The death of Muhammad Ali is a reminder that his political candor, distinctive voice, and outsized personality helped shape hip-hop culture.
Kool Herc may have discovered the break that sparked hip-hop. Grand Wizard Theodore may have invented scratching. But few did more to engineer the strength and pride that shaped early hip-hop culture than Muhammad Ali.
Of course, Ali had no idea at the time that he was altering the landscape of a cultural movement. I wasnt trying to be a leader, Ali once said, I just wanted to be free. Perhaps, it was the zeitgeist of the era that united the worlds of hip-hop and boxing.
In the 1960s and 70s, African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens. Hip-hop rose out of the need for a voice against the brutal system of oppression.
Just as Jackie Robinson inspired awe by becoming the first black athlete to play major league baseball in the 1950s, Ali inspired a generation of black youth after becoming a heavyweight champion in 1964.
Ali, like hip-hop culture in the 1970s, represented a voice, a thrill and a symbol of strength. You wanted to be like Ali. And you wanted to be hip-hop.
Ali will forever be remembered for putting everything on the line to fight for his beliefs. He rejected the Vietnam War, saying I aint got no quarrel with them Vietcong.
Alis explanation of his draft rejection is one of the most compelling statements he has ever made.
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?
No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the