Muhammad Ali influenced not just athletes, but musical artists the world over
While the late Muhammad Ali’s roots ran deep in the sport of boxing, his influence in the world of music was undeniable. Even before claiming the title of heavyweight champion, Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, released an album with friend Sam Cooke. Comprised mostly of spoken word and his comedic rhetoric, the album, titled I Am The Greatest, also featured a cover of the Ben E. King hit “Stand By Me.” From hip-hop to pop, he’s both fraternized and inspired some of today’s most iconic musicians. In honor of The People’s Champion, we here at PRO MOTION Music News have compiled a list of some of the most memorable times the legend himself has impacted the world of music.
He got The Beatles to change their minds about him
In 1964, just weeks before The Beatles were scheduled to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show and Ali would claim his first World Heavyweight Championship, the two parties met up on 5th Street Gym in Miami Beach. What’s more interesting is that there’s a wide-held belief that the boxer hadn’t even heard of The Beatles, exclaiming “Who were those little sissies?” Similarly, the British pop group was very vocal about their time with Ali rather than his opponent Sonny Liston, who many believed would be the winner. John Lennon was especially vocal, not wanting to be associated with “that loudmouth who’s going to lose.” But as the fates would have it, both Ali and The Beatles found mutual ground in their humor and sharp wit, with the newfound friendship developing into one of the most iconic photoshoots of the 60’s. The pictures feature The Fab Four on the receiving end of Ali’s blows in some of the most perfectly-timed shots in pop culture. In an interview with Rolling Stone, drummer Ringo Starr recalls that exact day of the shoot.
We did them on the day,” states Starr. “His cross to bear was that everybody you see him in a photo with – whether it’s Mandela, on a talk show, anybody – it’s always the punch photo. It’s always ‘The Punch Photo’! We were ‘The Punch Photo’! “And then he’s carrying me. I don’t know why, he just picked me up! It wasn’t like, ‘OK, pick him up now!’ He just suddenly did. Surely there must have been some sort of warning? No, he just grabbed me and lifted me up! What was I gonna say? ‘Hey, come outside…We only got out of the ring because he put me down.”
Their encounter was so memorable that it changed the minds of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, with the four mopheads all placing their money on their newest acquaintance, stating: “We had it on him! He’s the Kid!”
He got Prince to stop cursing on his albums
Back in his heyday, the late Prince wrote some of the most sexually aggressive lyrics in the industry, which led The FCC to slap a ‘parental advisory’ sticker on his grammy award-winning album Purple Rain. Other racy songs include “Pussy Control” off of 1994’s The Gold Experience and “Erotic City.” But in an interview with Essence Magazine in 2014, the Purple one revealed that he was inspired by Ali to discontinue the use of such subject matter and innuendo. In referring to his longtime collaborators, Prince stated:
“Marsha Ambrosius, Lianne La Havas and Janelle Monae are all my sisters. We shouldn’t curse at them. We need to treat them, and all people, like royalty. Did you ever hear Muhammad Ali curse? Would you curse in front of your kids or to your mother?”
He was a constant influence in the world of Hip Hop
Along with his spoken-word album, his lightning fast rhetoric such as “I float like a butterfly, sting like a fee,” with which he taunted his rivals, gave prescience to the genre. In a press conference he gave while preparing to take on rival Sonny Liston, he recited his poetry in the form of “Song of Myself” where he claimed he would take down his opponent “The Bear.” Since then, countless urban artists honor The Great One through a sonic volley of rhymes, lyrical intellect, and strategic shit talking.
Even today, artists of the genre are inspired by the late Ali’s accomplishments, not just in the sport of boxing, but in the social realm as well. Jay Z’s single “F.U.T.W.” features the lyrics “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 humble,” citing his heroes Malcolm X and a young boxer, then named Cassius Clay. In addition, Drake references the legend in “Under Ground Kings,” with the lines “I’m the greatest man I said that before I knew I was.” In addition, Kanye West pays homage to the time in history Ali publicly protested the war on his track “Gorgeous” featuring Kid Cudi and Raekwon: “Remind me of when they tried to have Ali enlisted / If I ever wasn’t the greatest n—a, I must have missed it.”
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