios persona with the help of the boxing legend’s most quotable (“I feel like Ali/I’m the greatest of all times/Floatin’ like a butterfly, stingin’ like a bee…”), fast forward to 1994 where Greg Nice hones Ali’s revolutionary approach in Gang Starr‘s “DWYCK” (“I say Muhammad Ali, you say Classius Clay”), and still bearing prominence in modern times shown in Kevin Gates “Perfect Imperfection” (“I channel this spirit like Ali the greatest”), Muhammad Ali is sanctioned as a potent force in the development of hip-hop culture and his societal impact is one that is flawlessly unshared.