NEW YORK (AP) — 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.
And rappers love saying his name, referencing his iconic career or reciting “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” in their songs, including the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” the Fugees’ “Ready or Not,” EPMD’s “You’re a Customer” and Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.”
From Jay Z to Eminem to Chuck D, some of hip-hop’s strongest voices remember the late, great Ali in their own words, through statements and interviews with The Associated Press.
Ali died last Friday at the age of 74 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
“His bravery and selflessness was inspirational. The most impressive human I have ever come across. He is literally my hero.”
“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.”
“Muhammad Ali was a champion. He was a strong black role model for the community and one of the most powerful men I’ve ever met. He was also an important figure in my life, really a father figure. Ali taught us all to never give up, and his dedication and determination left a legacy of perseverance in the face of hardship. He may not have had the ability to speak due to his illness, but his presence was no less powerful and his message was always clear. He was the greatest, not only in his sport but in the way he carried himself in life.”
“Muhammad Ali was never afraid to speak his mind,” Combs continued. “He beat his opponents with his word before he ever stepped in to face them in the ring. He was a poet and a showman. And in a lot of ways, he was the first great MC.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Brave man, woman or child could have learned to be a better human just by hearing him speak. May he rest in paradise forever.”
“I remember watching Muhammed Ali talk his talk, but what I loved about him the most is he walked that walk. He was so outspoken, so courageous that his energy was contagious. We loved him as a boxer, but really he stood as a leader of our communities across the U.S. and in Africa.”
“Ali was the champ but he was also a rapper,” Lyte continued. “I loved hearing him scat. He was so unpredictable in many ways; you never knew what he’d say to a reporter that likely went too far. There is no doubt that he was the people’s choice and the peoples’ champ.”
“Muhammed Ali will forever be remembered for his never dying love for his people. He took a stand when hardly anyone else would or could.”
“When his fights would come on, my family would sit around the entire living room and in those day — what I would call a floor model television — and everyone would sit around and it was kind of like the minute he started winding it up and he started dancing around the room, he could make the whole room stand up,” Pharrell said in an interview.
“Beyond his condition at the time, you could still see that fighting spirit in him. It was almost like he could be saying the poetry that he would often spew off when he was excited about something. You could see that same spirit in him. I think we lost somebody super special. … Ali was the greatest.”
“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.”
AP Writer Kristin M. Hall contributed to this report.
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