Rest In Peace Muhammad Ali: A Lyrical Hip-Hop Tribute

The passing of sporting legend Muhammad Ali over the weekend sent shockwaves around the world. While Ali had been battling Parkinson’s disease for decades, his death has come suddenly and caused an outpouring of emotional tributes from fans and celebrities alike. The hip-hop community has been full of praise for Ali and his impact on both boxing and social issues since his death. Ali possessed a quick wit and way with words, delivering stinging barbs and well known catch phrases that would put many of todays’s rappers to shame. It was his ferocious competitiveness both in and out of the ring, as well as his stance on political and social issues, that endeared him to the hip-hop community.

To celebrate the life of the great man and all he achieved, we’ve gathered together eight of the best Muhammad Ali references in hip-hop from some of our favourite artists.

LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out

Just like Muhammad Ali they called him Cassius
Watch me bash this beat like a skull”

Inspired by his Grandma who told LL Cool J to “knock out” the critics of his last album, Mama Said Knock You Out is a classic track with LL in fierce form. The rapper uses Muhammad Ali and Ernie Terrell’s one-sided 1967 fight to illustrate his greatness. Ali had changed his name from Cassius Clay three years earlier but Terrell refused to call him by his new name, infuriating Ali. When the two clashed, Ali continually pounded away on Terrell yelling, “What’s my name?” Just like Ali, LL wanted to remind everyone who he was and why he was one of the best rapper’s in the game during the 90s.

Drake – Under Ground Kings

“I’m the greatest man, I said that before I knew I was”

A tribute to Pimp C, a member of the legendary Southern group Underground Kingz (UGK) with Bun B, Under Ground Kings is Drake at his braggadocios best. Claiming he does it all for Toronto, Drake paraphrases Ali’s famous quote, “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.” While debatable at the time, there is no doubting Drizzy is at the top of his game right now.

Master P – Whole Hood

“Be all you can, be the greatest                                                                                                                                Like Muhammad Ali, make em’ love you when they haters”

It’s hard to believe Master P and his No Limit Record’s ruled hip-hop during the late 90s. The New Orleans entrepreneur built a fortune from rap music before branching out into acting, writing, finance, sport management and philanthropic pursuits. Whole Hood found P following Ali’s advice about being the best you can in life.  Sampling the traditional American spiritual song, He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands, P advocated pursing whatever you want in life and ignoring the naysayers who put you down, believing you can achieve success if you work hard. There’s no better proof than P himself.

50 Cent – Many Men (Wish Death)

“When I rhyme something special happen every time                                                                                        I’m the greatest something like Ali in his prime”

Detailing 50 Cent‘s brush with death (you know, that time he got shot nine times and survived), Many Men (Wish Death) positions the Queens rapper as the equivalent to “Ali in his prime.” A known boxer, 50 has always likened the sport to hip-hop, and at the time of the songs release, 50 cast himself as the best rapper in the game. Like Ali, 50 believed there was no-one better than him in his chosen profession, and at that time, it was hard to disagree.

Will Smith – Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It

“Met Ali he told me I’m the greatest” 

Not only is Gettin’ Jiggy With It hip-hop gold, but easily one of the best songs you’ll ever hear when in the club. It just makes you want to get up and dance. The lyrics are instantly quotable, the cultural references hilarious, and the fact Nas co-wrote the track makes it a stone cold classic. Smith is obviously a huge Ali mark, as he not only mentions him in this song, but went on to play him in the 2001 film Ali. Even if Smith never releases another track, he’ll always be held in high esteem for Gettin’ Jiggy With It.

The Game – Ali Bomaye (Ft. 2 Chainz & Rick Ross)

“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 and beat another case

One of the highlights from The Game’s fifth album, Jesus Piece, the 2 Chainz and Rick Ross featuring Ali Bomaye is a metaphor filled street rap showcasing just how great a rapper Game is. The chorus is based around the famous chant, “Ali Bomaye,” heard throughout 1974s “Rumbe In The Jungle” fight with George Foreman, with the phrase literally meaning, “Ali, kill him.” Game used the chorus to proclaim he’ll fight anyone, anywhere, while wearing his Air Yeezy 2’s, like you do. The last line uses boxing as an analogy for Game’s lawyer getting him off another court charge. Game’s respect for Ali is channeled throughout the final verse, with the Compton native mentioning the “Thrilla In Manilla” and Foreman Grill.

Nas & Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley – My Generation (Ft. Lil Wayne & Joss Stone)

“Now if you can’t relate then maybe you are too complacent                                                                     Athletes today are scared to make Muhammad Ali statements”

Nas & Damien Marley’s Distant Relatives is an underrated hip-hop gem. Bringing together rap and reggae on an album with heavy themes including racism, African poverty, the diamond trade and politics, Nas’ raps and Marley’s vocals flow seamlessly over the course of the albums 13 tracks. My Generation is an uplifting anthem for change and positivity, with Nas questioning why more people with public profiles, particularly athletes, don’t use their platform to speak out against subjects such as racism and social problems like Ali did.

Jay Z – F.U.T.W.

“America tried to emasculate the greats                                                                                                             Murder Malcolm, gave Cassius the shakes                                                                                                              Wait, tell them rumble young man rumble                                                                                                            Try to dim your lights tell you be”

A long time Ali admirer, Jay Z has consistently mentioned the boxer in rhymes since 2007s American Gangster. On the Magna Carta… Holy Grail cut, F.U.T.W., Jay compares himself to Ali during the songs intro before linking Ali’s Parkinson’s disease to the American Government and comparing the two’s flows. Unlike most rappers who compare themselves to Ali, Jay is one of the few who can legitimately stake their claim to being the best at what they do. While his last few albums have been well below par, if his recent verses on the Fat Joe and Remy Ma remix All The Way Up and Pusha T’s Drug Dealers Anonymous are anything to go by, Jay might just be back to his best.

You can follow Tobias Handke on Twitter.

Image: The Telegraph