Hip-Hop is said to have begun to emerge in the early ’70s, but I believe the spirit of the culture was birthed on February 25th, 1964. On that day, a young, brash talented pugilist out of Louisville, Kentucky named Cassius Clay would shock the boxing world with his defeat of Sonny Liston, becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in history at that time.
Muhammad Ali, as he would later be known, would go on to have an illustrious career before bowing out as arguably the greatest to step in the ring, but his performance against Liston will remain his most significant to me for reasons beyond boxing. It was also the first in a number of events that would eventually subconsciously affect Hip-Hop
What made the upset so meaningful other than his obvious skills was he guaranteed the victory prior to the fight to anyone who would listen, leaving critics and fans flabbergasted. “Who was this rookie to proclaim himself the greatest before even accomplishing anything” were the thoughts of many to say the least. Not to mention that this was during a time of social unrest when most blacks we’re expected to stay humble and in their place. Ali’s boastful attitude and prophecies of greatness prior to the victory had never been seen by an athlete as unproven, especially a Black one at that. And that scared the sh*t out of America.
That same fear would eventually creep back into the nation’s psyche with the emergence of Hip-Hop, and the aspirational spirit it brought along with it. By that time, youth that had grown up fans of Ali and were influenced by his charismatic charm and larger than life persona channeled that attitude into this growing genre they were building called Hip-Hop.
Often looked down upon by society, that generation of youth bucked the system with an in-your-face brand of expression, demanding for their greatness to be heard and seen amid the concrete jungle, if not the world, with a “f*ck your feelings” attitude. Graffiti artists were birthed, tagging their handles across the landscape, literally making a name for themselves. Emcees began to rock parties alongside the DJs with catchy Ali-like refrains about their prowess in all things that makes a guy cool. These youth knew that they were ‘it,” and were going to let you know about it, whether you liked it or not.
If Ali had been born 20 years later, he would’ve been a rap legend. Just trust us on this one.